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Stay at Work: A Practical Solution for Workers’ Compensation

Posted by Dr. Myra P. Keleher on November 15, 2016 at 9:23 AM

In workers’ compensation claims, the main objective for an employer is to return injured employees to work as quickly and safely as possible within their functional limitations through transitional work. Stay at Work (SAW) programs allow this to happen.

For the employer, states offer financial incentives to facilitate transitional duty by reimbursing part of the employee’s salary. For the employee, SAW programs enhance self-esteem and promote healing. These medical best practice programs help workers with on-the-job injuries recover faster and for employers to maintain skilled, injured workers in a difficult job market and reduce workers’ comp premium costs.

Offering a physician-approved transitional duty position can improve the employee’s life as well as the company’s bottom line along with enhancing employee morale in the workplace. SAW programs allow the employer to retain a valued employee, thereby, not incurring recruitment and new-hire training costs. Such initiatives are designed to keep the injured worker connected to the workplace, allowing him to maintain a productive mindset as well as avoiding dependence on a disability system. SAW programs provide a sense of security and stability for the employee and the employer.

Getting Everyone On Board

Transitional duty can consist of any temporary change in work tasks or functions. Modified workstations and equipment allow injured workers to perform work functions while recovering from an injury, and reduced time/work schedules and providing different jobs are examples of actions employers may take to facilitate the return of an injured worker to the workplace. Successful SAW programs significantly reduce the duration of injury absences from 15 weeks to 3-4 weeks.

Of course, to be successful, these initiatives require “buy in” from all parties. An SAW program benefits the employer financially by:

  • anticipating and controlling hidden costs
  • reducing financial impact of workplace injuries
  • providing a proactive approach to cost containment
  • improving the company’s ability to manage an injury claim and any restrictions
  • getting experienced employees back to work, resulting in less time and money spent on recruiting and hiring

Research tells us that SAW programs result in a significant early return to work, helping to prevent long-term disability and improve the likelihood of the employee continuing to work once released to full duty (also known as sustainable RTW).

It should be no surprise that a simple workers’ compensation case may result in expensive litigation if not handled correctly. Well-executed SAW programs will provide clear expectations and guidelines for employees injured on the job and have proven to reduce litigation. Employees feel valued, and providing a well-documented program shows prospective insurance companies that the employer takes risk management seriously.

Easy to Establish

Establishing a SAW policy is not difficult. Clear guidelines and specific, consistent policies must be established in writing. A payroll gatekeeper is a must if the injured worker will receive partial compensation for hours worked. There is usually a cap on the SAW eligibility of 90 days. This typically gives the injured employee ample time to be released to full duty. All parties involved in the program need to be educated as to how it works and why it is important to adhere to the guidelines.

Statistics show employers who make these programs available are highly effective at reducing the duration of absence associated with work-related injuries, with an average 3.6-week reduction in the median time away from work. For workers with a permanent disability, SAW programs reduce the median number of weeks out of work by 12.6 weeks.