Employment continuance: Case managers and therapists expedite injured or ill employees' return to work

A woman in a wheelchair. By Sandy Goldstein, PT, CDMS
Sandy Goldstein & Associates

Struggling with employers when an injured or ill worker would like to stay on the job or get back to work?

Case managers and therapists play a key role in helping injured or ill workers adjust and continue to live full lives. Often, an employer's lack of familiarity with the process hampers the employee's wish to return to work.

How can you best negotiate a stay-at-work/return-to-work (SAW/RTW) strategy with an employer who is resistant to allowing employees to work in a modified duty capacity?

Case managers also can identify "what's-in-it-for-me" for employers when they provide stay-at-work/return-to-work opportunities for their injured or ill employees, including:

Physical and occupational therapists (PT, OT) with occupational health expertise play an instrumental role in the team effort required for a successful SAW/RTW outcome.

The PT or OT with occupational health expertise can also assist the case manager in bridging the gap between the medical office and the employer.

Medical or non-medical issue: Who makes the call?

Often, a communication gap exists between the medical office and the employer when an injury or illness prevents full-duty work reintegration. The medical office is typically juggling the ball presuming "the SAW/RTW process is not a medical issue."

Conversely, the employer presumes "the SAW/RTW process is a medical issue." The common outcome is delayed and needless work absence, job loss, and even permanent withdrawal from the workforce.

How to retain employee value and prevent workforce withdrawal

Keeping employees working or returning employees to work requires an effective return-to-work strategy. This can have a win-win-win effect on all stakeholders as follows:

6 steps to help an employee return to work

After a work-related (or non-work-related) injury or illness, medical therapists and case managers should be sure to:
Step 1 Open communication with the employee by beginning the interactive process.
Step 2 Determine the "essential functions" and usual duties of the employee's job.
Step 3 Understand the employee's current "functional capacity" and compare to her current restrictions.
Step 4 Explore how the employee's injury or illness could be accommodated.
Step 5 Determine a reasonable accommodation and issue a work offer.
Step 6 Upon return to employment, monitor and assess the employee's progress. As his or her condition improves, reduce or eliminate restrictions.

Research shows that the benefits to employers of providing accommodations for employees with disabilities far outweigh the costs. Occupational health experts who collaborate with other medical team players as well as human resources and employee managers can revitalize those with work- or non-work-related injuries and illnesses.

Case managers and medical therapists also play a vital role by contributing to the health, well-being, and equal opportunity in employment for our workforce and society.

Sandy Goldstein & Associates are experts at providing transitional work therapy services. The services primarily focus on using the injured worker's functional work tasks to progress the worker to a target job. Progressive conditioning, therapeutic exercises, training in safe work practices such as proper body mechanics and other work-site services may also be used as part of the therapeutic program developed for that injured worker. For more information, contact Sandy Goldstein PT, CDMS, @http://www.measurabilities.com/consulting/transitional-work-therapy-services/