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Return-to-Work Q&A

May 1, 2001
Related Topics: Disabilities, Featured Article
The Certification of Disability Management Specialists Commission answeredthe following questions from Workforce members in April 2001.

Q: I had a situation in California where an employee could return to work,but limited hours and with restrictions. I accommodated a return to work for theemployee and gave a filing job which met the restrictions, but with full salary.As the employer, I feel that I am not getting any real production out of theemployee. I wonder whether it would be better to keep him out on WC until he canwork in a position that is more productive. Realizing there is a cost/benefit tothis, and understanding the volatility of California WC laws, what is youropinion?

CDMSC: Paying an employee a full salary for a RTW task that is less than therequirements of their full-time jobs can be a difficult balance. However, thereare some important potential positives to keep in mind when you weigh the costof RTW salary and the "productivity" that you receive.

    First of all, employees who are on the job tend to retain a connection withthe company and may very well return to their regular jobs more quickly than ifthey are out of the job environment and become "de-conditioned." Also,loyalty of that employee and his or her colleagues can help the company retaingood workers, and capture the training costs invested in them -- as well asavoid recruitment costs for replacement workers. Add to that the fact that ADAcases can stem from workers' compensation issues, and the cost/benefit equationbecomes far more complex than just the salary paid.

Q: We have a return to work program for employees with work injuries, but weare finding that employees are staying in these light duty jobs for long periodsof time. It seems impossible to get employees to move back to their regularduties. We are running out of light duty for newly injured employees because ofit. The doctors don't seem concerned about getting people back to full duty. Wehave employees who have been on light duty for months. To further complicate thematter, we are a union. Any suggestions on how we can begin getting employeesback to full duty?

CDMSC: One way of addressing this issue is to specify the duration of the RTWassignment at the start of the program. RTW assignments are short-term innature, generally lasting between 90 and 180 days. Making the duration of theassignment part of the policy governing RTW programs will put in place a meansof informing every one of the time limitations for these temporary assignments.This could help move employees along through the process and back to theirregular jobs.

    Another thing to keep in mind is to maintain contact with the doctor and theemployee on a regular basis. It may be possible to have an employee return tohis or her regular job for a portion of a day (like work hardening) or for aportion of his/her job (again work hardening) so that employees don't get theidea that they can stay on a light duty job forever. Most important, of course,is limiting the time employees can stay in the light duty job.

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