Return to Work Programs (RTW)
Once an injury has occurred, the goal of a Return to Work program should be to return the injured employee to work as quickly as possible. To accomplish that, the employee's job may have to be reevaluated considering the following two alternatives:
- Modified Work: The employee returns to his original job, but some restrictions are placed on the job by the treating physician. Restrictions may include reducing the amount of work time, and/or restricting certain activities such as bending or lifting. Modified Work is also referred to as Light Duty.
- Temporary Alternate Work: The employee returns to work, but because the original job cannot be modified to conform with the physician's restrictions, he or she performs another job that accommodates the injured employee's abilities.
Benefits of a RTW Program
A RTW program is beneficial to both management and employees. Such a program:
- Allows an injured employee to continue to be productive and to contribute to the company.
- Maintains communications between injured employees and management.
- Reinforces the company's interest and concern for an injured employee.
- Improves communications between company, the employee and the treating physician.
- Discourages malingering.
- Reduces the disability associated with an injury and its related costs.
Another benefit of developing a RTW program is that it helps a company comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). By following the steps listed below, specifically those in Job Descriptions, the essential components of each job will be identified and classified. This will help management identify jobs which potential employees with disabilities may be able to perform.
Steps to a Successful RTW Program
Top Management Support and Commitment
In order for a RTW program to be successful, it is imperative that management make a firm commitment to "drive home" the need of the program and its benefits to all employees. Once the program has been developed, management should develop a strategy for communicating its enthusiasm for the program throughout the company.
A written description should be developed for all present jobs as well as potential alternate jobs. The description should include a listing of the job's essential functions, the location where it is performed, length of shift, etc. Job functions such as lifting, carrying, bending, walking, standing, and other repetitive motions should be classified according to severity and recurrence.
Policies and Procedures
Top management should develop policies and procedures by which RTW programs will operate. A variety of issues must be addressed, including: Who administers the program, and how is that administrator selected? When can the program be used, and by whom? What sort of forms (job demands, doctor's release to work, standard letters) should be developed? How long should Temporary Alternate Work last? How long should Modified Work last?
Communication and Training
Once the program is developed, top management must develop a strategy for communicating with employees about the importance of the program and their role in it. This communication may take the form of training for management and supervisors, and group discussions or seminars with employees. Top management may also want to meet with treating physicians or other medical personnel to get their input and involvement.
Follow Up and Evaluation
Top management should establish a timetable for periodic follow-up and evaluation of the program. This will ensure the program's continued use, identify any incorrect procedures, and reveal concerns that may not have been addressed in the original program.