Managing Returns to Work
When employees experience work-related injuries or diseases, this may impact their work situations. After you complete the initial forms associated with workers' comp injuries/diseases, you should collaborate with the managers of injured employees to help meet employees’ needs and manage their returns to work.
Monitoring Progress, Leave and FMLA Balances
Work with the managers of injured employees to monitor progress and ensure that employees receive the appropriate benefits, while keeping the following things in mind:
- Stay in touch with employees in order to monitor their progress and reassure them that their job is waiting for them when they are released to return to work
- Monitor employees' leave balances—if an employee chose to use their accrued leave to remain on the payroll, the employee must be placed on workers' comp leave without pay (LWOP-WC) when their leave is exhausted
- Employees are not required to apply for Family Medical Leave (FML) when off work due to an on-the-job injury, because employees with workers’ comp injuries are automatically placed on FML and their FML balances are debited accordingly
- If employees are off work more than ninety days, advise them to file a long-term disability (LTD) claim—for help filing a LTD claim, employees can contact HRS-Benefit Services at 512-471-4772 or 1-800-687-4178
- If employees express interest in retaining an attorney to represent them in matters concerning their Workers' Compensation claims, they have every right to do this and you should refer them to The University of Texas System WCI Office at 512-499-4675 for assistance with accident investigations and attorney contacts
Monitoring Injured Employees Who Don't Seek Medical Treatment
The decision to seek medical treatment is up to the employee, so you cannot force employees to go for medical treatment.
If employees do not seek medical treatment, they are assumed to be at full-duty status. This means they are assumed to be able to perform all of their essential job functions and should be returned back to work. You should monitor the employee's attendance for possible injury-related lost time. If injury-related lost time occurs, complete a Supplemental Report of Injury (SR6), an Employer's Wage Statement (SWG) and a Request for Paid Leave form (S23). These forms are available on mainframe application *WCMENU. If the employee does not wish to use accrued leave, or has no leave available, they should be placed on Leave Without Pay-Workers' Comp .
Monitoring FMLA and Other Benefits
Employees who are unable to work due to an on-the-job injury will be evaluated for benefits eligibility under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). If they qualify, they will automatically be placed on FMLA leave, which will run concurrently with their WCI leave and provide for up to twelve weeks of employer-paid premium sharing and job protection. During this time, remind injured employees of the following:
- Employees must pay their portion of insurance premiums in order to maintain their insurance coverage—group insurance programs will lapse when disabled employees are placed on LWOP for a full calendar month and they fail to make a premium payment, so they should contact Benefit Services to make arrangements to retain their insurance benefits
- Employees should keep their departments advised of their current mailing addresses
- Employees should file a Long Term Disability (LTD) claim if they are off work for more than ninety days—LTD benefits are an offset against Workers' Compensation Indemnity Benefits (TIBs)
- Employees may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits if you anticipate that they will be disabled for a year or longer—Social Security benefits offset LTD benefits
What to Do When Employees are Released to Return to Work
When you learn that employees are ready to come back to work, make sure that their treating doctors have determined that they're able to return to work without restrictions. The doctor should have given the employee a Work Status Report (DWC-73) that indicates the return-to-work date. Depending on the Work Status Report, take one of the following steps:
- If the doctor gave the employee a full-duty release, complete a Supplemental Report of Injury (SR6) form using *WCMENU—if you don't have *WCMENU access, ask your department's WCI representative to complete this form
- If the doctor gave the employee a release with restrictions, evaluate the restrictions in an attempt to locate a modified-duty assignment and complete a Supplemental Report of Injury (SR6) form using *WCMENU—if you don't have *WCMENU access, ask your department's WCI representative to complete this form
- If the doctor has not issued a Work Status Report, the employee must remain off-duty—continue to monitor leave balances, and tell the employee that in order for him or her to return to work, the treating doctor must issue a Work Status Report listing the anticipated length of disability and/or restrictions
Based on the Work Status Report (DWC-73), your department must identify a modified-duty assignment and notify the employee of the expected return-to-work date via a modified-duty offer letter. The employee must return to work upon receiving notification from your department, and failure to return to work when notified may constitute job abandonment and could place the employee's job in jeopardy.
During the modified-duty period, the supervisor and employee should carefully follow the doctor's return-to-work instructions as described in the Work Status Report, Part III. Employees' limitations may change as they continue to recover from their injuries. When restrictions change, the treating doctor will issue a new work status report. Your department should prepare to adjust the employees' duties accordingly.
Length of the Modified-duty Period
The initial modified-duty period is limited to 90 calendar days. If the employee is not released to full duty by the end of 90 calendar days, then HR should be consulted in order to determine if additional modified duty is warranted. Extensions are based on a positive medical prognosis from the employee’s treating physician. The Return to Work policy allows for a maximum of three (3) extensions of 30 calendar days each. Modified-duty assignments should not exceed a total of 180 calendar days.
When Modified Duties Aren't an Option for Your Department
In the event that your department isn't able to create an appropriate modified-duty assignment for injured employees, you or the employees’ manager should contact the HRS–WCI office at 512-471-5361. You'll then work with the WCI office to begin a campus-wide search for assignments elsewhere at the university. In these cases, your department will remain responsible for an injured employee’s salary until the campus-wide search locates a suitable placement.
How to Draft a Modified-duty Offer Letter
A modified-duty offer letter, also known as a bona fide offer letter, must be in writing and must be signed by the employee and the employee’s manager prior to the start of the modified-duty assignment. The manager should mail the letter, or, with the employee’s consent, give it to the employee upon his or her return to work.
If the manager mails the offer letter, he or she should send it regular and certified with copies to HRS–WCI. The manager should calculate ample time for delivery (three to five days), and make sure that the return-to-work date allows for this delay. If the letter is presented to the employee upon their return to work, then a signed copy should be forwarded to HRS–WCI.
The modified-duty/bona fide offer must be in writing and contain the following elements:
- Employee's name
- Date assignment is to begin and end
- Work hours (including lunch period)
- Salary to be paid
- Worksite address
- Duties to be performed
- Statement that the university will provide training if needed
- Signatures from the manager and employee
- Attached copy of the Work Status Report (DWC-73)
Note: Employee's restrictions often change during the modified-duty period. If this happens, make sure the manager drafts a new letter with appropriate signatures.