Why your business needs a return to work program (and how to make one)

As an employer, one of your worst nightmares might be one of your employees getting hurt on the job. Your employees have families to support. If they’re injured, they’re out of work for as long as it takes them to heal. They might have a bit of a chip on their shoulder towards your company, too, if they got hurt while doing work to benefit your business.

Workers’ compensation insurance claims and employee injuries are also very costly. Getting the employee back to good health is, of course, the priority, but the costs of doing so can be very high for your business. However, there’s a way that you can help your employees and your business if someone gets hurt while working. You can create a return to work program.

Imagine this: one of your best employees, Joe, breaks his arm while on the job. The doctor tells him that he needs to rest it to make sure it heals properly. Joe can’t do his job one-handed—or at least not safely—so, with a sinking stomach, you tell Joe that he can stay home. You wonder, though, if you’ll ever see Joe again. He might not ever come back to work for your business.

Okay, now change the scenario: You’ve got a return to work program. Joe breaks his arm. You make sure he gets the proper medical attention, then sit him down to talk about how he can come back to work as soon as possible. You’ve got other jobs that he can do while his arm heals, jobs that are easily managed one-handed. You can tell Joe with certainty that you still depend on him, and that he will still be an active participant in the company. He’ll be able to keep his normal hours and let his arm heal. Joe’s thrilled—he wants to be independent, and he wants to go back to work. It’s a win-win for everyone.

See where this might come in handy?

So the benefits of having a return to work program are pretty self-evident, right? But your next question might be, how on earth do I go about putting this in place in my business? Well, we’ve got an answer for you, laid out in a convenient step-by-step format!

Step 1. Get your facts straight when you present your ideas to your team.

You might see how a return to work program would benefit your employees and your business, but will everyone? Is management on-board with the program? If you’re able to explain the perks of having this policy, they’ll be more likely to hop on board. So outline the benefits to your employees and to your business.

Lay out the benefits of a return to work program.

Step 2. Know your company.

You’ll need to do a bit of asking around to see how your employees view work-related injuries and returning to work. Would they want to get back to work as soon as possible if they were hurt? Do they know what would happen if they were hurt? Do you currently have a workplace injury prevention program? (Side note: Improving safety can help you lower your workers’ compensation premium.) Gauging the attitude of your employees towards injuries and returning to work will help you measure how receptive everyone will be to your program.

Take the time to chill out at the job site with your employees. You’ll figure out things that you need to work on, and you’ll be able to familiarize yourself with the jobs that your employees do and what those jobs look like. It would be hard to replicate jobs for your return to work program if you’re not quite sure what those jobs are in practice!

Step 3. Show that you mean it.

Again, make sure that everyone understands why the return to work program is going to help all of you. Make sure that your employees know that you’re trying to help them towards a speedy recovery because you genuinely care about them. You’re not trying to get them back to work to milk every little scrap of work out of them that you can.

By showing your enthusiasm for the program and explaining how it’ll be helpful, you’ll be able to see if everyone is onboard. For those that are on the fence, discussing it openly and asking for suggestions might help you to tip them over into supporting the plan.

Step 4. Be goal-oriented.

You need to have a stated, written goal of the program, and this goal should be laid out in the policy itself. You should be able to articulate why you’re implementing this program and what it’s intended to do. Your goal can also describe what the program will do for your employees—will it offer transitional jobs? Alternate duties? How will you accomplish this grand scheme of yours?

Step 5. Put together Team Return-to-Work.

Any effective program needs a person or people to head it up. You need to put together a team of people that will be in charge of the program, your wealth of information about everything return to work.

Have a team responsible for the return to work program.

These people will be responsible for:

  • Explaining the expectations of the employee, physician, and employer
  • Being a communicator between all parties involved. They’re the go-between for the physician, insurance company, employee, and boss.
  • Making sure the program is running smoothly.

Team Return-to-Work will basically be responsible for understanding the program and helping employees participate in it. They’ll also keep a “database” of alternate jobs and tasks for employees. We’ll explain the database in Step 7.

Step 6. Have expectations for each party involved.

Everyone needs to know where they fit in the process of navigating an employee’s injury. They need to know what’s required of them and what to do if you face a workers’ comp claim and are trying to get an employee back to work. Making sure that everyone knows the proper steps will help you report the workers’ comp claim quickly. The employee, management/administration, and the physician all have their jobs when it comes to getting someone back on the job.

Step 7. Have a “job database.”

As we said, having a stash of possible jobs at the ready for injured employees will help you out a lot. If you’ve already got a variety of ideas, you won’t be scrambling to find something for the employee to do. It’ll be right there already. Like we said, Team Return-to-Work will be in charge of the database. They should keep the following in mind when coming up with alternate jobs. 

  • They will need to consult with supervisors, managers, and the employees to decide on appropriate jobs for different situations. These are the people who are, obviously, most familiar with the jobs in question and what would and would not be possible under different circumstances. They’re the ones who can help come up with suggestions.
  • The jobs should range in the level of physical demand that they require. Some injuries are more severe than others.
  • Try to keep the work schedule consistent with the hours the employee worked before their injury.
  • Make sure that alternate jobs and tasks are meaningful and productive. You don’t want your employee to feel that the work they’ve been given is demeaning. You want to make sure that they feel like they’re contributing to the success of the business.

8. Remember that communication is key.

For your return to work program to be effective, everyone has to know how it works. Make sure that everyone gets a handy-dandy written copy of the return to work policy. When you hire a new employee, make sure to go over this program with them. For your current employees, make sure that you have opportunities to review it with them.

Make sure that you clearly communicate your return to work program to your employees.

If you’ve got an injured employee, make the time to have one-on-one appointments with them. You don’t want them to feel neglected. This will give you the chance to check in with them and see how they’re doing, and to see if their new duties have to be adjusted at all. They want to know that you care!

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A return to work program can help your employees if they ever face a job-related injury or illness. By having a plan and program in place, you can make the process of getting your employee back to work go more smoothly for everyone involved.

Want to get a free quote on your workers’ comp insurance? We can help! Just fill out this super quick online quote form. We’re all about quoting small businesses and helping them get the coverage they need. We’ll help you identify the risks that your business faces and make sure that you’re protected from them.