By implementing a return-to-work (RTW) program, you improve the safety and
health of workers, increase productivity and promote quicker recovery while
providing an excellent employee benefit.
RTW programs are one way to help injured workers ease back into their job;
they provide workers with temporarily modified jobs that consider physical
restrictions, skills, interests and capabilities. They also function as part of
a disability management program.
Return-To-Work Program Objectives and Benefits
Many businesses recognize and use RTW programs. Although variations exist, they
all share common characteristics.
Nearly all RTW programs focus on the following objectives:
- address the physical, emotional, attitudinal and environmental factors that
hinder the return-to-work process
- facilitate temporary or permanent job reassignment or job
- identify alternative employment, consisting of modified duties
- reduce the number of workers’ compensation injuries within your
- decrease the number of lost work days
- increase employee morale and motivation to return to and remain at
- assist in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act
Effective RTW programs benefit employers by:
- promoting good will and enhancing corporate image
- allowing active participation of management in the employee’s recovery
- reducing costs associated with replacing valuable skilled workers with
temporary or replacement workers
- maintaining an experienced work force
- minimizing productivity slow-downs
- improving employee/management relations
- promoting employee morale and security
- improving work ethic
- decreasing potential of re-injury
- uniting workers, supervisors and management
RTW programs benefit employees by:
- providing a sense of security and stability
- reinforcing management commitment to employee welfare
- reinforcing a positive self-image to the injured worker
- providing positive reinforcement to the injured worker while easing back
into the workforce
- encouraging normal working relationships with other employees
- reinforcing a daily work habit
The Team Approach
An effective RTW program is enhanced by a strong team dedicated to getting the
injured worker back to work. Together with your injured employee, the
supervisor, the insurance company and medical personnel, your efforts get your
worker back on the job.
The steps you can take to get your RTW program underway include:
- establishing a policy statement detailing your management’s commitment,
responsibility and support for the program
- appointing a coordinator with strong communication skills. The coordinator
represents your company and acts as liaison between the managing supervisor and
employee, the labor representative, the insurance company and the physician.
Active communication reaffirms the employee’s value to the company, prompting a
timely return to work.
- developing position descriptions that identify essential job functions.
This identifies those jobs performed by able-bodied employees that can be
modified to accommodate disabled workers.
- developing a task inventory that catalogs the individual tasks that could
fill the work day for an injured worker. The task inventory enables the
supervisor to quickly identify and combine many tasks to fill up an injured
employee’s allowed work time. Change assignments as your employee’s condition
- orienting and training your employees and management team on the elements
of the RTW program, including a review of the applicable workers’ compensation
system being employed, management commitment, position descriptions and
identification of standard and modified job tasks.
- using hazard identification and controls to detect loss exposures which,
when corrected, reduce the likelihood of employee injury or illness. The
objectives of such a program are to maintain a safe and healthful work
environment, reduce or eliminate the risks of injury and maintain operational
profitability for the employees and company.
- setting a positive tone for employees who come into daily contact with the
returning worker. The injured worker needs to feel wanted and secure; a
positive psychological state is tremendously important at this stage in the
Your RTW program requires the cooperation of others, too. For
- Your insurance company:
- maintains active verbal and written communication with you and the disabled
- answers benefits questions
- provides loss control services such as industrial hygiene and ergonomics
evaluations, job hazard analysis, loss control policy, program review and
employee/supervisor safety training
- The treating physician reviews, evaluates, documents and treats your
employee’s disability. The physician needs access to your position descriptions
to review current and modified job functions and to recommend additional
modifications and work restrictions where warranted.
- Your injured employee has a responsibility to report the injury immediately
to a supervisor, complete all paperwork according to company policies, follow
the physician’s directions and maintain contact with you to provide health
Return-To-Work Offer, Medical Limitations and Modified Duties
Your company’s return-to-work offer should describe the temporary work
conditions and outline expectations for your employee and supervisor. The offer
can be made by mail or phone and the employee can start right away. Follow up
with a letter.
The employee’s physician must approve, in writing, the modified duty. This
can be done after the employee starts the assignment. Make the physician aware
of your company’s policy regarding the RTW program and the degree of
accommodation your company can make. Discuss the matter with the physician
before a return-to-work evaluation form gets completed. The specific
limitations regarding lifting, bending, standing or contact with various
substances needs to be identified by the physician. Supervisors must understand
and implement the limitations when your employee returns to work.
Your injured employee may return to:
- modified work: an existing job that is not as physically taxing or
demanding as the employee’s normal job
- restricted work: the employee’s normal job, with restrictions assigned by
- modified duty or total accommodation: a specifically created position that
accommodates the injured employee’s restrictions
Job modifications and accommodations should meet the restrictions
recommended by the treating physician. It may involve changes in training,
tools, machine design, workstation design or work procedures.
The following are some simple, yet effective, ways to implement job
- minor workstation modifications – simplify the workflow process and
eliminate unessential features
- job task redesign – rearrange task sequence, eliminate tasks or distribute
them to more than one worker
- ergonomic or physical accommodations – provide adjustable chairs, hydraulic
pallets, clamping devices and ergonomic or electric tools
- environmental accommodations – rotate workers to limit exposure to
The First Days Back
Visit your employee on the first day back to give encouragement and offer extra
help required at this critical juncture. Do your best to make sure that
employees who return to work do not suffer a recurrence or relapse the first
few days back on the job. Communicate daily to ensure the employee is
comfortable with the assigned position, and make modifications to the job if
needed. You can help your employees ease back into the swing of things by
starting back to work on a schedule recommended by the treating physician.
Cincinnati’s loss control services are free to our policyholders. Let us tailor
a loss control program for your business. For more information, or to schedule
a meeting with a Cincinnati loss control representative, please contact your local independent agent representing
Our loss control service is advisory
only. We assume no responsibility for management or control of customer loss
control activities or for implementation of recommended corrective measures.
These materials were gathered from trade services and public information. We
have not tried to identify all exposures. We do not warrant that this
information is consistent with Cincinnati underwriting guidelines or with any
federal, state or local law, regulation or ordinance.
All information reprinted with
permission of Insurance Services Offices Inc.; Engineering and Safety,
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