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Work Comp Insights: Benefits of Return-to-Work Programs for Employers and Employees

Benefits of Return-to-Work Programs for Employers and Employees

According to the National Safety Council, a worker gets hurt on the job every seven seconds. And when an employee experiences an occupational illness or injury, their eventual return to the workplace can create numerous challenges, putting significant stress on both the individual and their employer.

Fortunately, return-to-work (RTW) programs can help alleviate these concerns by supporting staff as they reintegrate back into the workforce. These programs may entail having employees return to work with shortened hours, lighter workloads or modified tasks as they recover from their occupational ailments. For example, a warehouse worker who previously lifted heavy boxes on the job may be temporarily assigned administrative tasks (e.g., taking inventory) while they heal from an occupational back injury.

RTW programs offer several benefits, allowing employers to control their workers’ compensation costs and giving employees the opportunity to resume working even when they aren’t ready to take on their original job duties. This article provides more information on the key advantages of RTW programs for both employers and employees. 

Benefits for Employers

RTW programs can provide the following benefits for employers:

  • Increased retention—These programs can help employers retain valued staff and reduce the risk of turnover by enabling employees to return to work as soon as they’re able. This is particularly important, as the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine confirmed that the likelihood of an injured employee resuming their original role drops to 50% when they take more than 12 weeks off of work to treat an ailment and falls to just 5% after spending a full year off the job in recovery.
  • Lower costs—Such programs can reduce employers’ workers’ compensation costs by having injured employees gradually start working again and collect fewer disability benefits. Since large or lengthy workers’ compensation claims can affect future premium expenses, RTW programs can also make all the difference in resolving claims in a cost-effective and timely manner, therefore limiting the risk of potential rate increases going forward.
  • Higher productivity—Having experienced staff return to work, even with reduced hours or workloads, can boost productivity more than hiring new employees. In fact, studies have shown that RTW programs can minimize lost work days stemming from occupational illnesses and injuries by as much as 55%; this delivers a return on investment of $9 for every dollar spent implementing such programs. Further, industry data found that hiring and training new workers can take a significant amount of time, costing between nine and 24 months’ worth of an open position’s salary.
  • Improved morale—Establishing an RTW program shows injured employees that their employer values not only their job skills and work contributions but also their overall health and well-being, ultimately fostering a positive company culture and improving staff morale. Doing so can also help injured employees feel adequately supported in their time of need, thus reducing their stress levels during recovery and motivating them to do their best work, whether it’s in their modified position or original role.
  • Reduced litigation—Without an effective RTW program in place, an injured employee is more likely to feel underappreciated and disregarded during their recovery process, which could make them further inclined to seek legal counsel and consider filing a large-scale lawsuit against their employer. As such, adopting these programs can help employers reduce the likelihood of costly litigation and avoid related penalties and reputational damage. 

Benefits for Employees

RTW programs can offer the following advantages for employees:

  • Boosted skills—These programs can help injured employees maintain and enhance valuable job skills by having them return to work sooner rather than later. Otherwise, employees who spend prolonged time off during the recovery process may lose their skills and require additional training upon their return, which can negatively affect their confidence in their work and make the transitional period increasingly challenging. Altogether, RTW programs can minimize the risk of occupational injuries and illnesses hampering employees’ career growth.
  • Greater social connections—Such programs can keep injured staff more connected to the workplace by allowing them to continue the recovery process alongside their co-workers rather than at home. This socialization can give employees something to look forward to each day as they heal from their occupational ailments, providing much-needed comfort during difficult days and motivating them to resume their original job duties as soon as possible.
  • Healthier mindset—RTW programs help promote a healthy mindset for recovering employees by giving them a sense of purpose within their daily work routines. This can, in turn, mitigate the risk of injured employees experiencing mental distress due to their occupational ailments. Additionally, going back to work, even in a limited capacity, can help keep injured employees physically active and allow them to maintain their fitness during the recovery process.
  • Reduced financial challenges—In many cases, employees earn more money by gradually returning to work as opposed to collecting disability benefits following occupational injuries and illnesses. RTW programs may also allow injured employees to maintain other work-related benefits, such as paid vacation days, company-sponsored health coverage, pension plans and life insurance. With this in mind, such programs can play a significant role in helping injured employees foster financial stability and avoid possible economic stressors throughout their road to recovery.


Overall, RTW programs are an essential component of any workplace, providing various benefits for both employers and employees. By implementing such programs, employers can minimize the fallout from occupational injuries and illnesses and cultivate a healthy, supportive work environment for their staff.  

This Work Comp Insights is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or an insurance professional for appropriate advice. © 2024 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved.


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