A RTW program is part of a customer business strategy to retain valued employees and to enhance the productivity of the workforce. The longer an employee is off work, the less likely he or she is to return. Bureau of Labor Statistics research indicates that after six months of absence from the job, there is a 50-50 chance of that employee returning to work. After one year the chances of successfully returning to work drop to 10%.

Why should employers consider a Return to Work Program (RTW)?
The answer is simple. It is the single most effective way to reduce claim costs and, depending on the number of employees our mutual customers have, one might actually be a requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In 2008, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act, (ADAAA), which clarified and broadened the way courts interpret a “disability”. ADA Title I requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others. If the employer unreasonably refuses to accommodate the injured worker, the ADA would allow a discrimination lawsuit by the employee against the employer. A well-designed and managed RTW program, therefore, is critical in assisting the employer is meeting certain requirements under the AADAAA.  Even if an insured doesn’t meet the ADA threshold for the number of employees, a RTW program is still highly recommended.

It is important to understand the motivation each key stakeholder is driven by and to get all stakeholders to work in concert to produce positive Return to Work outcomes. Key stakeholders include:

  • The employee is motivated to return to work to limit lost pay and avoid skill regression.
  • The employer wants a healthy, productive employee back to work in a timely and safe manner, and is motivated to manage direct and indirect costs associated with an employee on leave.
  • The Return to Work coordinator wants to successfully facilitate the safe and timely return of the employee back to the workforce.
  • The insurer wants to provide the necessary customer support and service to the employee, while safely minimizing the overall claims costs.
  • The physician is motivated to help the employee get back to good health.
 A RTW program can be informal or formal. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. There can be inconsistencies with an informal RTW program. Without support, managers and supervisors cannot be expected to be aware of all federal and state requirements, and may innocently ask questions that may be inappropriate or forget to track cases in-line with regulatory standards (e.g., state disability, family medical leave, etc.).

A significant component of a RTW program is providing job accommodations and modifications to employees returning to work.  The key question is whether or not the insured will be able to accommodate work modifications, if needed. Accommodations not only help the employees effectively and safely do their jobs, they may also be required under ADA guidelines. Typically, an accommodation is something that will assist an individual with completing a task without changing the expected outcome (such as a lift table to assist with lifting). A modification, on the other hand, is something that changes the expected outcome (such as removing the task that requires lifting). 

There are two essential elements to all successful RTW programs:

1.    The employer must commit to returning employees to work in a timely and safe manner. Without clearly set roles and responsibilities, the processes and programs established will remain unused.

2.    The employers must have on-going communication with the injured employee, starting after the injury occurs and continuing throughout the recovery period.

How does an employer begin to develop a RTW program?
Click here for a list of best practices employers can use when developing a RTW program. For more information about RTW programs and Workers Compensation, please contact your AMS.

The information provided herein is a summary of portions of the ADA and shall not be considered legal advice.  Following the suggestions above does not guarantee compliance with all federal and state laws.