Tag Archives: return to work

Technology Can Make Return-to-work More Effective and Efficient

September 24, 2018 by 

You are all probably aware of many of the standard strategies that can be employed to ensure timely return to work during and after recovery from an occupational injury or illness.

Technology Can Make Return to Work More Efficient

But are there any newer technologies and approaches that can facilitate this process to make it more effective and expedited?

arm in cast using iPad for article, Technology Can Make Return-to-work More Effective and Efficient

In a previous article, I discussed the critical need for an advanced form of “job description,” which we refer to as a digital job profile (DJP) containing a comprehensive physical demands analysis(PDA).  It bears repeating that the digital job profile is the cornerstone to understanding the explicit, quantitative demands of a job, and is utilized by all stakeholders in the claim management continuum. How can we return an individual to modified or full duty without knowing exactly what the job requirements are?

Psychological Component Can Play Greater Role Than Biological

Many of you are aware of the biopsychosocial model of injury or illness. In short, this is the recognition that non-physical factors highly impact functional restoration. In fact, many experts feel that the psychosocial components play a greater role than biological ones. You have undoubtedly noticed that the same type of injury may be devastating to one individual, while a more resilient person easily overcomes it. It is extremely helpful to predict whether your claimant is likely to be in the former or latter category.  If the claimant is fragile from a psychosocial perspective, many mitigation strategies can be employed to prevent the delayed return to work/life activities that inevitably accompanies these comorbidities.

Fortunately, there are automated, online screening tools available that allow you to enter claimant responses to a brief series of questions, and provide you with an immediate, calculated psychosocial risk level (high, medium, low). These validated tools may also recommend various interventions derived from the response pattern of claimants to the questionnaire. Some folks will benefit from cognitive behavior therapy, and others from family counseling, vocational guidance or psychiatric assessment. Risk screening helps to identify the level of risk, as well as appropriate strategies to help individuals better cope with the added stress of an injury or illness.


Overcome 3 Common Return to Work Barriers

info graphic on factors that can be barriers to returning to work, for article: Michael B. StackMembers of the claims management team and other interested stakeholders in a workers’ compensation program need to be proactive when it comes returning an injured employee back to work. This includes being ethical and hardworking when it comes to vocational rehabilitation matters. This is especially the case when it comes to overcoming common barriers in the RTW and rehabilitation process. Failure to do so can result in increased workers’ compensation costs and other added expenses.

Who is Responsible

The employer is the most important and impactful party in return to work. The best practice is for the employer to develop the position of a “RTW Coordinator.” This should be a person who is knowledgeable in human resource matters, state and federal disability and discrimination laws, and accessible to the entire workforce. The RTW Coordinator should also be responsible for all interactions with the injured worker on behalf of the employer and maintain documentation related to a workers’ compensation claim.

Responsibilities of the Employer: This party is responsible for reporting the work injury and helping with the investigation. The employer should take action in letting the employee know their rights, which is often required under a state workers’ compensation law. They are also responsible for identifying available light-duty work opportunities and monitor the employee’s recovery.

Responsibilities of the Insurer: Coordinate with the employer on all work injury matters and pay for all workers’ compensation benefits the injured employee is entitled to under the law. The insurer can also make recommendations on light duty job opportunities and provide education to their insured.


Know Two Types of Functional Capacity Evaluations (FCE)

When a physician is treating an employee for a back injury or other job related injury, the decision on when to return the injured employee to work is often a subjective decision. The physician who is unsure of the employees physical capability will often turn to the physical therapist for an objective opinion of the employees ability for work. The physical therapist will provide a Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) by administering various tests to determine the employee’s functional capacities and limitations.

illustration of physical therapist and patient for article, Know Two Types of Functional Capacity Evaluations

Comprehensive Examination and Evaluation

The FCE is a comprehensive examination and evaluation by the physical therapist that objectively measures the employees level of functioning. The testing will document the employees ability, or the lack of ability, to perform the essential job related task over a specific time frame. The FCE will provide objective information to the physician in several areas:

the employee’s functional abilities and job demands

  1. the disability evaluation
  2. when to return the employee to work
  3. whether or not the employee can return to the job held prior to the injury
  4. the employee’s functional abilities away from the job
  5. to information to design a rehabilitation plan, if needed
  6. the need for other medical intervention and/or treatment


