When a professional quarterback suffers an injury, he goes on injured reserve until he's physically able to return to the game.
And the reserve quarterback knows he will return his duties after the first-team player returns to his job.Unfortunately, the "rules" aren't that clear for employees who take disability leave after they are injured on the job. What happens if the employee is physically unable to return to his or her former duties? What accommodations should an employer make to help ease an employee into the workplace after a work-related injury or illness?
Kelvin Fowler, coordinator of the re-employment program of the Industrial Commission of Utah, told benefits professionals during a seminar Wednesday at the Marriott Hotel that there is no single return-to-work policy that meets the needs of all businesses.
Still, employers ought to have a policy that meets the requirements of the Utah Injured Worker Re-employment Act and suits the needs of its particular work force.
"Put in whatever flesh you want to hang on that skeleton. That's basically my recommendation," Fowler said.
Whatever the policy, Fowler suggests that employees should be informed of the procedures they must follow when they experience a work-related injury or illness.
The employees also should understand the responsibilities of the other entities that play a role in the process, such as their employer, their employer's insurance carrier and their personal physician.
"Invariably, I'm hearing the employees don't know who their (insurance) carriers are," he said.
Whenever possible, employers should help employees return to work as soon as possible. Fowler suggested that an employee who returns to work after a long leave should start work on a Thursday instead of Friday.
"If you send someone who's been off work a long time back on a Monday, he's looking at five long days," Fowler said.
He said injured employees who need Vocational Rehabilitation should be identified as soon as possible and the rehabilitation plan should be discussed with the employee.
If necessary, the company's insurance carrier ought to arrange for aptitude testing and help the employee retrain for another job.
The employer should monitor the employee's progress bi-weekly to ascertain if the employee is participating, that the costs are controlled and that the program will conclude on schedule.
Joyce Sewell, director of Division of Industrial Accidents of the state Industrial Commission, suggested that the employer should communicate with the injured or sick employee throughout his or her leave to promote a more rapid recovery and help them feel as if they are still part of the process.
"They begin to adjust to a lifestyle. They begin to develop a different attitude. They begin to sink into that `disability syndrome,' " Sewell said.