Early return to work programs(ERWP) - by Dr. Isabel Perry, 21stCeturySafety.

An employee has been severely injured on the job and will need time to fully recover. He is unable to return to his regular work assignment until he is fully recovered. What do you do? Do you call in temporary help? Do you shuffle schedules around? Do you completely retrain someone to do the job? What do you do if you now have lower productivity and lower employee morale? An Early Return to Work (ERTW) Program can help answer these questions and provide benefits to you and your employees. The ERTW Program should be set up to return injured employees to work in a transitional duty position in the safest and most expeditious manner possible.

Benefits of an ERTW Program

  • Lower workers' compensation costs
  • Strengthen employee relations
  • Boost employee morale
  • Decrease employee time away from work
  • Reduce turnover
  • Improve overall productivity
  • Enhance company image
  • Incentive to cross-train employees for greater flexibility

ERTW Elements

1. Assign someone to run the program.

2. Write a policy statement in non-contractual terms.

3. Publicize the policy to all employees and at new employee orientation.

4. Review work assignments to see which might be transitional duty possibilities. (Further review may be necessary at the time you receive a restricted work release from the doctor.)

5. Determine acceptable wage levels for transitional duty assignments.

6. Contact your medical providers to let them know ERTW is available at your company whenever possible. Contacting the providers as you set up your program will help you to set up a relationship with the providers and complete any paperwork to help the providers meet their requirements.

7. Follow up daily with the recovering employee to help determine readiness for transitional duty or full return to work.

8. Keep records to track all efforts and contacts with and on behalf of the recovering employee.

9. Review your program with your legal counsel to help ensure compliance with applicable laws.

Written ERTW Policy Statement

At a minimum, the policy statement should include:

• That your company will try to provide transitional duty in the event of a job-related injury.

• That employees have the responsibility to accept transitional duty that complies with restrictions given by the doctors.

• That ERTW is a benefit your company provides to help employees who have a work-related injury.

Additional Considerations

Once your ERTW policy is written and you implement your program:

• Publicize the policy to your employees.

• Contact your medical providers on each injury before the injured person arrives at the medical facility to remind the early return to work programs providers that you offer transitional duty. Ask them to keep this in mind whenever they provide medical service to one of your employees.

• Exchange information with the doctor as to what restrictions may be given and what transitional duty may be available.

• Contact your claims adjuster on each potential or actual lost time injury to inform and discuss transitional duty available.

• Upon the recovering employee’s return to work, review the restricted work release to see that you have the information you need to assign transitional duty.

• Follow up with the employee daily to assess how recovery is coming.

• Coordinate the recovery progress with the medical providers to get the employee back to full duty as soon as possible.

Remember to be consistent with your efforts and follow up daily to make your ERTW Program a success for you and your employees.


  • Workers Compensation Fund Insurance provided the information above.
  • OSHA 29 CFR 1910.38 and OSHA 29 CFR 1926.35

We welcome comments on how other organizations handle injured workers and all aspects of a return-to-work program.

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