Originally posted on Metropolitan Risk by Charlotte Ulehla.
What is a return to work evaluation form?
Employers can provide their employees with a return to work evaluation form to give to their physician when the employee suffers a work-related injury. The form can facilitate communication between the treating physician and employer as to the employee’s status and capabilities. Many employers miss this step.
We encourage employers to send the physician the employee’s current job description AND a job description for an alternative duty position for which the injured employee might be eligible.
It’s difficult to action plan the claim and get the employee back to work when there is no clear understanding of the employee’s injury AND job duties. This form along with the job description helps establish the baseline so all stakeholders can work in concert. This will get the employee back in some productive capacity.
Why should an employer provide this evaluation form?
If an employee is injured, they may not be able to perform their original duties. This return to work evaluation form helps the employer create accommodations enabling the employee to come back to work at the best of their ability.
A frequent (and very costly) mistake employers make is bringing the worker back too fast without having them medically cleared to perform their duties. We recently had an employer tell us their worker was injured playing softball for his recreational team on his own time. The employer never noted the incident formally in their employment records creating an incident. Further, they never had the employee medically evaluated to see how severe the injury may have been. Nor did they have the employee medically cleared to come back in the same capacity. Instead, he took a day off, came back to work too early. Sadly, he threw his back out on the job further, exacerbating the injury. Had the employer properly recorded the incident and had the employee fill out an injury form this would not have become a comp claim.
The original injury was non-compensable as it did not occur at work. It became compensable when he returned to work too early and made the injury worse. Following proper procedures and utilizing a return to work evaluation form would have gone a long way in preventing this type of situation from occurring.
What’s the impact on your workers’ compensation premiums by using a return to work evaluation form?
It creates a formal process around employee injuries that accomplishes several cost savings benefits:
- Prevents employees from coming back to work too soon. This saves you from driving up injury rates and costs as the injuries usually become worse.
- Facilitates very productive communication between treating physician, the injured employee and your company’s HR staff person.
- The goal after every employee injury is to get them back to work in SOME capacity as quickly as possible. This cuts down on the ultimate cost of the claim. Too often we see employers simply file the workers’ comp claim with their carrier then walk away and go back to their regular scheduled programming. Then their experience modification factor gets re-calculated which may result in significant workers compensation premium surcharges.
Can employees abuse the return to work evaluation form?
Employees can abuse this only if the employer allows it to happen.
If the employer:
- Meets with the injured employee every 10 days to check in on their healing progress
- Makes it clear that the accommodations aren’t temporary
- Allows open communication to provide the best accommodations and transition phase possible
- Follows up with the physician
There should be no possible chance that the employee would abuse the return to work evaluation form. Truthfully, we see far more abuse when employers have no form and no process for getting the worker back on duty.