Losing an employee to illness or injury is painful, even when it’s temporary. Adding a bit of salt to the wound, both insurance rates and Labor & Industry risk classification ratings can go up as a result. It’s easy for companies to get bogged down in a tidal wave of claims paperwork but in the meantime, the clock is ticking. Studies have shown that employees who are off work for more than six months are 50% less likely to return at all.
What to do? The obvious solution is to implement a Return to Work plan – but not all plans are created equal. Many employers have never created a Return to Work Plan and may not know how to go about it; others may have company templates that are in reality little more than job descriptions or cookie cutter documents that fail to address individual needs or circumstances.
That’s where customized Return to Work Plans come in. Customized plans define roles and responsibilities, establish clear parameters around what an employee can and can’t do, and require collaboration between the injured worker, their manager or supervisor, and healthcare professionals, all with a goal of getting the employee back to work. Single Handed Consulting helps companies streamline the process and create a solution that works for all involved.
“We provide everyone with a clear idea of what’s required and what their role is within the process,” says Dale Bristow, L&I Manager and Vocational Consultant at Single Handed.
How Customized Return to Work Plans Function
Creating an effective Return to Work Plan involves data collection, analysis, recommendations and finally, implementation. Communication is essential throughout the process, which will ideally begin as soon as possible after the worker is injured.
“Data has shown that early contact and starting to work on claims sooner results in a dramatic decrease in claim costs,” says Bristow. “It also helps more people get back to work sooner.”
Step one involves information gathering and analysis specifically about the employee’s role. Both a job description and the analysis then go to a medical professional for review. Once that’s complete, the doctor recommends work duties based on the physical condition of the patient.
The next stage depends on that condition: in some cases an employee may be ready to fully return to their previous role but, if not, it will be necessary to explore other options such as a modified version of their former job or using transferable skills in a different role. In some cases, employees require retraining.
“Our number one goal is to determine if the person can get back to work at the job of injury,” says Bristow. “Does the employer have light duty restrictions they could provide? If that’s not doable, we look at transferable skills and past work history that meets the department’s criteria.”
Single Handed Consulting acts as a go-between with L&I, identifying programs such as Stay at Work that can save companies money and provide viable options to losing the employee altogether. Communication is key. “We try to provide everybody with as much information as possible without throwing a bunch of paper at them,” says Bristow. “Whether we’re working with a company or a third-party administrator, we provide them with tools and options.”
Benefits of Customized Return to Work Plans
Developing customized Return to Work Plans yields benefits not only for the employee in question but for the workplace as a whole. On the financial front, L&I rates don’t go up as much as they typically would. Through L&I’s Stay at Work program, employers can keep someone on the job and continue to pay them a salary instead of paying time-loss compensation to the department for lost wages.
“The amount of money that goes out for workers’ medical and time loss fees can affect the rates employers have to pay to L&I as well as their risk classification ratings,” says Bristow. “If we can help an employer come up with ways to reduce costs, it benefits them in the long run.”
For employees, the process provides support and allays fears.
“Workers are scared,” says Bristow. “We’re able to provide them with tools that bring peace of mind from knowing that they’ll be able to get back to work.”
But some of the effects are less obvious; a clear process sends a message to other employees about how the company handles claims. Single Handed’s collaborative approach provides employers with language for how to describe it when someone is off work and decreases or removes the tendency toward an adversarial environment which reduces productivity and chips away at company culture. This allows everyone to arrive at the best outcome as a team.
For any company or third-party organization looking to reduce stress, lower costs and maintain a positive work environment throughout the claims process, customized Return to Work Plans are a compelling option.