Return to Work Programs Are Good Medicine When Dealing With Workers’ Compensation Claims

workers compensation return to work

As the frequency of workers’ compensation (WC) claims continues to escalate, so do its corresponding costs. In fact, the most disabling workplace injuries and illnesses cost U.S. employers nearly $60 billion in WC [1] so it is more critical than ever for employers to create a healthy and safe work environment in order to minimize the frequency and rising costs of their WC claims.

While there are risk management best practices an organization can take to minimize their exposures to WC claims, sometimes a claim is not always preventable. There are, however, effective measures an employer can take to mitigate existing WC claims, so that their experience rating modification won’t be affected as greatly.

Studies show that there is only a 50% chance that an injured employee will return to work after a six-month absence; which declines to a 25% chance following a one-year absence and is further reduced to a 1% chance after a two-year absence [2]. Furthering the issue, soft costs of training and salary for new or temporary employees can be as much as double to triple the cost of an original workers’ compensation claim. When you consider the costs for temporary and new hires combined with studies revealing that workers who return to work soon after an injury recover more rapidly and completely, it clearly benefits both sides to get an employee back to work quickly.

The following tactics can be applied in your organization to help your employees return to work as soon as possible:

1. Create a formal return to work program:

Companies who are serious about controlling WC costs will have a formal return to work (RTW) program tailored to their specific business culture and risks. This program starts by designating an employee, such as an HR professional, who is responsible for championing claims. This designated employee will oversee the program, which should include the following elements: a company mission statement, a flow of action to be taken from injury to return to work, an emergency plan, a communication plan and a transitional employment plan.

2. All modified duty jobs should be temporary and used as a bridge to full duty return to work:  

The employer  that establishes an effective RTW program sets an expectation with their employees that once an injury occurs, the employer will find a way to match the capabilities of the injured worker to a temporary position. By bringing an injured employee back to work as quickly as possible; you are reducing the cost of the claim, while helping the injured worker to maintain a productive routine.

3. Write detailed job descriptions for each function:

Maintaining detailed descriptions of each job function will set the bar for an employee returning to work with new restrictions after an injury. If the employee’s original job called for lifting of 40 to 50 pounds and their modified abilities only allow them to lift 10 pounds, an employer can use existing job descriptions to either shift workers around or give the modified employee another task. Keeping an updated list of “rainy day” projects can provide other avenues of work for those returning on modified duty.

4. Implement an Injured Worker Contact Program:

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A simple, effective, no-cost program which involves having management or HR professional reach out to the injured employee weekly or bi-weekly to express concern for their well-being and to offer  assistance  for any issues they may be having with  communication with the insurance carrier  or medical providers. This ongoing contact helps to eliminate the issues that lead injured employees to seek legal counsel.

The designated RTW manager should establish initial contact with the injured employee a day or two post-accident to let them know that the company is working with them to ensure a complete recovery. They should also engage a claims advocate from your insurance broker who interacts with the physician, the insurance company and works hand-in-hand with your RTW manager to create transparency. Communication among all parties is critical to eliminating extra costs and streamlining claims. For example, regularly scheduled phone calls should be established between the physician and the responsible in-house employee so that expected return to work dates and modified work levels are clear. This will eliminate the potential for employees to be off work for longer than they should and keep employer costs to a minimum.

The combination of implementing an effective RTW program with an Injured Worker Contact program will lower indemnity and medical costs while cutting down on the length of the claim. Lower costs over time lead to a reduction in the experience modification.

A WC claim should not be an adversarial experience, it should be a collaborative experience between employer, employee, insurance broker and carrier. Speak to your broker to find out what your organization can do to minimize claims and build or perfect your RTW program.

For more information on HUB, please visit www.hubinternational.com.


[1]  Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index

[2]  New York State Workers’ Compensation Board Return to Work Program

Robert Fiorito
Robert Fiorito serves as Vice President with HUB International Northeast, a leading global insurance brokerage, where he specializes in providing insurance services to the restaurant industry. As a 25-year veteran and former restaurateur himself, Bob has worked with a wide array of restaurant and food service businesses, ranging from fast-food chains to upscale, “white tablecloth" dining establishments. Robert can be reached at 212-338-2324 or by email at robert.fiorito@hubinternational.com. For more information on HUB, please visit www.hubinternational.com.