Every year in the United States, millions of employees are injured on the job. Many of these workers sustain minor injuries that require little medical attention and no time off from work. But a significant number — about 30 percent — are forced to take time off due to injuries or illnesses sustained on the job. In 2017 alone, U.S. workers logged 104 million missed work days resulting from workplace injuries. Thirty-four million of these were related to ongoing disability from prior years, and 70 million were from injuries that occurred in 2017.
Workers who require extended time off due to illness or injury suffer physically, financially, and emotionally. Factors such as isolation, loss of a sense of purpose, and money woes often slow recovery and make disability worse. In fact, the longer a worker remains out of the workforce, the more likely they are never to return. Only 50 percent of injured workers who are out of work for six months or more ever make it back.
For employers, the cost of workplace injuries is astronomical. According to a report from the National Safety Council, the total cost of compensated on the job injuries in 2017 was a $161.5 billion. Many of these costs were related to medical care and administrative expenses. But about a third — $50.7 billion — were due to lost wages and productivity.
Helping Injured Workers Return to Work
Given the high cost of prolonged absences to both employers and employees, it would seem natural that employers would do everything in their power to help injured workers get back to work. But the fact is that many U.S. businesses have not implemented a formal return-to-work program and have little idea how to set one up.
If you’re one of these employers, know that developing a return to work program for injured workers is one of the smartest things you can do. According to a study published by the RAND Institute for Civil Justice in 2010, return to work programs reduced the average length of injured employees’ absences from work by 3.6 weeks. Even workers who were permanently disabled by a workplace injury returned to work more quickly when a return to work program was in place.
Designing a Return to Work Program
There are many ways to design a return-to-work program. But it’s important to remember that any plan must be flexible enough to accommodate individual worker’s needs. In some cases, the employee will be functionally able to return to work but unable to perform the same job they did before they were hurt. These workers may benefit from returning to work in another capacity — for example, a desk job as opposed to working in the field. This adjustment may be temporary or permanent, depending on the type of injury the employee sustained.
Other employees will be able to return to their regular duties but will be restricted in the number of hours they can work in a given day. These workers may benefit from a program that allows them to gradually increase their time on the job until they are back to working full time. Such arrangements can be particularly helpful to workers who need extended rehab by giving them the flexibility to attend scheduled appointments with physical therapists and the like.
Still other employees will be well enough to return to their regular duties and work their scheduled hours but need an accommodation of their work space in order to return to work. A clerical employee who sustained a back injury, for example, might need an ergonomic chair and a redesigned desktop to comfortably do her job.
In any case, the most important factor in developing a successful return to work program is to be prepared. Know that at some point, one or more of your employees will be injured on the job, and it’s incumbent upon you as an employer to help them transition back to the workplace as quickly as they can. Work with your managers and supervisors to identify potential work modifications for all classes of employees. These will almost certainly need to be modified at times, but they will give you a framework within which to work.
Keep in mind, too, that when an injured employee returns to work in a modified capacity, it affects the workplace as a whole. Other employees may feel that they need to “pick up the slack” or assume extra duties to accommodate an injured worker’s needs. To avoid this, have a plan in place to cover the injured worker’s duties when they return, and share it with key members of your team.
For more ideas and a comprehensive list of resources to help you put together a return to work plan, see the Return to Work Toolkit offered by the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.
The Carmoon Group, Ltd. is a family-owned insurance brokerage headquartered in Hicksville, New York. Through our large network of insurance affiliates, we offer business insurance and risk management solutions to companies all across the United States. Please give us a call to schedule an appointment for your insurance review. Or if you prefer, reach out online and we will get back to you at a convenient time.