CompManagement Health Systems Client Bulletin

September 11, 2014

A task-oriented approach to transitional work adds flexibility

Many employers have adopted transitional work programs that include administrative guidelines for offering modified duty to injured employees. A common approach to transitional work is to identify an alternative position within the organization where the nature of the job will accommodate the restrictions established by the injured employee’s physician. But an “all or nothing” approach can place limitations on an employer’s ability to come up with modified duty work. Furthermore, the “counting paperclips” approach is not ideal, as it can create the impression of punishment, cause problems with employee morale and is generally a less productive value for employers.

A slightly different approach that can add flexibility for employers is to develop a list of specific tasks that can be offered to accommodate a wide range of physical restrictions.

Maintaining an injured employee’s pre-injury compensation level usually makes financial sense for the employer from a workers’ compensation premium standpoint, and maintaining an active daily work schedule helps prevent discontentment and frustration. Keep in mind that the goal is to identify productive work activities that will accommodate the restrictions, not to create a new full-time position. Filling a full 40-hour work week is preferable, but should be viewed as a secondary objective.

Many transitional work programs were developed to include a formal job analysis. This is a document prepared by a physical or occupational therapist that breaks a job down into individual tasks and details the physical demands of each task (weight lifted/carried, repetitive motions, one arm, etc.). If you do not have the formal job analysis tool, you can create a useful job description that identifies a range of tasks and gives medical providers a better understanding of the physical functions the injured employee will be asked to perform.

Work with supervisors to assemble the task list. Consider the essential tasks involved in an employee’s normal job. You may find that when evaluated individually, the employee’s normal job is comprised of tasks that are well within the physical restrictions. Granted, these essential tasks may not include everything an employee does throughout the day or week, but remember that our goal is to identify productive work activities that will accommodate restrictions and allow the employee to recover within their work environment.

To go a step further, look at the more physically demanding tasks and consider alterations that can be introduced to reduce physical risk. Can a co-worker assist with an occasional lift? Can a work station be raised or lowered? Would using a stool help? You have access to ergonomists and therapists at no cost through the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation’s Division of Safety & Hygiene, and they can bring helpful insight on possible alterations that can be made in your workplace.

Ideally, having the injured employee performing tasks within their normal job is best. If this can’t be done, consider asking other departments what they have available. If the individual is a long-time employee, use their knowledge and experience. Have them “shadow” newer employees and vice-versa if a newer employee is injured. Look to your workforce for suggestions. Managers and supervisors should be required to come up with lists of tasks that need to be done occasionally. Keep these available and review them periodically. The shifts, hours and days worked can all be adjusted to fit your needs.

Finally, remember that you are not in this alone. Connect with your nurse case manager at CompManagement Health Systems (CHS) to help present modified duty options to medical providers. The key to a successful return to work is securing buy-in from the physician; your nurse case manager will be able to help you communicate in a way that will resonate with medical providers. There may be additional resources that can be accessed through the workers’ compensation system to facilitate a successful transition to full duty. Also, discuss the process with your third party administrator to make sure you are properly structuring a modified duty job offer that preserves all of the benefits you are trying to achieve. 

For questions about transitional work programs, please contact your CHS Account Executive or call our customer service team at 888-247-7799.

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