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Ailing Economy Hurts Return-to-Work Efforts for Injured Employees: Analysis

The Workers Compensation Research Institute studied workers' compensation procedures and outcomes in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which were deemed to have faster and higher return-to-work rates than other states.

December 1, 2011
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The economic downturn has made it more difficult for injured employees to return to work, according to a study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute.

In a report released Nov. 29, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based WCRI studied workers' compensation procedures and outcomes in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which were deemed to have faster and higher return-to-work rates than other states.

In the study, WCRI said the economy has reduced the impact of certain workers comp practices in those states.

"Against a backdrop of high unemployment, some injured workers may face even greater challenges in returning to work, potentially leading to increases in the duration of disability," WCRI said in the report.

It said the Great Recession made it more difficult for employers to offer modified work duties for injured workers that would allow those employees to re-enter the workplace during their recovery.

"Employers are leaner and less inclined to offer light, transitional or modified duty in the economic downturn, particularly employers who do not want to have to lay off another employee in order to bring an injured worker back to light duty during the healing period," according to the study.

The institute also said there are fewer jobs for unemployed injured workers to seek, and that some employers are reluctant to hire workers with permanent work restrictions.

Despite increased challenges, the down economy has created a financial incentive for employees to return to work as soon as possible—particularly when they stand to lose temporary disability benefits, the study said.

Sheena Harrison writes for Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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