Amy Oran, Kelley Kronenberg Fort Lauderdale

Despite the best training and safety equipment a company may provide, accidents happen. Carrying workers’ compensation coverage is legally required, but relying on your carrier is not enough. To keep claim costs low and premiums reasonable, a carefully tailored, well-executed return-to-work (RTW) policy, crafted to the particular business or industry, is critical. Here’s how to accomplish the goal.

Step 1: Implement a written RTW policy. The policy should apply to all employees regardless of seniority. It should be administered by one individual or team to ensure it is being handled consistently and correctly.

Step 2: Ensure clear knowledge of an employee’s limitations based upon forms completed by the treating physician. The goal is to keep the employee on the job, so consider restrictions carefully and think outside the box to find the best way to keep them in the game.

Step 3: Decide what position to offer. The employee does not need to be placed back in his prior role. They can be assigned to a different team or division within the company in order to find the right fit.

Step 4: Send light duty job offer letter, in writing, and via trackable means; a phone call will not suffice. The letter does not need to state the job being offered, the hours or the pay, just that a position is available, and instructions for the employee on when and whom to report to.  If the job is refused, contact the insurance adjuster immediately.

Step 5: Manage the first day back with care by discussing the details of the assignment and expectations. Ensure given tasks are within the most recent restrictions, give the information about the new role, the shifts and the pay.

Step 6: Know what you can and cannot say. Management must serve as a role model in these situations. Keeping the peace is critical. Managers should ask the employee how he is feeling or if he needs help. Avoid accusing the employee of faking pain, and do not discuss lawyers, lawsuits or litigation.

Step 7: Manage co-workers and their reactions. Members of the management team should not allow coworkers to gossip about the situation. Shut down any hints of jealousy with comments like: “If you got hurt, wouldn’t you want us to help you too?” Immediately put a stop to any discussion of money injured workers might be receiving.

Step 8: Monitor the work of the returning employee. Those who suffer from pain are more prone to re-injury. Embarrassment, pride and thoughtlessness often leads the worker to not ask for help and instead, act outside the restrictions. Engaging in activities that increase pain and lead to tighter restrictions or a no work status, can increase claim costs. Management must also watch to ensure the job is being done right. Do not allow the employee to not complete or at least attempt an assigned task.

Step 9: Accommodate medical appointments. The employer must allow workers to go to their appointments. While work schedules may conflict with the standard workday of a doctor, encourage employees to make their appointments before the shift begins or schedule around their appointments to avoid being taken advantage of.

Step 10: Respond to complaints of the injured worker, for example: “My back hurts, I need to go home.” “If your back hurts, you need to go to the doctor, because the job is within your restrictions.” “This is work I am not allowed to do.” “Let’s go over your most recent restrictions to ensure your safety.” The employee is to be protected, but also not allowed to take advantage of the kindness of the employer.

Step 11: Decide how to pay the employee on light duty as the worker need not be compensated at the same rate as prior to the accident. To have the best financial outcome, offer work that allows the employee to earn at least 80 percent of that which was being earned pre-injury. The insurance adjuster can also assist in these calculations.

Step 12: Report earnings to Worker’s Comp Carrier to ensure any benefits due are calculated and administered properly; it is not always possible to avoid entitlement to benefits through worker’s compensation, despite the company’s best efforts to do so.

It may not be an easy task, to bring back an injured worker, but the financial benefits can be significant and it goes well beyond the money; it is beneficial to the physical and mental health of your employee, too, and that is a win/win for everyone involved.

Amy Siegel Oran is a partner at Kelley Kronenberg, concentrating her practice exclusively on workers’ compensation defense. She can be reached at aoran@kklaw.com.