JAN provides Valuable Info on Return to Work or Stay at Work and Accommodations
Return to Work (RTW) and Stay at Work (SAW) programs are part of a business’ strategy to retain valued employees and to enhance the productivity of its workforce. “The goal of a return-to-work program, sometimes called a transitional duty program, is to make job changes or provide job accommodations that return individuals to work who are absent for workers’ compensation or disability-related reasons.”
As with workplace accommodation programs, a RTW program should have clear written policies articulating each party’s responsibilities. Accurate job descriptions including the physical demands of particular essential functions should also be developed. This helps everyone in the process (e.g., doctors, rehabilitation staff, and accommodation specialists) understand the job requirements. A good understanding of the job demands and the employee’s limitations and abilities is the starting point for determining if effective job accommodations will enable the employee to return to or stay at work while still recovering from injury. Effective job accommodations insure that the employee returns to work as soon as possible without risk to the employee or employer.
Of the employers who called JAN for technical assistance, most (82%) were doing so to retain a current employee. Thus, most of JAN’s publications contain accommodation solutions that could be generalized to a RTW or SAW situation. JAN also offers a number of examples specific to RTW.
Situation – A warehouse employee was transitioning back to work with lifting restrictions after being injured by falling boxes of product.
- Provide overhead structure for lifting devices;
- Place frequently used tools and supplies at or near waist height;
- Provide low task chairs, stand/lean stools, and anti-fatigue mats;
- Provide compact lifting devices to push and pull supplies and tools from storage;
- Make wheelchairs, scooters, industrial tricycles, or golf carts available; and
- Provide aerial lifts, rolling safety ladders, and work platforms.
The full publication, Fact Sheet Series: Job Accommodations for Return to Work is available for download. If you need additional guidance in identifying a device, or need information on where to buy the device, please call one of JAN’s Consultants.
Below are resources to learn more about developing your company’s RTW or SAW program:
- U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy Return to Work Toolkit
- Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC)
- Return to Work Matters
- Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Disability Employment Resource Page (available to nonmembers and members alike)
- Louis E. Orslene, MPIA, MSW, Co-Director
- Return to Work: A Snapshot (Part 2 of a Continuing Series, Read Part 1)
As more than 80% of inquiries to JAN involve retention of a current employee, the importance of contributing technical assistance to stay at work and return to work programs is vital. Both practices ensure valued employees are retained, productivity is maintained, and recruiting and on-boarding costs are saved. This is the second article in a series about these important practices in the workplace. The following article results from a collaboration between JAN and Return to Work Matters (RTW Matters). RTW Matters is a practical online resource for employers and disability professionals. Look for the Join Now link on the left hand side of the RTW Matters homepage.
He Ain’t Heavy…He’s My Employee
In the spring of the year in 2008, on a cold and dreary day, a freezing rain fell to coat everything it touched. Dan had just parked the CDL class truck and was stepping down to move on to his next task. What Dan didn’t know was that the next task would be a trip to the emergency room. When exiting the truck, Dan fell down and landed on his knee, causing a tear that eventually lead to a surgical repair. Two months later, Dan was told he could go back to work, but would have some temporary restrictions. Although his employer didn’t have anything he could do within his physical capacity, they would try and “come up with something.” For the next seven months, Dan remained at home and collected compensation pay at two-thirds his salary.
Although he made use of the time by attending physical therapy and follow-up doctor appointments, Dan was getting bored and a little worried about whether he would ever return to his job. Dan missed the gang at work and would frequently stop by for a chat and any news on possible light duty assignments. Finally, an opportunity came up for Dan to return to work, and even though it was limited to four hours a day of snow plowing, he happily accepted. Eventually, Dan was released to full duty and returned to his heavy equipment mechanic position, but to everyone’s dismay, Dan’s knee started to give him problems within just a few weeks. When the MRI showed another tear, a second surgical repair was performed and once again, Dan was out of a job.
In desperation, Dan scheduled an appointment to talk with the company’s return to work coordinator, who immediately contacted the ergonomic specialist to schedule a meeting for the two of them to meet with Dan and his supervisor to form a return to work strategy. A job analysis was completed, which determined that the physical ability to kneel and squat were essential to performing the heavy equipment job. Unfortunately, these were the very same physical demands that Dan was restricted from doing on what was now a permanent basis. This could have been the end of the story except that the people involved were a bunch of very determined and creative folks.
An ergonomic evaluation of the work area was completed and another meeting was held to discuss a plan. The only thing keeping Dan from returning to his job was his inability to maneuver and work on the equipment. So, was there another way of maneuvering? Well, research would need to be done and budgets would need to be considered. Dan was told that they would let him know when they had some answers. During what Dan would say were some of the longest days of his life, he stayed home, earned less money and worried about his future.
Then came the day when Dan got the call, asking for him to come in to work for a meeting. The news was good. A hydraulic lift had been indentified that could be used to lift the work product to waist height. This allowed Dan to avoid the kneeling, squatting, and heavy lifting he was restricted from doing, while still allowing him to perform all the duties of his heavy equipment mechanic job. This job modification not only returned Dan to his full time job, it came with an additional benefit; the ability for other workers to use the lift, thereby preventing additional work injuries.
From the efforts of Dan and his supervisor, the ergonomic specialist and return to work coordinator, long term disability was prevented. This not only saved the employer money and a loss of production time by bringing on a new employee, it made them feel good that they had a part in doing the right thing by a valued employee. The other employees recognized the efforts of their employer, which instilled confidence that if they ever met with similar circumstances, they would be taken care of. For Dan, the benefits were huge. He could now go back to being a productive member of society and earn the money he was previously earning. For the community, the benefits were limitless: the return of a member to gainful employment and the prevention of unemployment side effects such as anxiety and depression, that affect the individual and family members. This case had many factors that led to its success, but most important was the great team collaboration, established partnerships, and good communication between the employee, supervisor, RTW coordinator, and all the other team players involved in the case.
The cost of the hydraulic lift? $2,667. The return of a valued employee? Priceless.
For more on lifting devices, the costs and benefits of job accommodation, and effective accommodation practices, contact JAN.