3 Questions to Eliminate Return to Work Disincentives

May 31, 2018 by 

You have implemented a corporate return-to-work program, but your projected workers’ compensation savings haven’t yet materialized. Supervisors are telling you they can’t get employees back to work, and even if they could they don’t WANT them to return to work. We’ve all heard it.

graphic of carrot and stick for article, 3 Questions to Eliminate Return to Work Disincentives It may be time to examine the impact of collateral resources, often resulting in employees out on workers compensation receiving more income and benefits than they would have if they were working.

Common Disincentives to Returning to Work:

  1. Salary and Wage Continuation: Some companies pay 100% of salary in lieu of having an employee collect workers compensation for injuries of short duration.
  2. Occupational Injury Pay Supplements: Many firms pay supplemental benefits to make up the difference between workers compensation benefits and regular earnings.
  3. Open-Ended Job Return: Instead of holding jobs open indefinitely, employers should hold jobs open for a specific time period, such as six or nine months.
  4. Vacation and Sick Time: Companies frequently allow vacation and sick time to accrue for employees on workers compensation. Some even allow employees to “borrow” more sick time if they need to stay out of work longer.
  5. Short-Term Disability: In some companies, disabled employees receive STD benefits in lieu of salary after six weeks. But the standard definition for disability may differ from workers comp, allowing an employee to collect both.
  6. Perk Continuation: Employers often maintain ancillary benefits and privileges such as car allowances, club and professional dues, company store privileges and periodical subscriptions for employees on disability.
  7. Loan Protection Policies: Individual insurance policies are available to pay mortgages and consumer loans such as car loans and credit card debts in the case of a disability.
  8. Unemployment CompensationIn a few states, an employee receiving workers comp also can qualify for state unemployment benefits.


5 Ways To Facilitate Better Return-to-Work Rates

May 9, 2018 by 

The longer an injured worker is off the job, the more it costs the company and the less likely he is to return — ever. Since that can add up to major expenses for an organization, the goal should be to keep injured employees on the job or, if that’s not possible, get them back to work as soon as possible.

icon style graphic for aricle, 5 Ways To Facilitate Better Return-to-Work RatesMost injured workers are back on the job within 4 days. But there are times when that is not the case — even if the injury itself is not that severe. There are myriad reasons employees don’t return to the job. Using a few simple strategies can aid the process.

  1. Stay in network. The medical providers that are part of your network should be well versed in occupational health issues, especially when it comes to returning the injured worker to work. Physicians in the know understand that it is not only in the employer’s best interests, but the employee’s as well. Research clearly shows people recover and heal faster when they are participating in constructive activities, rather than sitting on the couch. Physicians who are part of the employer’s medical network understand these factors and are more likely to pursue returning the worker to the job site, at least in some capacity.

However, it does not always work out that way, and the employee may go to a physician of his choice for various reasons. Even in states without employer-directed healthcare, the employer can at least recommend certain providers. Someone from the company should also be designated to drive the person to the physician’s office. Doing so will make the worker more likely to agree to be seen by the provider recommended.

Some injured workers say they are ‘fine’ at the time of injury but later seek medical care. All injured workers should be provided with a list of in-network or recommended providers. If the employee later decides to head to a physician, he may be more likely to go to one suggested to him.

Employers need to be clear about the workers’ compensation process and demonstrate their caring and concern for the injured worker. This can be done with effective communication — both formal and informal (see ‘communicate’ and ‘brochures’ below).


Reducing Work Comp Costs through Creative Return-To-Work

There is a benefit to every workers’ compensation program when an employee returns to work following a work injury.  This is true even in instances where the employee returns to work in a “light duty” capacity.

slideshow for article, Reducing Work Comp Costs through Creative Return-To-Work
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Creating an effective return to work takes an investment by all interested stakeholders.  It also requires creativity and a willingness to keep employees within the workplace.  In the long run, it also reduces program costs and promotes a better work environment.

