By: Dana Tumenova, J.D., Claims Attorney
It is well-known that early return-to-work reduces the cost of a workers’ compensation claim. This is true both in terms of reducing per claim cost, and in reducing your rates. Our member districts’ rates are calculated using a loss experience rate adjustment, which in the last year ranged from a decrease of 11.8% to an increase of 13.7%, based on claim history and severity.
School districts can decrease their rates over time by reducing the number of injured workers on time loss compensation, alternatively known as temporary total disability (TTD), by effectively offering modified duty positions that have been approved by the worker’s attending physician or licensed advanced registered nurse practitioner (hereinafter collectively, “doctors”). PSWCT will be implementing a new Return to Work program in the coming months in order to assist districts.
Although the Department of Labor & Industries does not have a Washington Administrative Code provision on the specific language it requires employers to use when making a modified job offer, it has its own policy to which the Department expects employers to adhere. If your district is prepared to make a modified or light duty job offer to an injured worker, here are the procedures to follow to ensure compliance with the Department’s policy:
- Develop a job analysis (JA) for every job and check or update the job analysis whenever an employee begins a leave of absence due to an injury. This step is important in ensuring an accurate job analysis is given to the treating doctor to ascertain the worker’s ability to return to work or the need for job modifications;
- Have a procedure in place for notifying injured workers of job openings for reassignment to a suitable position within the restrictions of a collective bargaining agreement and others;
- Use a temporary modified duty list of jobs. Add tasks available in your district or at your school;
- Modify a job, even if only for a temporary restriction.
If temporary transitional work is available for an injured worker, you must first provide this modified job description to the treating doctor. Your claims adjuster at Puget Sound Workers’ Compensation Trust can be the liaison with the treating doctor once you have the modified job description available for the claims adjuster.
The doctor shall then determine whether the worker is physically able to perform the work described. RCW 51.32.090(4)(b). The doctor must approve the modified/light duty job as appropriate for the injured worker, under the specific temporary restrictions. The district cannot simply tell the worker to follow the doctor’s restrictions on his or her own, or to remove the tasks that are beyond the doctor-imposed restrictions. The district must prepare a description of the job absent the restricted tasks to provide to the treating physician for formal approval.
After obtaining the doctor’s approval, a written job offer is required by the Department. Such job offers must include information about the worker’s hours, wages, supervisor, starting date for the modified duty job, and a place to report. A sample job offer letter is attached below.