Accommodations, Return-to-Work Plans Critical During Economic Downturn
Workers' Compensation Report recently sat down with Beth Loy, principal consultant with the Job Accommodation Network, a free consulting service funded by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy. Loy discussed common hurdles to bringing injured workers back to the job, the availability of low-cost accommodation solutions, and employers' increased interest in recent changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Workers' Compensation Report:
With the current economic downturn, why is it critical to bring injured employees back to the job as quickly as possible?
Beth Loy: It is especially important in today's economy. I think that with reduced workforces, companies are being forced to restructure. In these times, employers need to be as productive as they can be. Having a person off work because of an injury or disability will cost more money in the long run than maintaining solid return-to-work and accommodation programs. Employers must be aware of the benefits of retaining employees. If you have a good employee, you want to keep him around. It is very expensive to hire new workers and train them, especially with the tight operating budgets that many employers are working with today.
WCR: What are some common reasons or problems that result in employers failing to bring back injured workers?
Some companies simply aren't used to bringing back employees who have job restrictions. Light-duty programs may still be new to these employers. This is especially true for small businesses that don't have the benefit of having a designated person on staff to coordinate these programs. In many cases, it is simply a supervisor wearing many hats.
With regard to workers with disabilities, I think many employers are afraid to explore accommodations or they haven't gone through the process before. Employers are often extremely concerned about the cost of accommodation. However, we conducted a study that found that nearly half of the employers surveyed reported that there was no cost for providing an accommodation, and 45 percent of employers reported a typical, one-time cost of $500. Another study found that for every dollar an employer spends on accommodation, it will get $10 in return.
Who needs to be involved in a RTW plan or accommodation program?
I think these programs need to be laid out in well-defined steps. The involvement of the employee's direct supervisor is pivotal. In addition, you need someone who is knowledgeable about the Americans with Disabilities Act and the accommodation process, as well input from the employee.
On Jan. 1, the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 went into effect, which made major changes to the way the definition of disability is interpreted. What kind of reaction have you been hearing from employers?
Loy: We have definitely received an increase in calls from employers wanting more information about the changes and how it will impact workers with limitations, disabilities or injuries. The act makes important changes to the definition of "disability," a definition that will now be easier to meet. However, it doesn't change the accommodation process. Employers can take several steps to ensure that they are taking appropriate action when providing accommodations and meeting the requirements of the act (see
WCR: Where can employers seek assistance?
It is important for employers to know that the Job Accommodation Network is a free, confidential resource. We get about 36,000 calls each year from small and large employers in a variety of industries. JAN is here to provide information and solutions, and give unbiased technical assistance.
March 16, 2009
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