Stay at Work/Return to Work
One of the legislative reforms that occurred during the 2011 legislative session was to provide for stay at work/return to work assistance for injured workers. The goal of stay at work/return to work assistance is to return a worker back to the time of injury employer in the same or modified position as soon as is medically appropriate after the worker suffers a work related injury or occupational disease. Early return to work following a workplace injury or illness is a means of lowering workers’ compensation costs and can benefit the injured worker as well.
Montana State Fund has adopted a stay at work/return to work policy as is required by the new law changes. The focus of the stay at work/return to work efforts will be to work with the injured worker, medical providers and time of injury employer to identify potential workplace activities that the injured worker can safely perform in accordance with any medical restrictions. Policy holders can expect to be contacted early on in the claim by the state fund claims examiner and other individuals involved in a worker’s stay at work/return to work assistance. Policy holders may be asked to temporarily modify a job to eliminate those tasks that are outside of the worker’s capabilities in order to keep a worker engaged and productive during the healing period following a workplace injury or disease. Studies firmly establish that the longer a worker stays away from work following a workplace injury or disease, the less likely it is that the worker will ever return to work.
Successful implementation of stay at work/return to work assistance is going to depend on the willingness of the time of injury employers to modify job duties in an effort to bring workers back. The law changes impose obligations on the insurers to provide stay at work/return to work services but the success of those efforts is entirely dependent upon the willingness of the employers to cooperate in early return to work efforts. Hopefully, the employer community will respond favorably to the legislature’s directives leading to lower costs to employers and positive outcomes for injured workers.