April 3, 2019

Common Myths about Return-to-Work Policies

Myth: Return-to-work policies are not good for cities.

Fact: Return-to-work policies for on-the-job injuries are beneficial to the city and its employees. Over the years, case law has made returning employees to work with modified work assignments following an on-the-job injury difficult. Thus, many cities moved away from having or implementing return-to-work policies. In 2018, House Bill 2, a KLC initiative, provided reform to Kentucky’s Workers’ Compensation laws, including those impacting modified work assignments.

Research indicates the sooner an employee returns to the workforce, the more likely the employee will be able to remain in the workforce. Allowing modified work assignments can also improve morale and demonstrate to employees they are valued.  Additionally, cities can reduce the cost of long-term leaves of absence and prolonged workers’ compensation income benefits.

Myth:  Modified work assignments must be within the employee’s customary work.

Fact:  Modified work assignments do not have to be within the employee’s training, education and experience. KRS 347.730(7) clearly states temporary total disability income benefits are offset by wages earned while “the employee has returned to a light-duty or other alternative job position.”  The offset is not conditioned on the work assignment being within the employee’s customary work. This change in House Bill 2 allows cities to not only implement a beneficial practice but also cut workers’ compensation costs.

Myth: Implementing a return-to-work policy means the city will have to find work for injured employees within their restrictions.

Fact: Carefully crafted policies will clearly state the city will modify work assignments, when possible, for a limited period to assist employees that have temporary restrictions. If it is not possible for the city to modify the work assignment, then the employee will remain off work. A carefully crafted policy will not require the city to provide work to an employee with temporary restrictions.

Myth: Return-to-work policies must apply to employees injured on and off the job.

Fact: Return-to-work policies can apply to only those employees injured on the job. In fact, KLC’s model is limited to employees injured on the job. For employees injured off the job, cities should determine what reasonable accommodations should be made according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, if applicable to your city.

Cities should be careful to not adopt policies or practices that reserve dedicated light-duty positions for employees with on-the-job injuries. If a city does, it will have to offer those reserved, vacant light-duty positions to employees with off-the-job injuries. Instead, when an employee is released to work with restrictions, cities should consider how their regular job could be modified or, alternatively, if they have any other work available at the time within the employee’s restrictions on a temporary basis.

Cities should consider adopting or revamping return-to-work policies in light of the recent changes. Contact Courtney Risk Straw or Andrea Shindlebower Main for a copy of the KLC Return-to-Work Model Policy.