Implementing a Return to Work Program

Now that your organization has committed itself to the RTW philosophy, it’s time to establish the process. MSF understands that developing this process can be challenging and time consuming, so we’ve outlined steps you can take to systematically develop your RTW program.

1. Confirm Management Commitment

Put your RTW policies and procedures in writing. Click here for a Return To Work Sample Program.

Designate an employee or employees who will be responsible for managing your program (RTW Specialist). The representative will act as a liaison for all parties involved and should be able to answer any questions regarding your program.

2. Develop Job Descriptions

Identify your major jobs and complete a job description form for each of these positions. You may also want to videotape the job being performed. The job description should mention specific job tasks and physical requirements of that position. To ensure accuracy, a supervisor or team leader and employees who actually perform that job should be involved in completing the job descriptions.  For ideas on how to complete a job description, see our Job Description Bank.

3. Identify Transitional Jobs

Use your completed job description forms to assist you with identifying transitional job duties. Although modified duty is the primary goal of RTW, having transitional jobs identified before an incident occurs helps ensure that your injured employee will be back to meaningful, productive work as soon as medically appropriate.

The key to identifying transitional jobs is to think “outside the box.” Don’t limit yourself to what traditionally has been done. Instead look at alternative duties that keep your employee productive while he/she is in the healing process. Again, supervisors, team leaders, foremen, and employee representatives should be involved in the process.

  • Begin with a one or two-year history of your company’s workplace injuries and illnesses. This review will indicate the types of incidents that are occurring and in which work areas. You can begin by developing transitional duty assignments in these areas, and then look at the remaining work areas of your company.
  • Ask employees to think of job tasks they need to get done, but can’t find time to do.
  • Think of seasonal jobs the employee can do. Keep track of tasks that are ignored during your busy season, or extra outdoor work that can be done in warmer weather.
  • Think about moving employees to different departments in your company. If your company is union-affiliated, check to make sure this is acceptable.
  • A combination of modifying the job held at the time of injury along with other forms of alternate duties can also be used for the purpose of transitional duty assignments. For example, while someone else does the lifting for the injured employee, the injured employee can be performing one of the other transitional duties you had prepared.
  • For other ideas on transitional job duties please see our Sample Transitional Job Ideas.

4. Communicate Your Program

Communicating with Employees

Communicating effectively with your employees is a critical element of your program’s success. Employees need to understand the multiple benefits the program offers both themselves and the company, as well as their role and responsibilities. Here are a few ideas to ensure employees understand your RTW program:

  • Involve your employees in the program development. If there is a union, invite them to participate.
  • Announce the program at a company meeting or through a company event.
  • Include RTW information in your company’s policy manual.
  • Display copies of RTW posters in break rooms and common areas.
  • Conduct training sessions for supervisors so they understand their role.
  • Conduct training sessions for employees so they understand their role.
  • Remind employees about the program in company newsletters and other communications. For example, announce successful RTW stories.

Communication Tools

Communicating with an MSF Claims Examiner

The claims examiner assigned to a claim is available to answer questions, consult with medical providers and rehabilitation counselors, review medical status forms and more. Consider your claims examiner a member of your incident management team. Call 800-332-6102 for assistance.

Communicating with Medical Providers

Tell the medical provider about your RTW policy and keep the lines of communication open during recovery. Having a Grab N Go kit facilitates the communication between the medical provider, injured employee, employer and the claim examiner.