Understanding the Benefits of Light Duty Work

Engaging injured workers in light duty work creates a win-win situation for all interested stakeholders.  This includes the following:

  • Employees: A person staying at home following a work injury incurs many psychological barriers.  It not only takes the employee out of their natural schedule, but it creates isolation and boredom.  Countless studies show that employees working in a modified capacity following an injury have better outcomes and a quicker recovery.
  • Employers: Interested stakeholders who own and operate a company can create a positive work environment by offering light duty work options.  It allows the employer to demonstrate a willingness to keep employees working and increases workplace morale.  It also allows them to complete necessary tasks that might otherwise not get resolved promptly.[READ REST OF STORY HERE]

3 Areas to Prevent Workers’ Comp Claims from Office Employees

When employers hear the word ergonomics, they tend to think about teaching their employees proper lifting techniques to prevent back injuries and to prevent the resulting workers’ compensation claims. As back injuries for laborers account for a disproportionate share of the number of work comp claims and a disproportionate share of the cost of work comp that is understandable. However, there are a significant number of workers compensation claims to office workers that could be prevented through proper office ergonomics.

Prevent Injuries by Applying Ergonomic Principles

info graphic of how to avoid carpal tunnel computer workSitting in an office chair that is incorrect for the employee is often the cause of back pain. Using a computer keyboard that is placed improperly often results in carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive motion injuries. These types of injuries can be prevented by applying ergonomic principles – the scientific study of individuals and their physical relationship to the work environment.

An office ergonomics plan should have the goal of adapting the workplace to fit the individual needs of each specific employee. To accomplish this, three areas need to be considered.

  • Physical shape and size of the employee
  • Employee’s job description
  • Tasks the employee is required to complete.

In an office environment, a comfortable workstation depends on how the workstation is set up. The location of the computer screen, where the keyboard is placed in relation to the hands, and the type of office chair. An ergonomically incorrect workstation is easy to identify by the employee who is sitting forward in his/her chair, hunched over looking at their computer. The correct workstation will have the employee looking straight ahead while sitting back in their office chair, which provides the employee with lumbar support to keep the back straight, and the neck and head erect. Another quick tip-off that the office is not ergonomically friendly is when all the cubicles have the same height for the work surface, and all the cubicles have the same style office chair.

Incorrect Computer Usage Results in Musculoskeletal Problems

Incorrect computer usage and computer placement results in musculoskeletal problems, eye strain, blurred vision, and headaches. Using a computer involves sitting at the same place for an extended period of time, while engaged in small repetitive motions of the hands and fingers, and repetitive movement of the eyes. These activities will cause the employee to develop various strains and fatigue.

The office employees should be encouraged to:

  1. Shift positions, stretch, walk or take a short break every hour.
  2. Vary their work to utilize different muscles.
  3. Have annual eye exams.
  4. Be sure their workstation or workspace is set up ergonomically correct to fit their physical needs and requirements.

Start the New Year Off Right With an Ergonomic Review

Blog Editor’s note: You can schedule a complimentary ergonomic review with the Physical Therapy Office at Central Coast IndustrialCare at ‭(805) 922-5003‬.

January 4, 2018 by Michael Stack

The New Year provides employers an opportunity to re-examine the issue of ergonomics in the workplace.  Making sure that workplace ergonomics is in place for all employees not only improves workplace morale but can reduce the costs of workers’ compensation claims in the future.

What is Ergonomics?

Defined by Webster, ergonomics is the “the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment.”  This study includes a review of workstations and job functions to reduce muscle overuse, correct poor posture and eliminate injuries cause is repetitive work activities.  It can also include a review of policies and procedures that seek input from a varied of interested stakeholders—include the person perform a particular work function.  It is important to include a review of tools used on a daily basis and other intangibles including, but not limited to workspace lighting.

illustration of correct ergonomics for office worker for article, Start the New Year Off Right With an Ergonomic ReviewImplementing an Effective Review

A proper ergonomics review includes the use of different specialists and stakeholders.  Beyond using a qualified specialist, it is important to include input from company management and employees performing job functions.  This review can also include a review of available resources and budget constraints.

