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Back-on-the-Job Programs are Good Business

The primary goal of the back-on-the-job program is to return an injured worker to his or her pre-injury/illness job as soon as possible, by providing safe, meaningful productive employment which the employee is medically able to perform. While the economic benefits of a back- on-the-job program are evident to many employers, finding the time and money to develop and maintain an effective program is a daunting task. Too often, supervisors and managers are expected to "find something" for the injured employee to do, creating an uncomfortable situation for both the injured employee and the supervisor.

Consensus Plan Leads to Commitment
To do it right, a back-on-the-job program must be solidly in place before an injury occurs, becoming an integral part of a company's culture. It should be a carefully written policy that reinforces the company's dedication to its employees and back-on-the-job program, clearly establishing its expectations of employees when injured. Having the program in writing helps ensure its consistent application and serves as a valuable tool for supervisors, health care providers and insurance carriers.

While management, lawyers, insurance carriers and occupational health professionals are critical of the formulation of the plan, employees must play a key role in order for the program to work. When employees help create and implement the program, a feeling of ownership develops and they are more likely to accept back-on-the- job efforts on their behalf and on behalf of their co-workers.

Identifying Transitional Work
The options for returning to work generally fall within three categories: full duty, regular duty with modifications or alternate temporary work that meets the injured worker's physical capabilities. It is the latter two situations that often pose the most difficulty for employers and may require innovative thinking and developing different perceptions of work responsibilities.

Having a back-on-the-job program does not obligate employers to create unnecessary work - in fact, modified- duty jobs must be genuine to be effective. When considering alternative assignments, think about jobs that are currently outsourced, or jobs that you would like to have done but have not had the time to do. Remember that many injuries will be short term and the injured employee may only require three to four days of modified duty. The formal policy will facilitate the development of an individualized program immediately after the injury/illness has occurred. As demonstrated by the two case studies included in this eBulletin, appropriate jobs can benefit both the employer and the employee.

Research suggests that employees who are satisfied at work are less likely to file workers compensation claims and if injured return to work quicker than those who are dissatisfied. Back-on-the-job emphasizes the employer's commitment to the employee and enhances the employee's sense of self-worth and productivity. Once established, the program needs to be continuously monitored, refined and communicated to employees by a designated professional on staff. Although prevention is the best way to reduce overall injury/illness costs, a Back-on-the-Job program is a proven way to manage the costs after an injury/illness occurs.