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Return To Work Programs and Why You Should Have One

With any job, there is always a chance that an employee may get injured or sick from a work- related incident. In the agriculture industry, that risk is heightened. Due to the nature of the work, agriculture is a dangerous industry to work in with roughly 100 employees a day sustaining a work related injury or illness.

We know that safety programs can help to reduce the risks and that quality workers’ compensation insurance can help to take care of employees who are injured, but what about when they recover? How do you transition them back  to place? This is where a return to work program can help.

What is a return to work program?
A return to work program is a set of guidelines and protocols to help employees get back on the job after sustaining a work-related injury or illness. The goal is to return the injured employee to their job as quickly as possible once they are medically cleared. Studies show that an employee who spends 6 months or longer away from work due to a work-related injury or illness is 50% less likely to return to that employer. After a year away from work, that goes up to 75%, and after two years 98%. With a return to work program, you can get  your employees back to work faster and ensure they are more likely to stay with your business.

What are the benefits of a return to work program?
Return to work programs have many benefits for both the employer and the employee.

For the employer

  • Avoid litigation – Bringing back employees as soon as they are medically able and making sure they know their rights and responsibilities can help you avoid litigation later. It has been found that when employees are not aware of their rights and responsibilities, they are more likely to get an attorney after the fact.

  • Increase employee morale – Having a return to work program can help to show your employees that you care about their wellbeing, which will boost employee morale.

  • Reduce staff turnover – When you are able to bring injured employees back to work faster, you do not need to hire new employees as often. This can help reduce staff turnover rates and minimize the need to train new employees.

  • Reduce workers’ compensation insurance costs – Bringing an injured employee back earlier can help to keep claims “medical only.” Medical only claims are those where the employee does not receive lost time benefits. This can play a factor when your Experience Modification Rating (MOD) is calculated. A MOD is the rate at which your annual premium will be adjusted based on your past claim history. Medically only claims are weighted differently in the MOD calculation. In order to keep a claim medical only, you must bring the employee back to work before you state’s waiting period ends. This is different in each state.
     

For the employee

  • Faster recovery time - Being back to work even on modified duty or reduced hours can help employees recover faster.

  • Sense of normalcy - Employees will be able to feel more productive and maintain workplace relationships.

  • Relieve stress – Knowing that they will still have a job and how this process works helps to relieve stress for the employee. It also relieves financial stress for the employee knowing they can get back to work as soon as they are medically  cleared, even if that means modified duty or reduced hours. With a return to work program, employees may return to work full or part time and at full or part time wages. If they earn partial wages, workers’ compensation insurance can  make up the difference to their preinjury rate.
     

How do I create a return to work program?
Return to work programs also help to keep the workers’ compensation insurance and return to work process organized. If an employee is injured or becomes ill as a result of their work, the company could be liable  for medical bills, lost wages, etc. A written plan can help to streamline the process to make sure all of the boxes are checked, and the employee can return to work faster.
 

  1. Draft your policy – Explain the importance of the program, reinforce your commitment to bring employees back as soon as medically possible with adaptations as needed

  2. Appoint a return to work supervisor – This person will oversee the return to work program, making sure that all employee needs are addressed and working with staff and management teams to ensure success

  3. Select a primary care clinic - Establish a relationship with a clinic with occupational medicine and return to work program assistance, explain to them your goals. * Note that in most states your employees have a right to choose their provider for work related injuries.

  4. Identify reasonable transitional jobs and accommodations – Transitional jobs are jobs that an employee on modified duty could complete if their injury or illness prevents them from completing their normal job. Remember, an accommodation is only reasonable if it does not pose undue hardship.

  5. Hold employees accountable – Employees are important contributors to successful return to work programs. Their responsibilities include providing current medical information and working within their medical restrictions.

  6. Set a date for reevaluation – Employee accommodations are temporary measures, so make sure you set a date for reevaluation. You may need to adjust accommodations as the worker improves.
     

Make sure that you are in compliance with your state law regarding injured employees and disabilities when you are making your return to work program. Your return to work program must comply with state and federal laws. These include the ADA, the Family Medical Leave Act, OSHA Standards, and  workers’ compensation insurance statutes.

Where do I go to get started?
Businesses that are looking to create a return to work program have many places they can turn to for help. These include:

  • Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) – An agency of the Department of Labor that offers a return to work tool kit to help employers understand the return to work process. They also offer a service called the Job Accommodation Network which provides free guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues.

  • State Agencies – Some state agencies provide resources for employers looking to create a return to work program.

  • Your Agri-Services Agency Agent – We have programs in place that can help you to make your work space a safe place and help employees return to work as soon as they are medically cleared.
     

Agri-Services Agency is here to help. We can work with you to develop a plan that incorporates safety training, the right workers’ compensation insurance coverage, and a return to work program. We know how important your employees are to you and your business. With almost 50 years of underwriting experience and the backing of an A+ rated carrier, our consultants can help you design the workers’ compensation insurance plan tailored to your operation.

Brian Dearden 
Regional Sales Agent 
Property and Casualty 
Email: brian.dearden@agri-servicesagency.com
Phone: 801-380-5980