How to Implement an Effective Return to Work Program

How much does employee absence from non-occupational injuries and illness cost organizations every year? According to the National Safety Council, lost time due to off-the-job injuries totaled 240 million days and cost $280 billion in 2013.[1]

A return-to-work program (RTW) is designed to help an injured or ill employee quickly and safely return to work. These are a few ways an effective RTW program can be beneficial to both your company and employees:

  • Helps the employee regain or maintain his or her place at work
  • Improves communication among stakeholders
  • Keeps the employee engaged
  • Reduces disability-related absences and costs
  • Increases company productivity by returning employees safely to work
  • Helps maintain compliance with disability-related legislation

Here are some key steps your organization can take to develop an effective RTW program.

Building Your Program

  • Identify an on-site RTW coordinator, if resources allow.
  • Develop comprehensive job descriptions for all primary positions within your company, including essential functions (e.g., lifting, carrying, etc.) and frequency of functions (e.g., hours per day, days per week, etc.)
  • Consider cross-training employees to help manage potential workflow issues and to reduce overtime and temporary worker costs.
  • Identify potential transitional assignments, such as part-time or light-duty positions.
  • Consider uniform RTW and accommodation practices for both occupational and non-occupational disabilities. Develop processes and supporting materials for both.
  • Train supervisors on good employee communication, RTW practices, and appropriate internal resources for accommodation requests or approvals.

Developing Employee RTW Plans

  • Maintain ongoing communication with the employee (examples include calling the employee, sending the company newsletter, or sending a “Thinking of You” or “Get Well” card).
  • Provide a job description to the employee’s disability case manager (DCM) or vocational rehabilitation manager (VCM) to ensure understanding of the job duties and demands. Ensure the DCM or VCM shares the job description with the employee’s treating physician.
  • Provide a copy of the employee’s original job application to DCM and VCM to assist in identifying additional skills to consider during return-to-work planning.
  • Discuss “quick fix” accommodations, such as motorized carts, additional lighting, and elevated work tables/workspaces, which could facilitate the employee’s return. Be open to part-time RTW as part of the rehabilitation or recovery process if the physician agrees.
  • Discuss temporary, transitional, or permanent assignments, including those in other departments
  • If feasible, ensure that the employee maintains licensing or continuing education requirements.

While not all employees may be able to return to work, it is important to keep those who can't in mind for other positions and openings your company may have in the future. You’ll gain a knowledgeable and experienced employee and also control costs related to recruiting, hiring, and training.

[1]National Safety Council Injury Facts®, 2015 Edition

Was this relevant to your business?

  • Yes
  • No

The illustrations, instructions, and principles in this material are general in scope and, to the best of our knowledge, current at the time of publication. No attempt has been made to interpret any referenced codes, standards, or regulations nor to identify all potential risks or requirements.