Despite employers’ best efforts to ensure safe working conditions for employees, workplace injuries can still happen, which are hard for everyone involved. Injured workers often worry about their recovery and potential financial hardships if they cannot work due to their injury. Employers may be concerned about the employee’s well-being, losing the worker’s skills they’ve come to depend on, as well as financial losses associated with the injury.
Returning employees to a modified light-duty job as soon as their healthcare provider clears them following a workplace injury is vital for the employee and effective claims management. Studies show that returning an injured employee to work earlier improves their recovery time, keeps them in the routine of working, helps them feel more productive, and maintains workplace relationships. This can help keep morale high for both the worker and their coworkers. Continuing to work also allows recovering employees to earn their full wages, alleviating financial stress.
In addition to employee benefits, employers who offer light-duty job accommodations can recover some of the costs associated with workplace injuries by benefiting from the injured worker’s contributions in other areas of the organization. For example, an injured welder might work in a vacant administrative position. Light-duty jobs also help avoid costly time-loss payouts, which are wage-replacement payments made by L&I to workers if they cannot work due to a work-related injury. Because time-loss payments are weighted to have the most impact on the calculations used for workers’ compensation insurance costs, providing light-duty will help reduce insurance costs. In addition, some states, such as Washington, offer incentive programs for light-duty accommodations.
What is Washington’s Stay-at-Work Program?
The Stay-at-Work (SAW) reimbursement program is offered by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I). The program incentivizes employers to bring injured workers back to work in a light or modified duty capacity. The program awards an equivalent portion of the worker’s wages back to the employer for offering these types of job accommodations.
Participating employers can recoup up to 50% of the injured worker’s wages for up to 66 days or $10,000—whichever comes first through the program. Additionally, an employer may be eligible to be reimbursed for some of the expenses incurred for the light-duty accommodation.
Who is Eligible?
In Washington, employers must obtain their workers’ compensation insurance from L&I or be self-insured. Employers who acquire their insurance from L&I are eligible for the SAW program.
How Can Employers Participate?
To take advantage of the SAW reimbursement program, employers must follow certain criteria, including but not limited to offering a valid light-duty job offer to the injured worker that is approved and signed by the employee’s healthcare provider.
How do Employers Qualify for Reimbursements?
Eligible Washington employers qualify for SAW reimbursements if:
- There is an allowed workers’ compensation claim with no open protests or appeals to the allowance of the claim. Employers cannot receive reimbursements for claims they are trying to get denied.
- The employer was the injured worker’s employer at the time of the injury. In the case of an occupational disease claim that occurred over time, the employer is at least partially financially responsible for the claim.
- The claimant’s healthcare provider is provided with a valid light-duty job description that clearly indicates the physical requirements of the job.
- The employer has received written approval for the light-duty job offer from the employee’s attending healthcare provider based on the worker’s restrictions.
- The employer has offered the approved light-duty job in writing to the injured worker.
- The injured worker maintains health care benefits throughout the eligible SAW reimbursement period. An exception to this rule is if the benefits are inconsistent with the employer’s current benefits program offered to other workers.
- The employer applies within one year of incurring eligible expenses.
- The employer requests reimbursement for dates when the injured employee worked in a light-duty position before the claim closed.
Can Employers be Reimbursed for Anything Else?
To help employers develop a light-duty or transitional work program, L&I will also reimburse employers if they purchased equipment, clothing, or training expenses on or after the date they offered the light-duty or transitional work. Reimbursement limits are:
- $2,500 for equipment or tools.
- $1,000 for training materials or training fees.
- $400 for clothing.
How Do Employers Request Reimbursement?
Employers who utilize Archbright’s Retro or ReClaim services have an assigned claims team who will work with the employer and file SAW reimbursements on the employer’s behalf. To date, Archbright has helped employers receive well over 7 million dollars in SAW reimbursements!
Alternatively, an employer can request reimbursement directly using L&I’s Wage Reimbursement Form (F243-001-000) or Expense Reimbursement Form (F243-003-000), available at www.lni.wa.gov.
What Information is Needed for Applying?
To qualify for wage reimbursement, the employer must provide the following information:
- The employee’s work restrictions, if not in the claim file.
- The provider-signed Employer’s Job Description Form (F252-040-000).
- The date the injured worker was offered the light-duty job.
- Copies of pay stubs and daily timesheets.
- To qualify for expense reimbursement, the employer must provide dated, itemized receipts.
What Can and Cannot be Reimbursed?
Only actual hours worked in the approved light-duty or transitional job are eligible for reimbursement. This includes all full-time or part-time work.
Things that cannot be reimbursed include:
- Holiday pay, vacation pay, sick leave, or similar benefits.
- Dates the injured worker received any L&I time-loss compensation payments.
- ‘In-house’ training provided to the employee (but you may receive reimbursements if the employee needs specialized training materials).
It can be difficult for employers to navigate Washington’s employee-friendly workers’ compensation system. Employers should look for any area they can control in what many feel is an uncontrollable system. One of these things is a proactive view on light-duty and early return-to-work.
Eligible Archbright members can find various resources for managing return-to-work programs on mozzo, including the Light-Duty Job Description Builder and several workers’ compensation claims management microlearning courses in the Video Library. Additionally, eligible Archbright members can contact their dedicated Sr. Claims Examiner or Loss Control Analyst for more information. Employers who are interested in membership can email info@Archbright.com.