Transitional Duty: An important tool for containing the cost of work-related injuries

Work-related injuries – and the personal and business costs associated with them – need to be properly managed to contain costs and achieve optimum healing for injured workers. While it’s essential that employers place attention on preventing injuries through proactive safety leadership and strong safety programs, when injuries do occur, employers need to be ready to respond with a post-injury management process.

Transitional duty is an important tool in an employer’s post-injury management process that employers can utilize to control costs and speed healing.  It speeds the employee’s recovery, keeping them connected to the workplace.  This practice also helps rein in Workers’ Compensation abuse;  game-players who want time off quickly realize that Workers’ Comp isn’t the means to achieve this!  Transitional duty allows employees to contribute to the company’s bottom line by reducing indemnity costs.  Keeping employees at work, or returning them when cleared to do so, lessens the financial impact on the employee as well.

How Transitional Duty works

Make sure your medical providers provide very specific restrictions.  Next, compare restrictions to the injured employee’s regular job tasks to determine if there is any part of the regular job he/she can perform within those restrictions.  Keep in mind to focus on “tasks” (such as changing oil), rather than the “job” (such as mechanic).  If it’s not possible for the employee to work any part of their normal job tasks, you may need to seek alternative tasks the employee can perform that are within their work restrictions.  Assigned duties should always be productive and related to operations, not just “busy work.”

Transitional duty should be short-term and progressive.  Restrictions should be reviewed after each visit to the medical provider, usually every 7 to 10 days, and work tasks updated accordingly to reflect the new restrictions.  The goal is to “transition” the employee back to their regular task/job within 30 days and a full review should be conducted at this time if the employee has not returned to their full duty position.  Employers should set a cut-off at 90 days in most cases.

Transitional duty should be positive, consistent, and monitored.  Keeping transitional duty productive and meaningful helps maintain morale and assists their return to their pre-injury job as quickly as possible.  Every injured employee should have the chance to recover by working transitional duty.  As tempting as it may be, it should not be used as a means to “manage” difficult employees.  Finally, employees on transitional duty must be monitored to ensure they work within their restrictions.

Bottom line

By allowing injured employees to work through their injury, an employer sends an message to its workforce that “it cares”.  Transitional duty can lower unnecessary costs and speed healing, resulting in the best outcomes for injured workers.

For more information on the role of transitional duty in your Workers’ Compensation program:

RCM&D Risk Control is presenting a webinar on Transitional Duty as part of its regular webinar series.  Learn more and register for the upcoming webinar to be held Wednesday, January 21, at 11:00 a.m.