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Returning to Work in a Down Economy

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The process of returning to work from an injury can be a difficult journey, particularly when the injury is serious and requires light or transitional duty. According to a study published by the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI), the current economic climate is making that process even more difficult.

To get a true sense of the economy’s impact on the return-to-work process, the WCRI studied various return-to-work situations in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

“How workers’ compensation system features impact injured workers’ return-to-work prospects is particularly relevant in the context of the economic downturn,” says Dr. Richard Victor of the WCRI. “Identifying system features that promote early return to work and understanding those that create barriers can help policymakers focus on win-win opportunities for both injured workers and employers.”

The reputation of the RTW process is fairly positive in the two states that were studied, but as Victor mentioned, employees are still having a hard time. And because of the poor economic conditions we are facing as a country, employers are having difficulty offering light or modified duty for employees looking to return to work from an injury.

What Next?

Although we cannot control the current economic climate, the WCRI study hints that policymakers have a responsibility for implementing new measures that could change the game for the RTW process.

According to the study, the return-to-work process could significantly benefit from clearly defined standards and processes for temporary disability benefit termination. Researchers believe that mutual financial incentives for both the employer and injured worker upon a successful return to work would minimize the worker’s detachment from the job, decrease the length of absence, and reduce indemnity costs.

Researchers also found that disability benefits and restrictions on job duties are additional potential barriers for the success of an injured worker returning to the job. High unemployment rates add more pressure to this situation, as employees are often rushing to get back to work for fear of losing their jobs.

One of the most important concerns highlighted in the study was the impact of medical providers and the company’s medical staff in the success of returning to work. Because medical professionals play a central role in communicating on the efforts and interests of both sides, it is very important that companies provide an opportunity for streamlined communication between the injured worker, the employer, and the medical team.

What guidelines and processes does your company have in place to ensure the return-to-work process is a successful one for both sides? Let us know in the comment box below.

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