It is also essential to understand the demographics of your labor force.  Studies show that Americans are working into their later years.  This is resulting in more severe injuries from repetitive type injuries that lead to longer periods of disability.  Factors to consider when addressing this issue include:

  • Age discrimination laws that prevent employers from engaging in unlawful labor practices;
  • State and federal OSHA laws and regulations; and
  • Addressing injury and post-injury response.


ADA vs. WCC – Return to Work & the Interactive Process

What does it mean to return to work for a work related injury versus a non-industrial injury? What is reasonable accommodation? What is are the consequences for failing to accommodate adequately?

Return To Work logo graphic to go with article, ADA vs. WCC - Return to Work & the Interactive ProcessAt the 2017 CWC and Risk conference a panel leads a discussion on return to work and the interactive process.

Outcome is the same regardless of the type of injury. Whether the injury is work replaced or non industrial injury you must follow the interactive process. Tips for return to work include require a medical status authorizing return, internally designate who receives the status, and find out if the work restrictions are temporary or permanent. Company should have the employee sign the job analysis or job description upon return.

What should you do with conflicting medical reports?

    • still need to engage in interactive process(this is required under ADA)
    • gap between workers’ compensation and employment law
    • engage employee
    • ultimately the employer has the final decision
    • stay consistent with each employee
    • fitness-for-duty exam is an option
    • no return to work should be considered where there is a safety concern for workers or others

What is acceptable medical documentation?

Require for all medical status or certifications must include statement that worker has a disability or medical condition that requires accommodation or restriction, sufficient detail of the restrictions or accommodations required, and length of expected restriction or accommodation.

What is a “disability?” FEHA definition of disability is:

Physical: physical condition or disorder that affects a major bodily system and that limits a major life activity

Mental: having any mental or psychological disorder or condition that limits a major life activity

“Limits” means simply that the condition makes achievement of the major life activity difficult.

Under workers’ compensation there is no requirement that the employer must accommodate temporary modified duties however, under FEHA, the employer must determine if they have a “disability” and is this employee disabled under ADA.

Essential job functions

If the workers is disabled, must accommodate to effectively enable him or her to perform an “essential” job function.

    • Proving a job function is “essential”
    •  failure to perform the job function has legitimate business consequences


5 Reasons Your Employee WANTS to Return to Work

May 11, 2017 by Leave a Comment

Back to Work road signThere can often be a negative connotation for those that are injured at work.  After dealing with thousands of claims adjusters can get jaded that claimants are up to no good and are only looking for a free paycheck.

A handful of bad apples can ruin it for everyone, but for the most part people just want to get back to their normal routine.  When injured, workers are usually in pain, receiving less money than they are used to, and traveling back and forth to doctor offices for examinations and therapy.

A revolving statistic may state that up to 10% of claims filed are not necessarily legitimate.  That leaves 90% just looking to heal and get back to pre-injury status.  Some injured workers even heal or return to work quicker than expected.  But why?  It seems obvious, but let’s explore some of the reasons in more detail:

  1. Loss of income

The biggest factor for an injured worker wanting to go back to regular duty is the income they receive.  There aren’t many people out there than can get rich off of receiving work comp pay.  Typically they receive a percentage of the income they are used to receiving, ranging from 60% to 80% of their net income.

Even in dual income families, this loss of income can be substantial, especially those that are living from paycheck to paycheck.  Do not be surprised when your injured worker is in a rush to get back to normal.

As long as a qualified doctor releases them to work with no medical restrictions, then you should be all set.  Of course this will vary on the injury.  I have handled cases when the claimant is adamant about making the doctor return them to work, and the physician will indicate in the notes that they are just retuning the patient back to full duty because that is what the patient requests.  You have to be very careful in this situation to avoid further injury, so if this should happen review it on a case by case basis.