Creating a Successful Return-to Work-Program: Benefits for Employers and Injured Employees

Foot in a blue cast, resting on a coffee table


A return-to-work program is a system designed to support injured employees by providing them with modified work duties that are tailored to their injury. These programs are intended to help employees ease back into their regular work responsibilities, which can help speed up their recovery process and make the return to work experience a positive one. Job modifications are developed and implemented based on the injured employee’s limitations, restrictions, functional capacity, and physical capabilities.

When an employee is injured on the job, it can be challenging to know how to proceed. However, with a return-to-work program in place, the employee can receive modified work duties that are suited to their abilities, which can help them get back to work sooner. Additionally, return-to-work programs show support and value for injured employees by making accommodations, reducing their hours temporarily, and demonstrating commitment to their well-being. This can boost employee morale and motivation, which can increase workplace productivity.

There are also benefits for the employer in implementing a return-to-work program. It can reduce workers' compensation costs by reducing the amount of time that the employee is away from work. Additionally, it can help to minimize the impact of the injured employee's absence on the rest of the workforce and avoid the cost of losing an experienced/trained employee, overtime payroll to cover lost production, and the costs of hiring/replacing the employee.

Creating a return to work program involves a series of steps that can be implemented to ensure the program's success and effectiveness.

  • Establish a return-to-work team or committee, made up of representatives from different departments within the organization, such as HR, management, and health and safety. Get your employees involved. Gather information by talking to co-workers and employees about their thoughts on injuries in the workplace and returning to work.  This will allow you to gauge the impact the program has on the morale of employees. The team will be responsible for developing policies and procedures that outline the expectations and responsibilities of both the employer and employee during the return-to-work process. This can include information on modified work duties, time off for appointments, and communication protocols.
  • Educate your employees on return-to-work programs. It is essential to ensure that all employees are aware of the program and its benefits. Train managers and supervisors in how to handle return to work cases, including how to make accommodations and modify work duties as needed. Work with healthcare providers to assess the employee's injury and abilities and determine what modified work duties can be provided. Identify modified work duties that can accommodate the employee's injury, taking into consideration their skills and abilities. It is recommended to include your return to work program and any policies in your employee handbook.
  • Monitor the employee's progress and adjust the modified work duties as necessary. Maintain open communication with the employee throughout the return-to-work process, providing ongoing support and feedback. Evaluating the success of the return to work program periodically and making adjustments as necessary to improve its effectiveness is also important.

When assigning transitional duties, take a positive approach and focus on what employees can do, rather than tasks they can't perform. Assign meaningful duties that allow injured employees to maintain their dignity. Revise current job descriptions to include only necessary tasks. Assign tasks that may have been put off or that are being done only occasionally, such as inventorying supplies or reviewing old files. Temporarily reassign tasks to free up other employees. Ensure that employees and their co-workers fully understand that this is temporary work and that injured employees are expected to return to their full jobs as soon as medically able.

Establishing a return-to-work program is beneficial to both the employee and the employer, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. Contact one of our agents today to learn about the return-to-work resources available from our client portal.