In a previous post we discussed the positive impact to both the employee and employer by getting an injured worker back to their job. The chances of returning to full employment after a six-month absence due to injury or illness is 55.4%, according to a report by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. The study determined that between three to six months into an absence is when an injury or illness may become a chronic disability.
We recognize that sometimes it isn’t possible for an employee to return directly to their previous job. That’s where transitional duty comes in, also referred to as light or modified duty.
What is Transitional Duty?
Transitional duty is light or modified duty provided by the employer on a temporary basis to transition the injured worker back to their normal job duties. The expectation is that the employee will return to their original position after a set period of time. The length of transitional duty will vary, but should have a stated end date based on the needs of both the employer and the employee.
Ensure that you have a policy that clearly defines the expectations regarding transitional duty. The following should be incorporated:
• Physician note defining employee’s capabilities
• Identify essential job functions
• Pinpoint accommodations needed to perform said functions
• Communicate regularly with employee and physician regarding employee’s progress
The goal is to accommodate the employee’s medical restrictions to formulate a transition plan which could include reduced working hours, alternative or adjusted work responsibilities, and workplace modifications.
The employer should have designated tasks/jobs in each department that would be available most of the time. This will enhance the quick return of an injured employee.
Implications of Not Utilizing a Transitional Duty Program
If transitional duty is not provided, there is a greater chance the injured worker will never return to work. That loss of employment results in financial ramifications for both the employee and employer. Employee Benefits News reported in 2017 that turnover can cost employers 33 percent of an employee’s annual salary.
Benefits of Transitional Duty
• Speeds healing, reduces medical visits, and reduces the overall medical cost
• Reduces turnover by keeping the employee engaged and prevents the need to hire and training a temporary or permanent replacement
• Increases productivity by allowing the injured employee to continue contributing in a meaningful way
• Lowers the likelihood of an award for Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) and/or increased PPD
• When utilized, the average savings on a workers’ compensation claim is between 50–70%
When an employer offers a transitional duty program, it demonstrates that they value and support their employees. A successful program results in positive outcomes for both employee and employer.