Avoiding Pitfalls in Planning a Return-To-Work Process

Energy | 4/27/2022

Written By: Tara Crisp

Return-to-work (RTW) is a complex process and understanding it is a valuable tool in an employer’s belt. The process assists the employer with showing employees how they are valued by planning for alternative solutions that will benefit the injured worker financially and psychologically. Thoughtfully executed RTW programs will plan for worst-case scenarios that provide resources for managers to utilize while meeting the needs of the most restricted worker.

Return to work programs are one of the few tools that employers have to manage their experience modification factor. For employers that rely on their experience modification factor to secure and maintain contracts, this pre-planning can be invaluable. If you work in an experience rate adjustment state and can provide immediate return to work for your injured workers, your ability to manage costs associated with your workers’ compensation claims is increased by 70%! In order to take advantage of this discount, your injured worker cannot miss any time that results in wages being paid by the workers’ compensation carrier.

But the key to a successful RTW process is planning! There should be a concrete plan in place prior to an employee becoming injured. These are key factors to remember:

  • Training, and making sure managers and supervisors know the process and what they can / cannot do, is an important part of return-to-work.
  • Establishing relationships with physicians in your area who understand the goals and objectives.
  • Statutes and requirements vary from state to state as well as the benefits. These benefits should be analyzed by each business unit based on resources available in the area and the advantages to applying RTW.
  • Knowing physician requirements in your state.
  • Having appropriate task lists ready.
  • It is the responsibility of the employer to know and understand the requirements of the states they operate in to avoid costly fines and missteps.

Another key factor in a RTW plan is the proper physician choice requirements. Not knowing the requirements for physician choice in your state could result in a less than desirable position when trying to manage the injured worker’s care and RTW. Some states allow the employer to choose the treating physician and some states allow the employee to choose. Some states only require one physician for the injured worker to choose from, and some states require six physicians.

For task lists it is crucial to know what is required in each state. In some states, the physician is required to sign off on a task letter, approving the modified duty tasks that the injured worker will be performing. If an employer does not have the task list ready to accompany the injured worker when they receive medical care the first time, it could be difficult to obtain approval allowing the employee to come back to work on modified duty. In some states, if the employee misses three paid days, then the carrier is required to start paying their wages.

The other aspect of this benefit is that employers must pay the employee’s full average weekly wage, even if the employee is working fewer hours and/or in a less skilled position. If the employer offers a modified duty assignment, and the employee is making less than the average weekly wage, the workers’ compensation carrier is required to make up that monetary difference. If that occurs, the 70% discount will be lost. There is some risk that if the injured suffers an impairment at the end of the claim that you will lose this advantage, but it is worth discussing and understanding with your team. It is imperative that the employer, and management responsible for executing this plan, understand these complications.

The return-to-work process is important, so it is a best practice to have a plan for it! This doesn’t happen by accident though. In the long run, pre-planning will save money and time. It’s your responsibility to know the rules to guide your injured worker, and in these scenarios mistakes can be devastating. Your AssuredPartners Energy team is here to help guide you through these risks. As your trusted advisor, we can help you feel at ease with these situations. Contact us today to see how AssuredPartners can guide you to a return-to-work plan.