Safety, Wellness, Workers Compensation

Returning Injured Employees to Work

8/28/2019 | Ray Gage

Having an employee injured on the job is a major concern to all employers; no one wants to see someone get hurt. But of equal concern is the fallout that often ensues from a workplace injury, such as lost production, low morale, rising insurance costs, potential lawsuits and so forth.

It’s a very real problem. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall incidence rate of nonfatal occupational injury and illness cases requiring days away from work to recuperate was 91.7 cases per 10,000 full-time workers in 2016. Also, in that year, 892,270 days-away-from-work cases in private industry, state government and local government. The median days away from work to recuperate, a key measure of severity of injuries and illnesses, was eight days in 2016. 

By any quantitative measurement, the key objective is to get the injured employee back on the job as quickly as possible. But simply having a “get-back-to-work” plan in place, one often guided by the parameters of the insurance carrier, is not enough. Without a solid plan in place, “get-back-to-work” gives a negative vibe that the employer wants the employee back “whenever.” This in turn may give the injured party the perception of being “on vacation” and expendable in the eyes of the employer. When this is the case the employee is not reaping the benefits.

Employers needs to take control of the situation even before the employee is hired, and not wait until an actual injury occurs, when it has to become “return-to-work triage.” By letting the new hire know there is a solid plan in place, the employer is letting the potential employee know the company values its employees and their safety, but in the event they are hurt on the job, there is a plan in place to get them back to recovering at work as quickly as possible.”

This plan may call for “Stay at Work/Accommodated Work.” This type of plan, driven by the employer and not the insurance carrier, can:

  • reduce injury costs, likelihood of litigation, fraud and runaway costs when employees suffer injuries;
  • reduce absences, lost productivity, overtime, recruiting and training cost;
  • retain valued workers and improved employee relations and morale;
  • demonstrate consistent, fair practices and compliance with federal regulations; and
  • improve communication with employee and more control over claim direction. 

And in turn, the employee benefits from:

  • increased morale and feeling of connection;
  • shifting focus of recovery from “can’t do” to “can do”;
  • enjoying better recovery outcomes;
  • retaining full earning capacity;
  • maintaining a sense of security and stability; and
  • retaining benefits and employment status.

It’s all about pre-planning and anticipating that while accidents sometimes do happen, all the pieces are in place to implement a solid plan.

What Works and What Doesn't

An employee with back issues scheduled surgery and informed his employer of the date. The employer arranged alternate duty when the employee returned. Unfortunately, the employer failed to take into consideration the recovery window following surgery, when the employee was unable to do much. 

If the employer had spoken with the medical staff, he would have known that although the recovery period following surgery was only four days, the employee needed to be on light duty and had several restrictions that needed to be accommodated. 

Without that information, the workers’ compensation claims representative “assumed” that return to work was one week after the surgery. The error ended up costing the company and the employer 18 days of lost time.

Alternate Stay at Work Duties 

Alternate stay at work duties may include:

  • fall-protection equipment inspector;portable p
  • ower tool inspector;
  • gate attendant/site security;
  • comparison shopper (are suppliers providing best product/prices);
  • site clean-up;
  • attend vendor-provided training;
  • vehicle/equipment washer;
  • quality control inspector;
  • take company vehicles to service shop for maintenance;
  • cross trainer/mentor; and
  • develop safety training schedule.

The message to employees is clear. Should a accident happen, there is a plan in place to get them treated and back on the job as soon as possible so they don’t miss paid workdays. Let employees know that the company is working with a medical team well versed in occupational medicine, all the proper forms are in place and the entire management team knows exactly what to do should an injury occur. And, most importantly, they will be in communication with the injured worker all through the process. 

When employees receive the message—loud and clear—expect a productive and engaged workforce.

*as originally published in Construction Executive magazine.

About the Author:

Ray Gage, Director of WalkerHughes Allen County Office, is a Master Work Comp Advisor who's passion and life's work is to help sophisticated, process-oriented businesses create safe, healthy, productive workplaces, and as a result, more profitable firms.  Feel free to contact Ray at or by phone at 260-627-3641 with any questions or inquiries.