One of the biggest components of workers’ compensation is an effective return-to-work (RTW) program. Eliminating injuries and illnesses is paramount for reducing workers’ compensation costs, but after an incident, an RTW program can significantly reduce workers’ compensation costs for employers and improve the lives of employees by getting them back to work when there is an injury or illness. This article provides an overview of RTW programs and discusses the best practices for establishing and maintaining such programs.
What Is an RTW Program?
An RTW program is characterized by specific, documented organizational policies and procedures that provide guidance to supervisors and employees in managing the RTW process following a work-related absence due to injury, illness or chronic disease. Its primary goal is to expedite the individual’s recovery and reintegrate them into productivity, achieved through various means such as referral, counseling, coordination of medical care, or adjustments to the workplace or job responsibilities. RTW programs may also include vocational rehabilitation services alongside transitional work options to facilitate a smooth return to full productivity.
While an RTW program may or may not be integrated with other benefits or absence management services, such integration is highly recommended. Reasons for implementing an RTW program include reducing lost time, accounting for ethical considerations, ensuring compliance with legal requirements and safeguarding the organization’s workforce investment.
Why Establish an RTW Program?
RTW programs can be a significant source of relief for employees grappling with concerns, anxieties and frustrations stemming from workplace injuries and illnesses. An employer’s proactive outreach and support during these challenging times can foster a positive connection between the injured worker and the organization.
There are numerous benefits linked to establishing RTW programs for employees, including:
There are also benefits for employers, which include:
RTW Best Practices
Whether developing an RTW program for the first time or modifying an existing program, employers should follow these best practices to ensure their RTW program is effective:
Goals of an RTW Program
An RTW program can help employees return to work faster from a work-related injury which increases their odds of a full recovery. It allows helps employers save money on workers’ compensation costs. For employees, participation in an RTW program can aid in recovery, allowing them to resume work as they recuperate and often fostering a sense of physical and emotional progress. Prolonged absences may lead to employee disengagement from the workplace, with physical ailments potentially transitioning into emotional distress, resulting in extended recovery periods.
Extended absences diminish the likelihood of employees returning to their original positions. While complex conditions may necessitate prolonged leave, experts acknowledge a culture of absence that can cause employees to remain out of work due to disengagement.
Some employees may find benefits in not working, while others may become detached from their former identities, eventually losing motivation to rejoin the workforce. This isn’t necessarily a deliberate act of fraud but rather a lack of desire to return, which can exacerbate their situations, contributing to emotional or physical challenges.
Employers, on the other hand, initiate RTW programs for various reasons, such as:
The foundational goals of an RTW program should be clearly articulated from the outset, with periodic reassessment. Some objectives may be met, prompting the need for more ambitious targets; others may require adjustment to align with evolving corporate needs or if they were initially set too high.
While all program goals hold significance, cost reduction is a prevalent objective. Savings can be realized through several mechanisms and incentives that establish and sustain an RTW program, even if the quantification of these benefits may initially pose challenges. Organizations can achieve savings through:
Well-crafted processes and plans offer a mutually advantageous solution for both employees and employers.
RTW programs aren’t just about reinstating employees in their specific roles, although that’s the ideal scenario. Not only do these programs provide many advantages to employers, but they also encompass the involvement of employees in alternative positions as stepping stones toward full-time, full-duty work or as a means for them to remain engaged during their periods of disability. In order to do this, employers should follow best practices to make sure they build the most efficient and effective RTW program possible.
For more RTW guidance, contact us today.
Article Published By: Zywave, Inc.