Lower Workers’ Comp Premiums with a Return-to-Work Program

Lower Workers’ Comp Premiums with a Return-to-Work Program

How to design a Return-to-Work Program that benefits both your employees and your company

A Return-to-Work program is your company’s plan for getting an employee who has been injured on the job back to work as quickly as possible.

While there are many different types of return-to-work programs, the intention is always the same – to bring the injured employee back to work earlier by designing a job for them that meets the restrictions set forth by his/her physician or the insurer’s independent medical examiner. The position the employee returns to can be a modified one that is available on a permanent basis or it can be a temporary, transitional light-duty job that meets the employee’s current physical restrictions.

Even though having a return-to-work program is not mandatory for business owners in states such as Massachusetts, Connecticut, or Rhode Island, implementing this type of plan can yield significant benefits for businesses of any size as well as for those they employ. In particular, companies in industries that have an inherent increased risk of injury, from manufacturers and wholesalers, to mechanics and electricians, to health and human service providers, may find that a return-to-work program helps them have much more control over their workers’ comp premiums.

As your local specialist in workers’ compensation insurance and risk management, the team at Insurance Center of New England (ICNE) would like to help you explore the benefits of a return-to-work program in more detail as well as share the key elements that can make your plan a long-term success.

The Four Traits of an Effective Return-to-Work Program

A successful return-to-work program should help injured employees feel connected to their company, their work, and their team, for a limited period of time until they can resume their full duties again. If you’re ready to implement this type of plan, or think your current program needs a redesign, you’re probably wondering how to ensure that not only your employees have a good experience, and see the value of returning to work early, but that your company benefits as well?

Regardless of the industry, we believe the most effective return-to-work programs share these four traits:

  • Flexibility

    Provide injured employees the opportunity to work part time, telecommute, modify their work duties or their schedules, or whatever they need to continue to perform a role for your company. Each individual case is going to be different and may require some creativity to identify how this employee can come back to work and be useful to your operation. In very rare instances, where there is no such solution, we have even seen companies place their injured employee with a charitable organization where they can serve until they are ready to come back to their full-time position.

  • Collaboration

    It’s key to not only work with your employee to achieve a safe and early return to the workplace, but also with their physician. Ideally, your company will have an already established relationship with the employee’s care provider. The way to do this is to proactively seek out exceptional medical care professionals in areas such as occupational or physical therapy before an injury ever occurs. Then, list this person (and all other vetted care professionals) in your written return-to-work program as a resource for your employees. In addition, it’s critical to take the time to outline the physical requirements for each position in your company so that, in the event of an injury caused by the workplace, this information can be quickly and easily communicated to the attending physician. When the medical provider clearly understands what an injured employee’s job entails, they can effectively evaluate which of the job-related tasks the individual will, and will not, have the capacity to perform.

  • Compassion

    If you want an employee to feel comfortable coming back to work early, then let them know that you take their condition seriously and that you are committed to creating a work environment that is supportive of their special requirements. It is essential that your employees hear that you care about them and that you are eager to have them come back to work. In addition, supervisors, team members, and everyone the injured employee works with should understand and respect the individual’s restrictions as well as the modifications that have been made so that they can return to work.

  • Follow up

    Once the injured employee is back at work, it’s critical to review their modified or light-duty position on a weekly basis to ensure that it still makes sense for both the individual and for the company. Appoint an individual in your company who can work with the injured employee if there are any problems once he/she returns to work. Ultimately, an accommodation for an injured employee should not last more than 90 days.

If you want your return-to-work program to be a success – and to save your company money – we encourage you to be authentic in your desire to have your employees return to work early and to be genuine in your desire to help them through their injury.

The Financial Benefits of Having a Return-to-Work Program

After an injury happens in the workplace, one of the main goals of most employers is to get the employee back to work as soon as possible. At ICNE, we understand that this would be your priority for many reasons, not the least of which is a financial one.

Initially, the costs associated with an on-the-job injury will fall under your workers’ compensation coverage. And thus, you will not have to dip into your company’s assets to cover the medical, rehabilitation or lost wages expenses for your injured employee.

However, while these injury-related expenses are paid out by your workers’ compensation insurance company, they can still have a dramatic financial impact on your business by negatively affecting your experience modifier, one of the key factors that influences your workers’ comp premium.

This mod factor is calculated based on the losses that you have experienced as an employer. When there are multiple on-the-job injuries at your company, your mod factor is going to increase, driving your workers’ comp premium up with it.

But, if you have a return-to-work program in place, you have the opportunity to influence your mod factor and contain your workers’ comp premiums. A return-to-work program will help you get your injured employee back to work sooner, which means that your workers’ comp company will not have to pay out as much in workers’ comp benefits. In fact, a study sponsored by the RAND Institute of Civil Justice found that injured employees who worked for a company with a return-to-work program returned approximately 1.4 times sooner – or took 3-4 weeks less of workers’ comp benefits – compared to workers injured at a firm without a program.

