Are you ready to help your injured workers return to productivity? With the passage of the 2008 Amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), assisting injured workers back to the workforce as quickly as possible post injury is more important than ever. Before the Amendments, many considered work-related injuries that did not result in a permanent disability to be uncovered under the ADA. Today, however, the possibility is greater that courts will find that even shorter-term disabilities qualify individuals for coverage under the ADA.
Returning injured workers to productivity as quickly as possible post-injury makes economic sense. Why? Because studies show that the longer injured workers stay off work post injury, the greater their chances of never returning to your employment. Post two years off work after an injury, the percentage of those who return is almost zero, one Liberty Mutual Insurance consultant stated.
What happens when an employee is injured? First, the employer must ensure there is a sufficiently detailed job description that the physician can review so that the activities the employee can perform can be noted. For example, if the employee must lift 25 pounds occasionally, can you eliminate that requirement temporarily and instead ensure coworkers do the lifting?
Make sure your job description is current, because with increasing technology and new equipment, job requirements change. Out-of-date job descriptions will keep many employees off work because doctors cannot intuit the current job requirements. While it is hard to find time to rewrite all job descriptions, they should be updated when an employee loses time from work before it is released to the treating physician.
Managers and supervisors should be trained to look for work an employee can complete while he or she recuperates. Refresh managers on the revisions to the ADA and encourage them to ask for assistance from human resources if an employee needs accommodation. Many employees sit at home due to lack of communication, either between the supervisor and human resources or between the doctor and the claims adjuster.
With the revisions to the ADA now in place, the focus should switch from asking, “Is this employee truly disabled?” to “ How can we accommodate this employee to return in some capacity?” One of the biggest stumbling blocks is insisting an employee can only return when the doctor says he or she is “100 percent.” This attitude can land you in hot water under the ADA.
Take time to develop updated procedures. This may include an overview of the ADA, a guide to the interactive process, which takes place when the employee may need a reasonable accommodation, templates that facilitate communication between the doctor, the supervisor and the adjuster, or forms that outline job restrictions.
Accommodating injured workers saves money and returns employees to productivity. Given the choice, most employees want to return to work post injury. The biggest impediment many face is the organization they work for. Is your organization assisting the injured worker, or hindering his or her recovery? An employee who sits at home can become alienated and bitter. Many retain attorneys because they feel left out of the process.
If you have difficulties accommodating an injured employee, the Job Accommodation Network provides free assistance and can be found at this website: http://www.jan.wvu.edu/empl/index.htm.