Return to Work: Creating Effective Programs with The Arc of the Ozarks

September 1, 2023 • Previsor

Having zero injuries in the workplace is the right goal for any business. But the reality is that occasionally people get hurt on the job. Workers compensation claims are filed. And then…what happens next? Many employers don’t realize that if an injured worker is able to return to work within three days, not only does it have a positive effect on them, but it also lessens business interruption.

On this episode of the WorkSAFE Podcast, we are joined by Human Resources professionals Debbie Larsen and Pam McCracken. They are part of the team at The Arc of the Ozarks, an organization that provides services and programs for people with disabilities, including community living, employment, education, and family advocacy.

Larsen previously spent 17 years working for Nestle and specializes in work comp cases. McCracken is certified in mental health first aid and focuses on employee benefits. Together, they have nearly 60 years of experience working with and caring for employees.

First, we’ll talk about what return to work programming looks like at The Arc. Then, we’ll share why its beneficial for employees to get back on the job within three days when possible. Finally, we’ll discuss transitional duty opportunities that The Arc offers to injured workers.

Listen to this episode of the WorkSAFE Podcast or read the show notes below.

Return to work programs: Spotlighting an MEM policyholder

As an MEM policyholder, The Arc of the Ozarks displays an excellent ability to work with injured workers. Providing their programs and services is an around-the-clock task. Although administrative employees have a typical work day,  on-call services are available 24/7. The Arc has processes in place to address injuries that happen outside of daily business hours.

What does the process look like?

The Arc places its focus on training managers first. When an incident occurs, they record basic details: the employee’s name, the date and time, and a summary of how and where they were injured. The organization maintains two different types of injury reports: one for major injuries and another for minor. These details allow administration to file a work comp claim and schedule an appointment with occupational medical professionals if needed at the earliest opportunity.

The benefits of returning to work within 3 days

Medical professionals help establish the extent of the injury and how long an injured worker will be off the job. Return to work programs focus on getting injured workers back on the job sooner.

“Once we receive the listed restrictions from the physician, we reach out to see if the restrictions can be accommodated within their own department, because we always want to try to get them back in their own department as soon as possible,” Larsen explained.

Three days is the ideal time frame for an injured worker to get back on the job. Why? If an employee returns to work within that time, then it can save an organization from a lost time claim. These types of claims take employees of the job, and only allow them to receive 2/3 of their salary. Returning to their original position means they maintain full pay.

Setting up transitional duty

However, some injuries don’t allow for a quick return. Sometimes doctors place an injured worker on restricted duty, which may prohibit heavy lifting or standing. When this is the case, The Arc thinks outside of the box.

Injured workers can transition to light duty. “I would say 99% of the time we can find light duty for someone,” Larsen shared. If a department can’t accommodate the injured worker in their regular position, they look for other opportunities. For example:

  • Filing and scanning documents
  • Shredding mail
  • Answering the phone
  • Light cleaning tasks

Employees taking on light duty must sign off on their restrictions. This ensures that they know what their limitations are and agree to working within them. Not only does this protect the employee, but the company as well. “If we’re providing that light duty, we go over that,” McCracken explained. “They sign, the manager signs if they’re accommodating in a department. There is a process all the way down to the release that is completed by the doctor when they can return to full duty.”

The Arc is sure to reach out if they any of the provided restrictions are unclear. “If we’re unsure of anything that is listed, if they didn’t specify a weight limit or whatever, yes, we would reach out back to that physician and have them clarify,” Larsen added. 

Extra effort leads to better results

At The Arc of the Ozarks, having a process in place and ensuring employees work within their restrictions is key. Larsen admits that it requires more effort. “You’ve got to go for what the doctor’s release says, so it takes a little extra work on our part in the office, I’m not going to lie. We have to find things for them to do, and sometimes that takes time. You know, we just work through it.” However, that extra effort leads to better results. I think consistency, policy, and training is the highlights of a well-trained work comp team,” McCracken finished.

September 1, 2023
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