Managing Return-to-Work Requests
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, collaboration with the employee’s manager will be essential to facilitate a timely return to work.
- Monitor employees' leave balances—if an employee chooses 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 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.
- 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 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.
The doctor will periodically provide the employee with Work Status Reports (DWC-73) that indicate the employee’s work status and return-to-work date. Depending on the Work Status Report, take one of the following steps:
- If the doctor releases the employee back to work full-duty, you must notify your HR Benefits representative of the employee’s return-to-work date or, if you have iCE access, complete a Supplemental Report of Injury (DWC-6) form, designating “return-to-work”.
- If the doctor releases the employee to return with restrictions, evaluate the restrictions in an attempt to identify a modified-duty assignment, draft a bona fide offer letter, and provide a copy to the employee for signature. Notify your HR Benefits representative with the return-to-work date, or complete a Supplemental Report of Injury (SR6) form if you have iCE access.
- 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 (DWC-73) 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 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. Work limitations may change as the employee continues to recover from the injury. When restrictions change, the treating doctor will issue a new work status report. Your department should prepare to adjust the employees' duties accordingly.
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 an extension 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.
Alternative Placement for Return-to-Work Employees
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 HR Benefits representative. You'll then work with them to begin a campus-wide search for assignments elsewhere at the university. In these cases, the injured employee’s parent department will remain responsible for the injured employee’s salary until the employee is able to return to work in their home department.
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 employee’s department should mail the letter, or, with the employee’s consent, give it to the employee upon their physical return to work.
If the manager mails the offer letter, he or she should send it regular and certified with copies to HR – Leave Management Office. 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 HR – Leave Management.
The modified-duty/bona fide offer must be in writing and must contain the following elements:
- Employee's name
- Dates the modified-duty 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.