What Are Transitional Duty Programs?

[fa icon="calendar'] Jul 10, 2015 11:52:00 AM / by Deborah Lechner

Transitional duty programs are an important component of effective return to work programs and are designed to help an employee who has suffered injury or illness transition back into the workforce as quickly and safely as possible.These programs have been shown to be beneficial to recovering employees and their employers. Here we'll get into the details of these programs as well as the facts on their benefits.

What are Transitional Duty Programs?

Transitional duty programs offer time-limited modified work assignments to employees who, due to injury or illness, have been rendered temporarily incapable of meeting the physical demands of their usual duties. These assignments are modified to accommodate the physical limitations imposed by injury or illness, as determined by medical professionals involved in the care of the worker. The purpose of these programs is to ease these workers back into the workforce by providing lighter duties as they recover, allowing them a faster return to productivity without impeding recovery or risking re-injury.

What are the Benefits for Workers?

According to a report composed by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, unnecessary, prolonged work absence can cause significant harm to a worker's well-being. Workers who are on extended disability often lose social relationships with co-workers, as well as the self-respect and self-esteem that comes from earning a living. For many workers their job is part of their identity, and being kept away by illness or injury is a very stressful experience. By allowing a faster return to work and greater support during recovery, transitional duty programs can help employees reduce the stress and disruption that injuries or illness cause in their daily lives, leading to better recovery outcomes.

The report goes on to cite the findings of studies that confirm those improved outcomes, including a review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That study found that in 175 of 211 studies, patients who were out of work after injuries had worse surgical outcomes than those who weren't, and in 86 studies, workers out on compensation were nearly four times more likely to have an unsatisfactory outcome than workers who remained productive. Finally, the authors stress that early intervention is key to preventing long-term disability, since research shows that odds of returning to full employment drop by 50 percent after just 12 weeks of workplace absence.

How Do These Programs Benefit Employers?

Transitional duty programs benefit employers in a number of important ways. First, by providing the injured employees the support they need to rehabilitate in the workplace, employers retain the services of skilled, knowledgeable and experienced employees. According to a review published in the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, injured employees offered modified duties return to work twice as often as those who aren't and spend half as many days on sick leave. In the same review researchers found that transitional duty programs reduce the costs of disability, with studies reviewed finding direct cost reductions ranging between 80 and 90 percent. Additionally, researchers noted that none of the studies took indirect expenses into account, so savings were underestimated.

How Do Employers Ensure Transitional Duties are Appropriate?

One of the biggest challenges with transitional duty programs is matching the injured worker to appropriate temporary duty jobs. In organizations with successful transitional duty programs, this matching process is achieved by first knowing the job demands of all jobs into which the injured employee could be placed. For most organizations that means conducting job analysis to determine the specific demands of the job. In addition to job analysis, a return to work screen or fitness for duty screen should be carried out with the employee to determine their physical abilities. Once the job demands and employee physical abilities are known, the all-important matching process can begin. The employee should be periodically re-assessed, at agreed upon intervals, to determine progress back to full duty so that temporary transitional assignments don’t last forever.

The bottom line of all of this is that offering an effective transitional duty program in your workplace has great benefits for injured employees, letting them know that they are still a valuable part of your workforce and promoting faster, more successful recoveries. Such a program will also benefit you in terms of providing an effective tool to help reduce the financial impact of workplace injuries – including workers' comp costs. Therefore, transitional duty programs are a win for everyone involved.

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Topics: Workers' Compensation

Deborah Lechner

Written by Deborah Lechner

Deborah Lechner, ErgoScience President, combines an extensive research background with 25-plus years of clinical experience. Under her leadership, ErgoScience continues to use the science of work to improve workplace safety, productivity and profitability.