When an employee experiences injury, illness, or disability that causes him or her to lose time from work, he or she will likely interact with, at a minimum, medical practitioners and claims administrators. These professionals have their own specialized responsibilities and goals, which aren’t necessarily aligned with the Stay at Work/Return to Work (SAW/RTW) interest of either the employer or the employee. For example, medical practitioners tend to focus on diagnosis and treatment, not on functional and RTW outcomes, which have not traditionally been within the purview of medicine. They are typically not trained in the benefits of RTW and may not consider the options that accommodations could provide a worker or have a full understanding of tasks specific to a given job.
The employer may be more concerned about how best to get the work done in the employee’s absence than with the worker returning to work. Likewise, the claims administrator may have a large caseload and cannot focus the time needed to facilitate transitional SAW/RTW opportunities either with the employer or in an alternate setting.
The goal of an ATD program is to facilitate recovering workers remaining at or returning to work as soon as medically appropriate, following an injury. A timely SAW/RTW can make a significant impact on lowering the cost of a workplace injury. If the employer of injury is unable to accommodate a light duty program at their facility, an ATD program may be the answer to getting some of these costs under control. Statistics show that the longer a recovering worker remains off work, the more probable it is that they may never return. There is only a 50% chance an injured employee will RTW after a six-month absence, and this declines to a 25% chance following a one-year absence.
Five Best Practices to Look for When Considering an ATD Vendor
- Make sure your staff providing transitional duty services are credentialed, possess a graduate degree and are licensed in some type of clinical profession, such as counseling. A certified and licensed rehabilitation professional has the experience and education to effectively intervene and address concerns voiced by the recovering worker as we work towards a transitional SAW/RTW. A rehabilitation professional has the experience to ensure the transitional job is appropriate to the functional requirements.
If the appropriateness of the position is contested or litigated by the injured worker and their representative, you want an expert in the field of rehabilitation able to testify as to the appropriateness of the position. A rehabilitation professional also has the expertise to document objectively regarding any barriers or observed sabotage on the part of the recovering worker. Some of the recommended credentials include:
- Master’s degree in Rehabilitation, Education or Psych
- Certification as a Rehabilitation Counselor
- Certified Ergonomic Assessment Specialist
- Some type of clinical licensure
- Use a company with experience in placing employees from a workers’ compensation case management perspective. Having knowledge of how to manage the ongoing needs of the injured worker and their employer as they progress through a transitional duty program is invaluable.
- FOLLOW UP with the employer and the injured worker on an ongoing basis is essential. The rehabilitation professional can explore any objections and work with all parties to come up with a mutually agreeable and beneficial plan. Assessing and documenting attendance and ensuring timely communication of same to ensure payroll can be processed promptly.
- Prepare and collaborate with the injured worker to facilitate their connection to the mission of the volunteer organization. Work with the injured worker to ensure their proper workplace skills, e.g., prompt and consistent attendance, to schedule therapy sessions if needed outside of the work schedule, etc. Ensure your vendor has a system in place to ensure proper initial and ongoing documentation including reports, letters, timecards, attendance emails, etc.
- Your vendor should have an established database of non-profit organizations nationwide they have worked with.
In conclusion, the success of your Alternative Transitional Duty Program depends on setting up Best Practices to ensure a consistent and collaborative approach to a SAW/RTW program that gets your employee back to work as soon as medically appropriate!