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Creating a Return-to-Work Program

Tips from the Hartford - May 2008

When an employee is unable to work due to a work-related injury or illness, productivity falls and costs rise. The longer the injured employee stays out of work, the higher the costs. Aside from the direct costs of workers’ compensation, indirect costs – such as hiring and training replacement workers – can increase your expenses and impact your profitability.

According to a study performed by The Hartford, employees out of work for more than 12 weeks with a work-related injury have less than a 50 percent chance of returning to work. That can have a significant impact on the life of the worker, on the amount of the claim, and on your ability to find another qualified employee. Employees are one of your firm’s most important assets, so implementing a return-to-work strategy can be a positive step for your entire operation.

Return-to-Work Strategy has Advantages

Take a look at the advantages of returning an injured employee to the workplace as soon as medically appropriate:

Advantages for Employer 

  • Controls direct and indirect costs
  • Reduces production downtime
  • Reduces need to train replacement
  • Raises morale and improves operations similar job
  • Reduces workers’ compensation fraud

Advantages for Employee

  • Expedites a timely return-to-work
  • Supports a sense of self-worth
  • Allows employee to stay in same or workers
  • Prevents interruption of salary and/or benefits

Win-Win Solution

Work is therapeutic! And return-to-work programs are effective. The sooner employees reconnect with work associates and perform job responsibilities, the healthier their outlook, and the more favorable your workers’ compensation experience. All in all, a return-to-work program can be a win-win solution for your employees and your whole-sale-distribution operation.

Ten Easy Steps to Creating a Return-to-Work Program

The best time to set up your return-to-work (RTW) program is before one of your employees is injured. If you currently have workers’ compensation injuries among your workforce, a return-to-work program can help you get those employees back on the job more quickly. Follow these 10 easy steps:

  1. Establish a return-to-work team and assign an individual or the RTW team to be responsible for the program. Include representatives from both management and labor (union) in the planning process and on the team.
  2. Develop a policy for return-to-work that reflects your company’s commitment to help injured employees get back to work. Include the expectation that all employees will participate.
  3. Develop functional job descriptions that describe physical and other job requirements for all positions.
  4. Identify opportunities for transitional duties at your facility. Ask for suggestions from employees. Consider adapting existing jobs and reorganizing current job tasks.
  5. Educate all employees, example, including managers, about the value of the return-to-work program to all involved parties.
  6. Establish a procedure for early reporting of any injury or illness.
  7. Send the injured employee for medical treatment right away. Give the employee a copy of the functional job description and ask him/her to bring it to the physician. Offer to arrange transportation for the employee to determine if he/she has enough information about workers’ compensation, his/her medical condition, and services.
  8. Stay in touch with the injured employee. Maintain communication among all parties (injured worker, employer, medical provider, insurance carrier), keeping everyone updated and informed.
  9. Investigate the incident. Determine possible causes and solutions to prevent similar incidents.
  10. Allow the injured employee to come back to work in an appropriate capacity as soon as possible (according to medical recommendation).

Perform a workstation assessment if necessary to verify job demands. Determine what changes should be made, such as modifying workstations, restructuring job tasks, providing short-term retraining, providing special adaptive equipment, offering scheduling flexibility, and temporary, alternative and productive work.

How to Identify Opportunities for Transitional Duties

One of the greatest challenges wholesaler-distributors face with a return-to-work program is identifying transitional duty assignments. For example, one of the most common causes of workers’ compensation claims in the wholesale distribution industry in cumulative trauma. These overexertion/strain injuries are associated with lifting and moving objects (material handling). Considering the kinds of restrictions that are typically associated with these types of injuries, it may seem impossible to accommodate work restrictions on lifting and moving objects in your wholesale distribution operations. However, following these steps will help to identify transitional duties for your employees.

  • Look at your entire operation and make a list of all the departments at your facility. The list may include maintenance, housekeeping, buildings and grounds, purchasing, sales, human resources, payroll, training, security, fleet, production, quality, safety, shipping and receiving.
  • Make a list of all the jobs in each department. Be sure you have functional job descriptions that identify the physical demands required for each job. You might want to consider using The Hartford’s Physical Demands Analysis* form to identify and record the physical demands of each job.
  • Ask your managers and supervisors to make lists of any tasks or projects that they would like to have done but that are not done due to lack of manpower or other reasons.
  • Review these lists. You will find many opportunities for transitional duty.
  • Conduct brainstorming sessions with your employees to create a “bank” of transitional duties which employees could perform until they return to their normal position.

