By Kimberly Daise
One of the most frustrating aspects of managing a workers’ compensation program is getting injured workers back to work. Usually, the employer is faced with an injured worker who wants to stay at home forever or an employer who thinks he can lift 50 lb. bags ten days after surgery. The key is to develop a flexible yet effective return to work program.
Almost every company has a slightly different Return to Work program. However, they have 3 points in common.
1. Job task should fit the medical restrictions
Here is an example: The employer request the worker to return to work in a light-duty job position. The job duties, however, exceed the claimant’s work restrictions and the worker refuses to complete the task. Employer doesn’t want to pay TTD because a light duty job was given to the claimant and he refused to do it. This is an issue because the Judge or Arbitrator, however, orders the employer to pay TTD because the light duty job exceeded the claimant’s work restrictions. This is not a good situation for either party.
Every employer should have documentation that lists the specific job duties and task analysis for every job position. Review this documentation and make sure that the task to be performed is within those permitted. Make sure the light work job has enough details so that when it is reviewed it fits the medically permitted task. This will provide the employer with documentation that the job task was medically permitted. And did not exceed any restrictions. This will eliminate the he said she said position the employer may find himself at a hearing.
Avoid this pitfall before it happens by making sure that the job does not exceed the claimant’s work restrictions and has the job description signed off by the employee.
2. Return to work offers must be in writing
Employers should always offer the employee the position in writing and in person. Phone calls and phone conversation commonly are said to have not occurred.
This is EASY to avoid. Make sure that the return to work offer is always in writing, email or text messaging works just as well as a mailed letter. With this, the worker cannot later claim that he was never told to return to work. Problem solved.
3. Light duty job must have a purpose
What do you do in situations when you want to get the injured worker back to work, but he can’t perform any of the light duty task you have available? Often employers in these situations like to put the injured worker into a distasteful or detestable job, hoping that the worker will quit the job assigned and want to go back to his regular job. For example, the job is watching paint dry on the wall. The problem is this is a big risk. The light duty should meet a legitimate need and purpose within and for the company. The job can not appear to be meaningless or punitive.