Getting back to work as quickly as possible is important. Once the HCP indicates it is all right to do so, a worker can return to work (RTW). At that point, it is important to contact the employer, even if work is to be done on a limited basis. Keep the employer and claims adjuster informed about medical progress.
Early Return-to-Work Initiative
The WCA's Early Return-To-Work Initiative is available for employers, free of charge. The WCA offers help with analyzing RTW practices, troubleshooting job accommodation issues, and more. A RTW program can reduce the average number of weeks a worker is absent because of an injury, and can potentially increase employer savings. A RTW representative can customize inititatives to an employer's needs.
The Early RTW Initiative has a checklist of best practices for a winning RTW program which provides effective elements to implement both before and after an injury.
Free, personalized, one-on-one employer consultations are available. Consults help employers set up or improve RTW programs. The RTW Coordinator will show employers "How to Earn an A" in all RTW Best Practices. Companies that earn an "A" in all RTW Best Practices may be recognized as a "RTW Champion" and profiled in the WCA's Quarterly Bulletin.
About Return to Work
Workers can continue to work during recovery, with the treating physician's approval, or find alternative work while recovery takes place. Workers can expect the employer to offer several job options. Workers can do the usual job, which must pay the same wages and benefits as before the injury. They can do modified work, which allows them to return to the same employer, but with doctor-specified work restrictions. Alternative work may also be available, work which is different from the old job, but meets HCP restrictions.
The treating doctor may recommend work restrictions, or limits, on the tasks done while recovering, so re-injury does not occur. It is important for workers and employers to comply with those medical restrictions.
Example: No standing for more than an hour at a time. Sitting when tired. Accommodate with a stool or chair.
The doctor's report should indicate if any changes are needed to work conditions during the recovery phase.
- Example: Provide noise cancelling headset to minimize loud noises.
During the recovery process, workers should actively talk to the primary HCP, employer and claims administrator about:
- Work done before the injury
- The kinds of work that can be done now
- The worker's medical condition
- The kinds of work the employer has available
Workers should follow doctor instructions and work hard at recovery instructions, such as for physical therapy.
Medical benefits for a work-related illness or injury will continue after return to work if they are deemed necessary by the treating HCP.
Employers are not required to hold a worker's position open following a job accident. However, once a worker reaches maximum medical improvement (MMI) and is released by the HCP to return to work, the employer is required to offer to rehire the worker if the employer is hiring, the worker requests re-employment, and the job is available. The HCP must certify it is all right for the worker to return to the job or a similar or modified job. Wages will be paid at the former rate or lower. Until MMI is reached, if the wage rate is lower, there is help in the form of temporary partial disability benefits.
There may be times when an employer cannot re-hire a worker. It may be possible to look for unemployment benefits while looking for another job, through the Department of Workforce Solutions. The New Mexico Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) offers a variety of services, based on individual needs.
The following documents are helpful guides, to be used like "tools" in an employer's Return-to-Work Toolkit. They are designed as templates that can be adapted to a company's needs. Download the documents to change them as needed, by adding company logos, etc. Put together, the documents formulate a good structure for an employer's Return-to-Work directives, policies, and needs--a helpful "toolkit."
Use these tools to help you meet each Best Practice. Click on a link to download a document.
Ahead of an Injury:
1. Designate someone to coordinate RTW activities
- Incident Management Checklist
2. Establish a RTW policy
3. Train supervisors and continually communicate your RTW policy to employees
4. Pre-plan how you will work with health care providers (HCPs)
- Health Care Provider Return-to-Work Cover Memo
- Provider's Report of Physical Ability
- Worker Grab 'n Go Kit Envelope Label
5. Have essential functions job descriptions with physical demand breakdowns
6. Maintain an inventory of potential light/modified duty assignments
After an injury:
7. Frequently communicate with the injured employee right after the injury is reported and throughout the RTW process
8. Take an active role in discussing RTW with your insurer/claims adjuster
9. On a case-by-case basis, make every reasonable attempt to accommodate HCP light/modified duty releases in meaningful transitional employment
10. Extend light/modified duty "reasonable job offers" in writing and tailor to individual situations while making sure tasks assigned meet HCP restrictions
11. Monitor progress when the injured employee comes back to work
12. Investigate each incident in order to prevent re-injury and improve ongoing safety practices for all employees
- Witness Statement Form for Incident Investigations (English/Spanish)
For general information on helping injured workers/people with disabilities stay in the workforce and Americans with Disabilities Act:
For RTW success stories despite severe workplace injuries:
For help on accommodating any kind of injury/illness:
For help on developing job descriptions:
- Business Center Job Description Writer
- Dictionary of Occupational Titles
- Occupational Information Network (O-NET) Online Resource Center
For help on conducting incident investigations:
- National Safety Council (NSC) and OSHA Alliance - How to Conduct an Incident Investigation
- National Safety Council (NSC) and OSHA Alliance - Near Miss Reporting Systems and How to Create a Culture of Reporting
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Incident Investigation Form