*To obtain more information, see the Contact Us! section of this newsletter.

Examples of Transitional Duties

When looking for transitional duties, keep in mind that the key word is “transitional.” These assignments are not forever; they have time limits and are intended to provide productive work while bridging the gap between injury and recovery.

The Hartford Can Help

The Hartford offers a wealth of services and information that wholesaler-distributors can consider in assessing workplace safety. Through our web site mb.thehartford.com/wholesalersnews, you can submit safety-related questions through “Ask a Professional.” We will respond quickly, provide knowledgeable direction, and keep your inquiry confidential.

When it comes to workplace injuries, we focus on managing abilities and helping to get your injured workers back to gainful employment as soon as medically appropriate. Our RTW team, including Loss Control consultants, Claims professionals, and vocational rehabilitation consultants, located across the country, work with employees, doctors, adjusters and employers to provide transitional employment and vocational services.

Here are some examples of transitional duties that an employee in the wholesale distribution industry could do.

  • Conduct safety inspections
  • Monitor conformance to various safety codes (i.e. the NFPA Life Safety Code, Emergency Preparedness Planning, etc.) and keep appropriate records
  • Test smoke detectors
  • Assist with administrative tasks, including filing, shredding, copying, consolidating files
  • Perform receptionist duties, such as answering telephones, taking hand-written messages
  • Deliver mail to departments and/or employees
  • Update manuals
  • Assemble training manuals
  • Assist the supervisor with various tasks
  • Assist team leaders or supervisors with monthly report
  • Call prospective accounts to explain services
  • Call customers to explain services, answer questions, advise them of expected delivery dates, etc.
  • Assist with newsletter development (including writing)
  • Write safety articles
  • Develop a health and safety newsletter and/or announcements
  • Update bulletin boards
  • Perform housekeeping/cleaning tasks, such as cleaning the lunchroom and refrigerator, dusting office furniture and equipment, etc.

Contact Us!

To make this newsletter as valuable as possible, we welcome your ideas and suggestions. If you have any feedback on this issue, have ideas for future issues of Packaged to Protect, or would like to receive a copy of The Hartford’s Physical Demand Analysis, please contact:

Matthew Massaro
Industry Practice Manager

To learn more about what The Hartford offers wholesalers, as well as useful information and tools to help you better understand insurance coverage, visit mb.thehartford.com/wholesalers. If you are not insured by The Hartford, please contact an independent agent who represents The Hartford and ask how we can meet your business’s insurance needs.

Sign up for future copies of Packaged to Protect at mb.thehartford.com/wholesalersnews.

Packaged to Protect is brought to you by The Hartford.


The information provided in these materials is of a general nature, based on certain assumptions. The content of these materials may omit certain details and cannot be regarded as advice that would be applicable to all businesses. As such, this information is provided for informational purposes only. Readers seeking resolution of specific safety, legal or business issues or concerns regarding this topic should consult their safety consultant, attorney or business advisors. The background presented is not a substitute for a thorough loss control survey of your business or operations or an analysis of the legality or appropriateness of your business practices. The information provided should not be considered legal advice.

The Hartford does not warrant that the information of any view or recommendation contained herein will: (i) result in the elimination of any unsafe conditions at your business locations or with respect to your business operations; or (ii) will be an appropriate legal or business practice. Further, The Hartford does not warrant that the implementation of any view or recommendation will result in compliance with any health, fire or safety standards or codes, or any local, state, or federal ordinance, regulation, statute or law including, but not limited to, any nationally recognized life, building or fire safety code or any state or federal privacy or employment law.) The Hartford assumes no responsibility for the control or correction of hazards or legal compliance with respect to your business practices, and the views and recommendations contained herein shall not constitute our undertaking, on your behalf, or for the benefit of others, to determine or warrant that your business premises, locations, operations or practices are safe or healthful, or are in compliance with any law, rule or regulation. Possession of these materials by a licensed insurance producer does not mean that such producer is an authorized agent of The Hartford. To ascertain whether a producer is a Hartford agent please contact your state’s Department of Insurance or The Hartford at 1-888-203-3823.

The NAW Service Corporation receives compensation from The Hartford for NAW's endorsement and promotion of the commercial insurance products and services of The Hartford. NAW and NAW Service Corporation are not licensed insurance producers or agents of The Hartford. All Hartford insurance products and services are sold through licensed producers or independent agents of The Hartford.

©2007 The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reprinted, transmitted or otherwise reproduced or disseminated by any means, including electronically.