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Fact Sheet: Key Elements of an Effective Modified Duty Return-to-Work Program

For decades now, research has documented the value of returning an injured worker (IW) to work as soon as possible, even the day of injury. Activities performed in the workplace have been shown to be much more therapeutic than prolonged rest.

  • The IW benefits a number of ways:
    • Staying engaged with his or her employer and coworkers.
    • In most cases, not losing out on money associated with being away from work.
    • Continued activity actually promotes healing, reducing the disability period and the degree of permanent impairment.
  • The employer benefits by:
    • Maintaining an ongoing relationship with the employee.
    •  The early identification of any issues that may hinder the IW’s rehabilitation, and development of strategies to overcome them.
    • Avoidance of lost time claims that drive up cost and, often, the degree of permanent impairment an IW may have.


An effective return-to-work (RTW) program involves a coordinated effort by the employer, employee, medical provider(s) and insurer.  The employer’s RTW policy establishes employer practices as to how IWs are handled and provides details around treatment and work restrictions, claims management and employment practices.


Essential Elements of an Effective RTW Program

  • An established injury and illness prevention program at the workplace.
  • Job descriptions that define the physical demands of the position.
  • A training component that advises all employees of the RTW policy, its benefits and what an IW can expect if injured on the job.
  • A requirement that all injuries be reported immediately.
  • An employer-designated medical provider (DMP) for IW treatment.  (Note: Some states allow employees to elect their own provider, which changes nothing about the employer process.)
  • Accident investigation.  This is a critical step for the employer as details are best recalled by the IW at this point in time, witnesses to the event are established, and the mechanics of the injury are detailed. Understanding the mechanics of an injury helps create a picture of how “a” caused “b”. With this detail, an experienced workers’ compensation provider is usually able to determine if a claim is valid. If an employer ever questions the legitimacy of an injury, it is this detail that will prove most useful.
  • Information the IW gives the DMP if treatment is needed. This includes: The employer’s notice that a RTW program is available; a copy of the IW’s job description (with physical demands identified) for the DMP’s use in determining work restrictions, a checklist of work restrictions the DMP is recommending and a list of light duty tasks the employer has available for the IW to perform.
  • An established process for the employer’s communication with the insurer.
  • A written “temporary job offer,” signed by both the IW and the IW’s supervisor, that lists the modified duties an employer is assigning the IW. This is important to have in cases where the IW does not comply with their duties or indicates an inability to do the assigned work.
  • A summary of any changes to the work restrictions, as needed, each time the IW sees a DMP. Based on this, the employer should reassign temporary duties as needed.


GuideOne Insurance offers policyholders assistance with the development of a RTW Program. Please reach out to your Loss Control Consultant if you need assistance.

© 2024 GuideOne Insurance. GuideOne® is the registered trademark of the GuideOne Insurance Company. All rights reserved. This material is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to give specific legal or risk management advice, nor are any suggested checklists or action plans intended to include or address all possible risk management exposures or solutions. You are encouraged to retain your own expert consultants and legal advisors in order to develop a risk management plan specific to your own activities.