Five costly return-to-work mistakes for employers

Even if an employer and employee goes through the Massachusetts worker’s compensation according to all the guidelines, issues can still arise when the employee returns to work and both parties think most of the situation is behind them. With the economy the way it is coupled with newly enacted ADA Amendment Act (ADAAA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the economic and legal landscape has changed for employers. Having a strong return-to-work focus can help employer’s when it comes to employee’s returning from injury. Here are the five of the most common return-to-work mistakes:
1. Failure to recognize the increase in the number of employees covered by the ADAAA: Federal rules require that for employers with 15 or more employees, their employees are covered by the ADAAA. Often times State laws extend this protection to employers with far less than 15 employees. Here are some states and their ADAAA trigger points:
CT – three or more employees.
DE – four or more employees.
MA – six or more employees.
MD – fifteen or more employees.
ME – one or more persons.
NH – six or more employees.
NJ – one or more persons.
NY – four or more employees.
PA – four or more employees.
RI – four or more employees.
VT – one or more persons.

2. If your business is subject to the ADAAA, you must make disability determinations without consideration of measures such as medication, hearing aids and assistive technology. Basically, the ADAAA wants to shift focus from whether an employee is injured to whether employers like you are complying with the law.
3. Insist that employees must be able to perform full work before returning: A lot of controversy surrounds this type of situation. Many employers would prefer that an employee not return unless he or she is completely rehabilitated from the injury. However, if you insist on employees returning to “full duty” may increase worker’s compensation costs. If you are covered by the ADAAA, you should make it known in writing what “essential functions of the job” include. Not all job functions are considered essential and courts usually decide what functions are essential and what are not.
4. Trim your budget for return to work: If you’re looking to cut expenses then you may want to think about trimming your return to work program budget. However, this appraoch is against convential wisdom. If you decide to go this route it may result in higher costs in the present and future. When an employee is away on injury leave, the costs rise as the employee remains out of work.
5. Thinking that return to work does not address musculoskeletal injuries like back pain: Did you know back pain is the most prevalent and costly work-related injury, yet only a few of those who suffer from back pain actually progress to being labeled as disabled? If you suspect an employee is suffering from back issues or they bring it up to you, consider giving them a reduced or lighter workload before they develop a chronic disability.
6. Not setting up transitional assignments: Some employers and employees stay away from transitional jobs to avoid any risk of the employee becoming reinjured. However, this may not always be in either party’s best interest. It may be a risk for an employee to return to work become reinjured, but it may be an even greater risk if the employee remains at home which could increase your worker’s comp costs.

At Wolpert Insurance & Risk Management we want our customers to understand all the ins and outs of worker’s compensation in Massachusetts. Above are the first five return to work mistakes employer’s can make, tune in next for the next five!