A state effort to help bring injured workers back to work as quickly as medically possible is making a real difference, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries claims.
Last month, the program known as “Stay at Work” marked a milestone, the agency says, surpassing 10,000 injured workers and their employers who have been helped since the L&I-managed program started.
Legislation passed in 2011 created the program. Since then, L&I has paid nearly 2,750 employers close to $24 million in reimbursement money to help keep injured workers on the job with light-duty work while they recover.
The light-duty work must be approved by the employee’s medical provider. Employers tapping into the program can be reimbursed for half the wages and also can receive additional funds for equipment, training and clothing to help the injured worker transition to a light-duty job.
“Avoiding an injury in the first place should be a primary focus for all of us. But when a worker gets hurt, getting them back to a job as quickly as medically possible helps the worker and the employer,” said Ryan Guppy, L&I’s chief of Return to Work Partnerships, in a press release announcing the milestone. Guppy contended that the rewards of the incentive program go far beyond the financial reimbursement for employers. They also can also help with general workplace morale and result in other cost savings, he asserted.
Lori Swanson, co-owner of Guardian Roofing, in Tacoma, said in the press release, “The Stay at Work Program was exciting to me because I really felt that L&I was reaching out to businesses and partnering with me to encourage that back-to-work philosophy,”
Swanson said she makes getting injured workers back to work a priority. She said the Stay at Work Program helps her better manage her workers’ compensation claims costs, which helps lower premium rates. She also pointed out that time off work after an injury costs her workers, since about 25 percent of workers’ compensation premiums are paid by employees.
Guppy said, “Separation from the workplace does have financial, psychological and social impacts to the worker that can delay recovery and make it harder for an injured worker to return to a job.” L&I data show that if a worker is still off the job six to nine months after an injury, the likelihood of returning to work drops to just 36 percent.
By encouraging employers to keep workers employed while they heal, Stay at Work helps reduce long-term disability, which ultimately impacts workers’ compensation insurance premiums and overall costs for employers and workers statewide, L&I said. Employers have one year from the day an injured worker begins a light-duty job to apply for reimbursements.
L&I processes nearly 100,000 workers’ compensation claims annually for about 170,000 employers statewide.
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