How the Pandemic Disrupted the Modified-Duty Process in Workers’ Compensation

January 24, 2022

Early return-to-work programs are designed to get injured workers back on the job in light-duty or modified-duty roles in order to keep workers productive and mentally engaged while also reducing claims costs. This is because medical-only claims in Workers’ Compensation are discounted by 70% when determining an employer’s experience modification factor as compared to lost-time benefit (wage replacement) claims, which are valued at 100%. These programs also help to mitigate attorney involvement in a Workers’ Compensation claim.

The pandemic, however, has made it more difficult for employers to offer modified duties to injured employees. For many industries, modified return-to-work options were unavailable to injured workers due to the nature of their jobs. Typically, when a worker is injured and cannot perform his or her current duties, an employer with an effective return-to-work program can offer an alternative job role that is physically appropriate. For example, let’s say a home health care worker injured her back while lifting a patient. The treating occupational physician may determine that the injured worker can continue to work while recovering but in a modified role. This role may involve working in the home health care agency’s office, performing administrative duties such as answering phones, filing, data entry, etc. Because the pandemic shut down offices and sent employees home, offering modified duties to injured workers became more challenging – not only for health care workers in the field but also for those who worked in the office. 

Creative Return-to-Work Programs

When the pandemic hit, some employers got creative and began to utilize return-to-work programs that involved nonprofit organizations and charities. Nonprofits have to continue their work to help people in need during the pandemic. Employers place injured workers in volunteer positions at third-party sites and pay them either their full salary or a reduced rate. Injured employees, for instance, might be assigned to help out at a food bank with food distribution by working at the check-out counter. For home health care workers and others in the health care industry who are caregivers and are already committed to service, doing light- or modified-duty work at a nonprofit while recovering from an injury makes sense. They can simultaneously give back to their communities, get paid while doing so, remain productive, and facilitate the recovery process by being active. This is a win-win, because employers are able to reduce their claims costs by limiting expenses to medical-only claims. 

Manchester Specialty Programs providers Workers’ Compensation insurance for the Home Care, Allied Health, and Human/Social Services industries. We offer tools and strategies through our carriers for our industry segments to help them gain control over ongoing costs and rising premiums, including assisting employees in returning to work. For more information about how we can help protect your insureds, please contact us at 855.972.9399.