Traditionally, employers focused on helping employees who were injured at work get back to work early with RTW. Recognizing the value of a healthy workforce, the commonalities of recovering from on and off the job injuries, the efficiencies of coordinating RTW efforts, and the greater risk exposure to discrimination claims when workers are treated differently depending on the reason for their absence, some employers are moving toward integrating occupational and non-occupational cases to reduce absences and lower claims costs.
Whether the program is an integrated occupational/nonoccupation RTW or a traditional RTW, the economic and legislative landscape poses challenging issues for employers. Here are 10 common mistakes:
• Failure to effectively manage the increase in number of employees covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA requires covered employers (those who have 15 or more employees) to assess accommodations for any worker who might need them regardless of whether the disability arose from a work or personal injury or illness. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken the position that employers with inflexible leave policies violate the ADA by failing to accommodate employees covered by the act.
• Insist employees be released to “full duty” before returning to work. Considerable evidence exists about the value of RTW programs that provide a means for employees to transition back into their full-duty jobs with responsibilities and tasks modified for short periods of time. Insisting on a return to “full duty” increases workers’ compensation costs and heightens the possibility that the injured employee will fall prey to a “disability syndrome” – the failure to return to work when it is medically possible.