A Message from our Return-to-Work Manager
There are many reactions when an employee is injured at work and must be gone from the workplace. It is an uncertain time for all involved.
What is important to an employee injured on the job?
- Continuing benefits.
- Thoughts about permanent impairment.
- Reduction of job security.
- Does my employer care?
From the employer standpoint, the first reactions are:
- Who will complete the work that this employee did?
- How long will they be out?
These thoughts are often centered on the negative. An alternate approach is considering “What can the employee do?” This positive thinking strategy can reduce claim costs, rates, and increase an employee’s feeling of self-worth, and perhaps, increase the likelihood of earlier return to work by as much as 30%.
It Just Takes a Call
Studies show that increased supervisory and HR interaction with an injured worker soon after an injury is highly effective. A quick phone call asking the employee how they are, letting them know they are missed, and discussing what tasks they might be able to perform even if still injured (but released to light duty) is associated with a 30% higher return-to-work rate for employees.
This simple “are you OK?” phone call can be a real game changer for the employer and the employee. This gives the employee the opportunity to ask questions, feel that they are a part of the team and a contributor to the employer. The employer can get the work done. Imagine never hearing from your boss if you had been off work for 1, 2, or 3 months. The longer the employer is silent, the greater chance that the employee is considering never returning to work and considering that a pension is a better option than returning.
After an employee is injured, get in touch two or three days after the injury to express your concern, especially if the employee has not returned to work. This is when the worker might begin to wonder if they are missed. The goal of the call is to provide encouragement and help your employee recover faster. This is not a one-time communication; stay in contact. Below are some suggestions.
Supervisor Script – Are You Okay?
- How are you?
- We are so concerned about you.
- The team misses you. No one can teach reading, coach tennis, etc. like you do.
- We hope you can return to work soon.
- I am working with HR to find out what we can do.
- Based on how you are feeling, and since you know your work, are there any duties that you think you’d be able to do now?
- May I call back in a few weeks to follow up with you?
What Employers Can Do
Consider this – a custodial employee with a back injury is released to light duty 2 weeks after the injury. They are not able to reach above their head for more than 3 hours a day and have a 15lb lifting restriction. One employer might determine the employee cannot return because they cannot lift 50-lbs.
Our positive-thinking RTW Coordinator might ask, “what can the employee do?” and determine that the employee can walk, stand, lift 15-lbs, bend, etc. This employee could be given 8 garbage bags instead of 2 for the day. This worker could be assigned a shift where, when collecting garbage, they separate the garbage into many bags instead of just one heavy one, reducing the weight they are handling. Providing a sub for lunch tables and sports set up may be a reasonable accommodation to keep this employee at work. Even considering a part-time shift is a solution for this employee.
PSWCT is Here to Help
PSWCT and many of our members see the benefit in returning employees to either modified duty (a change in their job) or alternate duty (temporarily assigning different job tasks). I have spoken to many of you and have been very happy to see that several of you have a RTW Program in one form or another. With the RTW incentive criteria being developed, it has been my goal to provide guidance on what a qualified program would look like.
It can be easy – documentation of a commitment for your employees to RTW, job offer letters to employees when a group of tasks is found for the employee, administration’s buy-in to a RTW program and a culture of accommodation and RTW known by all employees and understood by supervisors create a successful RTW Program. If we haven’t met and you are interested in the program, please do contact me, Aliza Hauser, RTW Manager at 425-917-7660.