Resources & Insights

Getting Your Return-to-Work Program Working

August 1, 2017

The rates vary from state to state, but from 10 to 18 percent of injured workers never reach “substantial return to work,” according to a study from the Workers Compensation Research Institute.

return to work
CCIG’s Julie Greenamyre.

What does “substantial return to work” mean?

The phrase refers to workers who returned to work after an injury and continued to work for at least a month before any subsequent absence from work.

“We are not saying that working for at least a month is substantial but that working for a month is more substantial than a typical return to work not lasting for at least a month,” the authors of the study explained.

That happens, of course, for a number of reasons, starting with fear of income loss and even job loss.

Private and public employers commonly struggle with the question of how to make sure their return-to-work programs are working properly.

Related: 10 Ways to Reduce Your Health Care Costs

Fundamentally, a return-to-work program helps employers retain valued employees and enhance the productivity of their workforce. These programs also help employers reduce disability leave costs and stay in compliance with disability-related labor regulations such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, workers’ compensation and other federal and state laws.

Not surprisingly, studies show that the longer an employee is away from work, the lower their chances of returning to the job.

Those who miss more than six months of work have about a 50 percent chance of returning. Missing more than one year means their chance of returning to work drops to 25 percent.

One of the best ways to help an injured employee recover, and to keep your claim costs down, is to offer them modified work tasks.

Modified duty is a temporary situation that occurs when an injured worker can perform some, but not all, of their regular job tasks.

It may include modifying their essential or nonessential tasks, limiting work hours, changing work conditions or physically modifying the work place.

Examples of effective return-to-work strategies include offering the opportunity to work part time, telecommuting, modifying work duties, modifying schedules, and implementing reasonable accommodations to provide employees with the tools and resources they need to carry out their responsibilities.

Under Colorado law, an employer can offer part-time work at a reduced wage while the worker is on modified duty. Your insurance carrier will make up two-thirds of the difference between the modified duty wage and the wage rate at time of injury, up to the state maximum.

The best news here is that accommodations for employees returning to work are, in fact, cost-effective.

The Job Accommodation Network has collected data over the years showing that more than half of accommodations cost employers nothing. Of those that do cost, the typical one-time expenditure is $600 — an amount that most employers report recouping many times over in the form of increased productivity and the savings associated with not having to recruit, hire and train a new employee.

Not incidentally, there also are at least two intangibles – loyalty and goodwill – that employers can engender in their workers with a return-to-work program that ensures both the employees’ and the employer’s needs are met.

Julie Greenamyre, JD, is a CCIG Claims Advocate. Reach her at 720-330-7938 or

To be effective, a return-to-work program should be part of a comprehensive risk and claims management program. Call Julie today for help on how to get a program implemented at your operations.

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