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Your workers, including drivers, are your most valuable assets. When they sustain injuries, it can have a significant impact on productivity, overall morale and your company’s bottom line. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that only 50 percent of employees who are off work for more than six months ever return to employment. It’s in everyone’s best interest to have injured workers return to work as soon as possible. Return-to-work programs facilitate this transition while benefiting both you and your workers.

Return-to-work programs, sometimes referred to as light duty, provide alternative tasks for injured employees during their recovery until they are approved by a doctor to return to their regular job responsibilities. These programs are typically low cost to implement. According to the Job Accommodation Network, more than half of the accommodations cost employers no money. Of those that do cost, the typical one-time expenditure averages $600. Additionally, return-to-work programs can reduce claims costs by up to 70 percent.

You benefit from return-to-work programs in several ways. These programs decrease the likelihood of lingering or false workers’ compensation claims and can minimize prolonged disability expenses by speeding up worker recovery through the physical and mental stimulation of light duty. Return-to-work programs also retain the use of valued workers, and minimize the cost of hiring and training replacement employees. You also benefit from the productivity of workers who otherwise would not be doing any work while out due to an injury.

Return-to-work programs help workers because they are useful, contributing members of the team. They stay mentally and physically conditioned to a regular work schedule and maintain social contact with their fellow employees, which can encourage a faster return to full duty. Return-to-work programs also minimize financial losses incurred due to time lost while recovering.

Establish a written policy before implementing a return-to-work program. The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) has a toolkit for creating a policy and implementing a return-to-work program, available at ODEP also has a list of relevant employment laws, which vary by state.

As part of your policy, include modified job descriptions that list light duty tasks injured workers will be asked to perform during the return-to-work program. Ask injured workers’ doctors to review job descriptions and approve tasks the workers can complete based on the severity of their injuries. Be careful to adhere to doctors’ restrictions to avoid re-injury and prolonged recovery.

Light duty tasks often include:

  • Sweep floors
  • Check inventory and order supplies
  • Sort mail
  • Answer phones
  • Inspect trucks
  • Check driver logs
  • Wash windows
  • Dust office furniture
  • Clean tools for mechanics
  • Paint
  • Attend orientation again
  • Check paperwork of drivers entering and exiting the lot
  • Watch safety videos and create quiz questions
  • Create an injury prevention presentation or handout based on the injury they sustained

Be sure to consult with the workers’ physicians first to determine the extent and type of work they can safely perform.

Companies without an office or those that have workers who live far away from the office should look into having workers perform light duty at a charitable organization. The company would pay workers for the hours they work at a selected charity. Companies could also make arrangements at a local hotel for workers who live too far away. This would permit company management to monitor the injured worker and still give the worker an opportunity to perform light duty work at the office.

Keep in mind that return-to-work policies will be implemented differently based on the state you are in and the types of injuries your workers sustain. Be proactive and put a return-to-work policy in place to facilitate the recovery of injured workers, maintain productivity, boost morale and protect your bottom line.

The following are some of the reasons why a return-to-work program could benefit your business:

  • Increase the likelihood of employees returning to work. Injured employees who remain off work longer than six months have only a 50 percent likelihood of ever returning to their job. That likelihood decreases to less than 10 percent if time lost exceeds one year.
  • Injured employees return to work up to 50 percent sooner. In companies that have well-managed return-to-work programs including light duty, up to 90 percent of injured employees go back to work within four days of the injury.
  • Reduce claims costs up to 70 percent. Not only are lost-time days reduced, but studies show medical costs are also reduced.
  • Faster recovery period. Good return-to-work programs treat work as therapy to help the employee recover up to three times faster than if they stayed at home.
  • Reduce award costs. The potential for an employee to become totally and permanently disabled is greatly decreased.
  • Reduce contentious litigation. Employees are less likely to feel their rights have been violated causing them to engage a lawyer.
  • Avoid hiring and training a replacement worker. Temporary labor can be expensive, especially when the new worker must be trained.
  • Reduce fraud. Return-to-work programs demonstrate that sustaining an injury doesn't necessarily mean getting paid for being out of work.
  • Increase employee morale. Return-to-work programs are a testament that employees are a valuable company asset rather than a disposable resource.
  • It's effective. More than 90 percent of employers using return-to-work programs say they are effective.
  • Categorized in:
  • Workers Compensation