Ultimately, if you reap similar results from your return-to-work program, it can mean your company will face a far lower increase in both your mod factor and your workers’ comp premium after an on-the-job incident. However, to save the most on future premiums, you may want to strive to bring an injured employee back to work before your state’s “waiting period” kicks in. This waiting period is the amount of time that a person has to be out of work before they are eligible to receive workers’ comp payments. While the waiting period varies by state, it is typically between three to seven days. If you can safely bring an employee back to work in this time frame, then your workers’ comp claim will most likely be considered medical-only and, in some states, this means that only 30 percent of the claim costs will be included in your mod calculation.

Another financial consideration for implementing a return-to-work program is that many of the standard workers’ compensation insurance carriers, who offer the best services and pricing, will only do business with companies that have this program in place. So, if you decide to forego having a formal return-to-work program for injured employees, then you could be relegated to your state’s workers’ compensation insurance pool, where pricing for coverage is going to be much higher.

Looking Beyond the Financial Benefits of a Return-to-Work Program

While it’s easy to view return-to-work programs as simply a tool to reduce your workers’ compensation costs, this plan can also help business owners address everything from the inflated costs of health care, to chronic absenteeism, to diminishing worker output. According to the Society For Human Resource Management, an effective return-to-work program can significantly improve the health and efficiency of your workforce.

Specifically, having a formal return-to-work program at your company can lead to these general workplace benefits:

  • Increased workforce productivity
  • Reduction in lost time due to injury
  • Higher employee morale
  • Fewer performance issues
  • Faster resolution of claims
  • Increased sense of job security
  • Improved labor relations
  • Better employee retention rates

In addition, a well-constructed and carefully administered return-to-work program can often play a critical role in the healing process for an injured employee. When a member of your staff is seriously injured on the job, it can change their life entirely. A once independent and active person can suddenly find themselves severely limited by their injury and unable to perform acts of daily living they used to take for-granted. Returning to a normal work routine and having the support and guidance that a return-to-work program offers, can be an extremely important part of the recovery process – both mentally and physically.

Being back with co-workers, even in a limited capacity, gives an injured employee a renewed sense of purpose that just sitting at home all day by themselves cannot. Plus, the individual can protect their earning power while contributing to your organization’s output. Finally, a quick return to work can actually relieve much of the stress caused by the original incident and its aftermath.

ICNE Can Help You Design an Effective Return-to-Work Program

ICNE has partnered with hundreds of employers across New England to assess whether a return-to-work program would be right for their company. The factors that we look at include:

  • The potential cost savings for your business
  • What types of injuries have been occurring
  • Your company’s capability to provide work options appropriate for injured employees

If, after considering these factors, we agree that a return-to-work program would be feasible and financially beneficial for your company, ICNE will go to work designing a plan with you.

First, it’s critical that you detail out each step of your return-to-work program in simple and understandable language and that you add this information to your employee handbook. This way, if a work-related injury occurs, then there will be no question on the part of the company or the employee as to how the situation will be handled.

From getting the employee the medical attention they need, to facilitating the employee’s return to a modified or light-duty job at the earliest possible date, to eventually reinstating the employee to a full-time position, we will help ensure that your program structure and guidelines are properly documented. In addition, ICNE’s benefits specialists will also ensure that your return-to-work program complies with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), OSHA, and other state and federal laws and regulations.

Once your program is in place, the ICNE team will continue to play several behind-the-scenes roles to ensure its success. For example, should there be an on-the-job accident, we have a dedicated in-house claims specialist who will monitor the workers’ compensation claim and be your advocate for getting an employee back to work as soon as possible. In addition, we can help you evaluate the workplace accommodations an injured employee requires and assist you in identifying the modified or light-duty job that they might be able to return to.

However, as your insurance partner, we believe our most important role is to help you prevent injuries from happening in the first place when possible, and, if an injury does occur, making sure that this same thing does not happen again. We do this through a thorough risk management process that includes working with you to:

  • Analyze your Workers’ Compensation Experience Modification (Mod) Rating
  • Identify, understand and evaluate your business risks and create solutions to control these risks
  • Recognize weak safety measures in your organization and business operations that could lead to on-the-job injuries
  • Establish a safety committee to represent employees’ health and safety issues
  • Implement or change your workplace safety plans and guidelines in order to reduce your claims and, ultimately, your premiums
  • Investigate accidents and implement additional training for employees when warranted
  • And much more

At ICNE, we view a return-to-work program as just one piece – albeit an important one – of a much larger strategy to control your workplace risks, prevent on-the-job injuries and claims, and, ultimately, reduce your workers’ compensation premiums.

If you are ready for a more personal relationship with a trusted insurance agent who is always looking out for you and your business, then call us today at (800) 243-8134 or stop into any one of our three convenient Massachusetts offices. An ICNE professional will be glad to help you evaluate the best return-to-work program for your company and your employees as well as assist you with all of your business insurance needs.

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