When an employee is injured on the job-site, he or she can be out of work for weeks or even months. If an injury occurs, your well-maintained written Return to Work program will help ensure that your employee gets back to work as quickly and safely as possible.

Andy Baird, Risk Management Consultant at Builders Mutual, joins us to share his take on the importance of Return to Work programs and recommend specific practices for putting these plans to work.

An Overview of Return to Work Programs

While an injured employee may not be 100% medically released to perform normal job functions, he or she can still contribute to the team. A Return to Work (RTW) program allows an employee who is not able to perform his or her usual job to return to work in a temporary, limited, or light capacity during recovery.

These programs can provide many advantages to a business and its employees, including:

  • Improving employer-employee relations
  • Making employees feel valued
  • Hastening the healing process
  • Maintaining an experienced workforce
  • Reducing turnover and, in turn, lowering expenses to replace/hire new workers.

RTW programs are critical for improving employee morale. If a team member is out long-term, the remaining employees’ energy levels and morale typically decrease. Those workers are present in body but not necessarily 100% present in mind. Implementing an RTW program can keep your teams at full energy, even if the returning employee is not working at his or her standard capacity.

Creating a Program for Your Business

When you are establishing an RTW program, three key components come into play:

1. A written RTW program: It is important to have an RTW program in writing and on hand in case of an accident. As you put the program in writing, keep the heart of the matter at the forefront. This concept often gets lost in the numbers and liability, but it is extremely important to communicate the program as an employer effort to show your employees that they are the most vital part of the company and its function.

Emphasize that it is your goal to get the individual back to work as soon as medically safe and that there are many transitional opportunities available before the worker returns to 100% function. Employees utilizing the RTW program should always be supervised to ensure they are working at the levels they are medically capable.

2. Job analysis: Maintaining a detailed job description for every role on the job-site is useful, but this may be unrealistic and not always necessary for smaller companies. One option is to develop a list of two or three jobs that may be available as light or transitional work options for employees in the RTW program.

These jobs can vary on a case-by-case basis, so having a few pre-written general descriptions can be useful to give to medical professionals for approval. Developing relationships with healthcare professionals is recommended, because each business has a specific way of doing things. If you have a healthcare provider who is familiar with your business practices, this can mitigate the likelihood of miscommunication and ensure that clear and realistic guidelines are set.

3. Transitional work options: When an employee is able to return to work at partial health, morale increases among other employees. Transitional jobs ensure that employees are valued for everything they bring to the business, not just to fill space on a job-site.

In giving an individual a (healthcare professional-approved) job during recovery, you can draw from many different jobs, depending on the employee’s condition and needs. There are many opportunities for injured employees to learn more about your business, and often there are multiple ways they can benefit the business by being present:

  • Language training: Many job-sites are bilingual, so teaching the recovering employee a new language could benefit the employee and others. Rosetta Stone is a commonly used and effective language course, and it can be practiced at home as well as at work.
  • Safety inspector and teacher: The employee is likely very familiar with safety protocol and could perform safety inspections on the job-site during recovery time. The employee could also teach safety courses to incoming team members.
  • Answering phones: The employee can spend time in the office and assist the team by taking phone calls and answering questions.
  • Shadowing estimators: By shadowing an estimator, the employee can be involved on job-sites and is often able to provide more insight about the job, resulting in a more effective estimate.

The Milk and Bread Program

During my time on the job-site, I implemented what we called the Milk and Bread program. This walked through all three components of an RTW program in an employee-centric way, always keeping employee needs and morale at the forefront of our thoughts during the RTW process. Following a job-site injury, employees often feel afraid of losing their jobs or being unable to support their families. This often leads them to seek help from an attorney and can prolong the process of getting them back to work quickly and without stress.

Through the Milk and Bread program, supervisors would pay a visit to the home of the injured employee with a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread. This stresses to the employee the value they have to the business and allows both the worker and the spouse/family to ask questions and gain reassurance that the employee will be able to return to work upon recovery.

This program helps to alleviate any fear injured employees may have of replacement or lack of support from their place of work, and it helps reduce the likelihood of lawyers becoming involved. During these visits, supervisors should discuss next steps for compensation, claims, and transitional work options. They should also provide a list of any contacts injured employees might need. This can vary across medical treatment or therapy, as well as by insurance provider, and the list should include an internal contact who can keep injured employees up to date on work.

If an individual is out of work for an extended period, the supervisor should follow up with a weekly phone call. It is often beneficial for the president or owner of your business to reach out to the injured employee and his or her family as well. The business leader can provide positive reassurance and remind the employee that he or she is a valued member of the business’ team.
Overall, plans like this one show that the employee comes first and give a true morale boost to all involved. RTW programs are cost-effective and can be adjusted to the business’ needs and financial abilities. Reach out to your contacts at Builders Mutual to help tailor a program for your business.