Unfortunately, too many employers view a transition duty program, also known as a return-to-work program, as a “get the job done” situation for both the employer and the injured employee. This approach of a return to work program often ends in frustration for both employer and employee.

A successful return to work program is so much more. Having the right return-to-work attitude, as well as understanding the various transition work programs, are the first steps to a successful program.

Alternative or Light Duty Programs

Alternative or light duty schedules allow employees to work in less demanding jobs until they are physically able to resume their original job duties. For example, an employee who normally performs physically demanding work might work in a more sedentary capacity, such as answering phones, marketing campaigns, or helping young or new employees.

Modified Service Schedule

Here, the original jobs of injured employees are modified by engineering alterations to the workstation. Employers use these programs to prevent the injury from getting worse. For example, an employer might install a standing desk. This could be used for an employee who is unable to sit for long periods of time or for an employee with a back injury by adding seats with additional back supports and footrests to alleviate discomfort.

work hardening

“Work hardening” is the third type of transition work program. In these programs, employees perform their usual job-related tasks in steps of increasing difficulty until they regain the physical ability to perform their original jobs. This allows the injured employee to remain on the job, albeit on reduced hours. This type of reassignment allows the employee to perform simulated assignments that are close to the task that he would perform in his regular job duties.

Note: Design your return to work program to benefit both the employer and the employee. Try to provide a position that can function as a transition position even if the employee may not be able to return to exactly the same tasks quickly. The employee will be working and the company will be providing a service. Try to make return work win-win.

During the return to work process, companies must consider the physical limitations of the employee. If injured workers exceed their physical capabilities, they may experience a re-injury that causes unnecessary pain and suffering for the employee and unnecessary additional workers’ compensation costs for their employers. Additionally, while employers can use transition work programs for temporary illnesses and injuries, it is important to remember that all leave and disability programs must be integrated with the requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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