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John Sutton
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December 27, 2016
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Factors of a Successful Workers’ Compensation Return-to-Work Program

Would you accept a financial contract from your bank that required you to pay a term interest rate of 150%? Of course not – that would be an unfair deal! So it is a bit puzzling why so many business owners accept highly unfavorable terms when it comes to their workers’ compensation policies. When claims go unmanaged and experience modification factors are left unchallenged, policy premiums can skyrocket. The good news is that workers’ compensation is one of the most controllable lines of risk.


Although a company’s first line of defense against excessive workers’ compensation costs should be the reduction and elimination of exposures, equally important is a defined process to handle an injury claim once it has occurred. One of the keys to successfully managing a claim is through a properly structured workers’ compensation return-to-work program. By taking proactive management steps through a program designed to get employees back to work in a timely and healthy manner, organizations can reduce costs and begin to get policy terms back in their favor.

Getting Back to Work

Statistics strongly indicate that workers’ compensation claims can lead to greater problems when they are poorly managed. Consider the following:

  • On average, fewer than 10% of work-related injuries require employees to take more than three days off work for medical reasons. Furthermore, 60% to 80% of lost time is avoidable.1
  • After 12 weeks away from work, employees have only a 50% likelihood of returning to work.2

Once an employee has been injured on the job and has received medical attention, the employer must focus on a plan to get the employee back in the workforce as soon as he or she is medically able. Using a return-to-work program helps control experience modification factors by managing underlying costs and reducing the financial impact to an organization. In addition to the financial benefits, an employee back at work is more likely to recover from his or her injury faster by staying physically active and avoiding deconditioning by remaining stagnant at home. An employee who maintains contact with fellow employees is also likely to recover faster and experience less personal and professional disruption.

Hurdles to Overcome

One of the major obstacles that workers’ compensation return-to-work programs encounter is the negative perception of an employee working half as hard among those who are carrying the brunt of the workload. Not only can this be negatively perceived by fellow employees, but also by members of management who fail to see the bigger picture. This occurs most often when the benefits of a return-to-work program have not been communicated to all of the stakeholders when an injured worker transitions back to his or her duties. It is imperative that supervisors fully understand the costs of a claim and the profit margins that must be attained to cover the injury that has occurred.

The most successful return-to-work programs have a defined injury coordinator who will run the program and manage the outcomes. A written policy is also recommended in which all employees are trained. When light-duty assignments are provided, the injured employee should understand that restrictions should be strictly followed both at work and at home. It is important to keep in mind that workers’ compensation management is an organization-wide responsibility – it does not simply default to Human Resources. The program must begin with a solid commitment from senior management to provide a safe work environment. Once that commitment is established, supervisors must be responsible for reducing hazards while facilitating open communication and creating an engaged work culture. Finally, every employee should serve as the eyes and ears for overall safety and be encouraged to report any unsafe behaviors or conditions that could result in an injury.

Another important success factor is to ensure that the treating physician understands the return-to-work objectives for the injured employee. If an organization’s partner physician is to assist in a meaningful way and assign transitional duty, the employer must have a functional job description available so that physical tasks of an employee’s current duties can be identified and redefined during a transitional period. When an injured employee is seeking initial treatment, it is important that the physician understands that the individual works for a transitional work employer who wants their valuable employee back as soon as possible. Whenever workability notes are confusing or unclear, it is the employer’s responsibility to pick up the phone and call for clarification. Performing this due diligence helps to ensure the claim is being properly managed and is important to the program’s success.

Problems with Your Program?

Defining and implementing a formal return-to-work program not only helps to manage your workers’ compensation costs, but it sends a clear message to your employees that you value the work they do and want to see them recover as quickly as possible. If you lack a formal program or feel that your current practices could be improved, your Account Manager can help. SilverStone Group’s risk management professionals can assist with the structuring of an effective return-to-work program with the creation and customization of a number of resources, including a detailed return-to-work policy, an occupational medical facilities checklist, an authorization of medical treatment form and sample letters to treating physicians. With the right guidance, a return-to-work program can be an invaluable tool to help protect your bottom line as well as the morale of your staff.

“How to Combat Escalating Workers’ Comp Costs After an Injury Occurs.” Workcomp Professionals website. Accessed on June 4, 2015.  

2 “Effective Return-to-Work Programs – A Win/Win for Employers and Employees.” Accident Fund Holdings website. September 15, 2011. Accessed on June 4, 2015.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of the SilverLink magazine under the title “Make It Your Business – Identifying Organizational Risk.” To receive a complimentary subscription to the SilverLink magazine, sign up here.

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