Setting the path for Return to Work

  • Step 1
    • Stay in touch with the employee.  There’s nothing lonelier than making your way through the hoops and obstacles that comprise the workers comp system.  Doing it alone without the guidance and support of the employer or claims team magnifies the isolation of a work-related injury and is more likely to lead the injured employee toward litigation.  Once that occurs, the goals and objectives of the attorney and insurance carrier devise an expected outcome that does not include your employee returning to work and costing the employer significantly.
    • Some things employers can do after an injury (if it’s not too serious) is sit down with the employee and read the information on the workers comp injury claim form.  Fill out as much as possible for the employee and help them fill out their portion.  Discuss what will happen next in terms of medical treatment and return to work.  It’s very important to reassure the employee that medical care will be provided and a portion of their wages will be paid to them while they are on the mend, but the main focus will be on helping them return to work.  If the employer has been proactive, there will be an inventory of possible alternative (or light duty) work that the employee will be welcomed back to until they are fully capable of returning to work in their usual occupation.
  • Step 2
    • Create a job analysis.  If the employer is proactive and if it is feasible, a general job analysis of each occupation in the company is archived in a job analysis binder.  The job analysis describes the claimant’s job in minute detail in terms of physical requirements, i.e lifting , sitting, standing, etc.  A very important aspect of this activity is to identify the purpose of the employee’s job.  This makes it easy to identify the essential aspects of the employee’s job, which in turn, will allow for the temporary or permanent elimination of non-essential aspects of the job making it much simpler to accommodate an injured employee after an injury.  If physical restrictions prohibit the employee from performing an “updated” version of their job, this process can be repeated for other occupations in the company that will allow for the accommodation of the injured worker’s restrictions.  The point is to walk through this process with the employee, which can keep an employee from seeking legal recourse, because the employee is unsure of what the next step is.  This is simple customer service.  Car dealers go through these steps with prospects and even provide “loaner” cars for owners while their car is being serviced.
  • Step 3
    • Use the job analysis in order to obtain work capacities and work restrictions.  When you drive the employee down to the doctor’s office, make sure to provide the doctor with a copy of the job analysis so the doctor may address work restrictions and capacities that could return the employee back to work.  Make certain to obtain a copy of the doctor’s opinion on the work restrictions and capacities.  Some employers wait for the insurance carrier to handle these steps and obtain the work restrictions.  While I’m sure that the carrier representative is capable of handling this aspect of the claim, most claim representatives take on average two to three weeks (at times even longer) to handle this aspect.  The employer can save the expense of temporary disability benefits if they are proactive and handle this aspect of the claim themselves.  There are firms, like BMA West, that handle these aspects of the claim in quick fashion.
  • Step 4
    • Once the restrictions and capacities are in hand, head back to the workplace and check to see if he or she is able to accomplish the essential aspects of the job, the employer may make accommodations and adjustments to the job that will allow the injured worker to stay in their original position.
    • Otherwise research the equivalent jobs on site that will accommodate the employee’s restrictions.
    • The employer may also provide a lower grade job, if accommodations will allow the employee to do the new job and no equivalent job was available.
    • As a final resort the employer may simply assign varying tasks the employee is able to accomplish until he or she is fully recovered.

The important thing is to maintain an open, ongoing communicative relationship with the employee as a method of inclusion.  This is the basis for workers comp advocacy.  The employer should monitor and follow-up on the accommodation and medical treatment until the employee returns to work and the eventual claim conclusion.

Workers comp advocacy is simple customer service.  Actually, its top notch customer service.  While employers don’t currently value the painstaking efforts of caring for others, they do when they realize a reduction in premiums, overall losses and improved morale.  This approach minimizes litigation risks and allows for excellent return to work results!  The State of California Division of Workers Compensation provides an adequate handbook on return to work.  My only qualm with the handbook is that it is written and sponsored by insurance carriers, medical corporations and other insurance related profit makers.

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