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Getting employees back to work from nonwork injuries

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Some employers are following established workers compensation programs to get injured workers who are out on short-term disability back to worker faster.

“Many of Marsh's clients have developed successful return-to-work programs on the occupational side, but there are those that are also implementing the return-to-work program to include nonoccupational disabilities,” Randi Urkov, Chicago-based managing director at Marsh Risk Consulting, said during a Wednesday webcast consisting of a panel of employee benefits and risk management experts who discussed how organizations can return workers to work more quickly after an injury or illness.

Ms. Urkov said she has seen organizations use Marsh Risk Consulting's workers comp program as a proven framework to follow for a non-occupational return to work program.

There has been a change in the view of applying workers comp concepts to companies' short-term disability programs, said Sue Newman, Corning, New York-based workers compensation manager for Corning Inc.

“We used to think an employee with an injury needed to be ready to return to work for full duty, but we started to look at it differently,” she said. For example, if somebody broke their leg at home, it doesn't matter where they did it, she said. “If they can do their job, we thought why not bring them back to work by medically managing short-term disability claims in the same way as workers comp claims?”

In doing so, they were able to return employees to work restricted duty for up to 90 days, which is their program limit, she added.

“We had the fear that if we brought people back to work from short-term disability on restricted duty that it would become a workers comp claim,” Ms. Newman said. However, they started the injury management program as a pilot in several locations and were able to prove through the pilot program that nobody had returned to work on short-term disability and then went out on workers comp because something aggravated their short-term disability injury, she said.

Matt Buto, Corning-based manager of health and welfare at Corning Inc., said the company had been using this method for more than 10 years. It was modeled after workers comp, where they used the return-to-work tools that workers comp developed, Mr. Buto said.

“We looked at the short term disability claims and the early return to work as a way to increase productivity and avoid the costs of retraining or replacing workers and to demonstrate the value of the individual to our employees,” he said.

Mr. Buto reported 20% to 25% of employees returned early following a nonoccupational injury return-to-work short term program. Workers comp runs at about 50% or higher, he said.

“Workers comp has a good process for being able to retain restrictions quickly after the incident and provide modified duty without incurring a lost time claim,” he added.

The webcast was held by Marsh L.L.C.'s Workers' Compensation Center of Excellence and Mercer L.L.C.