As many as 50 percent of your employees won’t return to work after a long-term absence, often caused by injury or illness. This takes a toll on fellow employees and your bottom line. A properly-implemented Return-to-Work (RTW) program can bring more of your valued employees back to their posts by keeping them connected to the business while they recover fully. This will in turn reduce your workers’ compensation (WC) costs by as much as 25 to 50 percent. Here’s what you need to know to do it right:

  1. Write it down. The Return to Work program should include actions to take following an injury or illness, a communication strategy and transitional employment steps. Ask your broker about industry and location-specific risks or issues you should know about. Designate an employee, typically an HR exec, to champion your Return to Work program and make sure it is shared with all employees before illness or injury occurs.
  2. Divvy it up. Decide ahead of time who will be responsible for which aspects of the employee’s transition back to the workplace. Appoint a contact person to interact with health and performance vendors for returning employees. Let your HR, risk or benefits team know their role in helping employees return to work.
  3. Create checklists. Provide employees with a step-by-step list of what to do when an injury or illness prevents them from working, including how to: report an accident and reason for being away from work, follow a treatment plan prescribed by a medical professional and communicate the progress of their recovery.
  4. Tisk, task. Develop a list of interim tasks depending on the type of work the employee normally does. Discuss these tasks with the employee and their medical advisors. Finally, set goals. Measure the employee’s progress with the eventual goal of transitioning them back to their previous duties.
  5. Serve it up. Provide each employee with a written copy of their own RTW plan. Document part-time hours, required clerical tasks and shared responsibilities. Have the employee, their supervisor, medical advisor, supervisor and your HR staff approve and sign off on the transition agreement, both when it’s written and when the employee finally returns to work.   
  6. Make it clear. Make sure all key stakeholders know how to address an injury or illness in real time. An employee should receive all the information they need to understand the RTW process and their responsibilities relating to it. A manager should know what to do when an employee begins missing time.
  7. Don’t let it escalate. Create an escalation process to address any problems that may occur during an employee’s return to work, or any other violations of the agreed-upon RTW plan. Employees and supervisors should have recourse to address concerns and raise issues. Designate a person to intervene on the employee’s behalf as needed.