Return-to-Work Means Return to Profitability

In the world of workers' compensation, a Return-to-Work Program is one of the biggest impacts an employer can have on cost and employee morale.

A Return-to-Work Program helps injured workers transition back to the workplace by performing meaningful work within their capabilities. You may hear it referred to as light duty, limited duty, modified duty, alternate duty, or transitional work. It is intended to be a bridge back to full duty.

The national unemployment rate in July was 3.9 percent, down from a 2009 high of 10 percent during the Great Recession. Though that's good news for workers, it has created a tight job market. With more baby boomers retiring, it is going to get even tighter. The job market cannot afford anyone to be out of work because of an injury; it simply costs a lot of money to hire and train a new employee, and likely at a higher wage. Every time a business replaces a salaried employee, it costs six to nine months' salary on average, says the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). For an employee making $60,000 per year, that comes out to $30,000 to $45,000 in recruiting and training costs.

At MEMIC, we don't even write a workers' compensation insurance policy unless the employer has a Return-to-Work Program or has committed to starting one; that's how important we think it is to keep costs down. It also demonstrates the attitude of an employer, it demonstrates the employer really cares about its employees, which helps in attracting and retaining the best talent. Before MEMIC writes an account, we send out safety experts to the workplace to evaluate safety practices and workplace culture. A Loss Control & Claims Service Action Plan is then shared with the agent and potential customer when we prepare the proposal.

You may think having prerequisites like this for writing an account would hamper business growth, but last year we saw new business up 14 percent. We've found an incredible need for carriers and agents who have the knowledge to be hands-on partners in improving employers' productivity and profitability.

When Natalie Campaneria, one of MEMIC's safety experts, is asked what the key is to a successful Return-to-Work Program, she says it is leadership's commitment and finding the right doctors. Some states don't allow employers to select the doctor providing care for an injured worker, but employers may still be able to suggest an appropriate medical provider to an injured employee.

Selecting the right medical care provider to treat injured employees is a critical decision that can have a significant impact on the cost of claims. Ideally, the preferred provider should specialize in occupational health. An occupational health provider is better able than a typical primary care physician to evaluate an injury, assess what the employee does for work, and make recommendations about work capacity and therapies to speed recovery. Occupational health providers also have a better understanding of causation and other medical and legal issues that arise.

After a preferred medical provider is chosen, the employer should post information about the provider throughout the workplace so everyone can be aware of who may be treating their work-related injuries. It's especially important that supervisory staff is aware of the preferred provider so appropriate medical choices can be made at the outset of an injury. The employer should appoint someone at work to be the contact among employer, employee, and medical provider.

Developing a relationship with a preferred provider is an ongoing dialogue. An employer should get an understanding of the provider's philosophy, as well as other services they can offer, such as post-offer physicals and hearing testing. The employer should identify major jobs and perform a job analysis that captures tasks and physical requirements of each job. These should be used to make sure the medical provider understands the employer's business and its Return-to-Work Program. If the medical provider can't visit the work site, it may be helpful to send them a short video of the jobs at your work site. At MEMIC, we have ergonomic experts who offer advice on how to improve processes, through in-person visits or via video, to help make workstations and employees more efficient and safer.

The long-term success of an employer's relationship with a preferred provider will depend on maintaining open lines of communication. A physical assessment form should be sent with an injured worker on every doctor visit to help the medical provider determine whether alternate duties are appropriate. When conducting a company-wide job analysis, the employer should note which jobs are prone to injuries and establish a baseline for the types of alternate duty appropriate for each position. If the employer has questions about the injury or concerns about the employee, the employer needs to contact the provider and make them aware of the issues. The care they provide is only as good as the information they have.

MEMIC's data are clear that the longer an employee is out, the less likely he or she is to return to work. Return-to-Work Programs really are a win-win for employers and employees alike. Employers win by keeping a valuable, trained employee while minimizing workers' compensation costs. And employees typically recover faster, build self-esteem, and reduce their financial loss of not working.

Roger Comer and Bethany Moreno are Senior Production Underwriters for The MEMIC Group.

Posted on Sep 10, 2018

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