Implementing a well-designed, effective transitional duty program in your company is a winning proposition for everyone, beneficial for both your employees and your business. So what, exactly, does an effective program consist of? Helpful guidelines on best practices for these programs are offered by a variety of insurance and risk management professionals. Here is an outline of some of the most important aspects of effective programs, as identified by these professionals.
Establish Your Program Before You Need It
In their employer's guide to transitional duty, Travelers emphasizes the importance of having a solid, well-defined plan in place before it is actually needed rather than implementing policies as a crisis response to specific injuries. Additionally, all employees should be informed of the specifics of the program, including its goals in returning injured employees to the workforce quickly and safely, how it works, how the program can benefit them, and their rights and responsibilities under these policies should they need to participate.
Create a Return to Work Team
Guidelines offered by MSIG (Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Group) stress the importance of a comprehensive return to work team to the implementation of an effective transitional duty program. These teams should be composed of employer representatives as well as consultants who participate on an as-needed basis.
Suggested employer representatives include:
- RTW coordinator
- Human resources
Consultants may include:
- Claims representatives
- Case managers
- Rehabilitation specialists for post injury testing and treatment
- Union reps, if applicable
Identify Transitional Work Opportunities
Guidelines offered by UNICO (UNICO Group, Inc) advise creating a transitional job bank – that is, a list of transitional duty tasks that range in levels of physical strain in order to accommodate varied physical limitations of employee participants. This job bank is best managed by the return to work coordinator but should be assembled with the input of supervisors and managers, and employees can be encouraged to submit transitional duty ideas. Transitional jobs should be productive, not make-work situations.
These transitional jobs should remain as close to the employee's regular duties as possible, and job demands should gradually increase as physical restrictions are lifted by the worker's medical care team. MSIG guidelines suggest that job analysis should be done to identify the physical demands and risks of each position, ensuring that transitional work can be accurately matched with the physical capabilities of injured employees.
A return-to-work screening is essential to accurately determine the physical abilities of the injured employee. The assessment needs to be tailored both to the job and to the injury in question in order to be defensible if challenged in court. Two legal cases in particular support the use of return-to-work physical abilities testing. Pamon v. Board of Trustees of Univ. of Illinois found that return to work testing is upheld if it is consistently applied, job-related, consistent with business necessity, and helps the employer make an individualized assessment of an employee's ability to perform job functions. James v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber further emphasized that testing needs to be focused on the injury or illness in question.
Finally, there should be a clear policy in place as to the length of time these positions will be offered – Travelers suggests an initial 30 days, with the possibility of another 30 day renewal as necessary.
A common theme in all of these guidelines is that transitional duty programs must be structured and goal oriented. Clear policies and procedures must be in place, designed to move employees through the rehabilitation process as quickly and efficiently as is medically possible, with the ultimate goal of restoring them to full productivity in a timely fashion. Additionally, employers must be sure that transitional duty plans are in compliance with state and federal workplace regulations. Many companies find that bringing in outside help – such as post-injury services providers – can make devising and implementing a solid, effective, and legally defensible plan a much easier task.