Transitional Return-to-Work - What It Is and Why It Makes Sense

Welcome Back sticky note on office workstation

A formal transitional return-to-work program is designed to help injured employees return to the workplace while transitioning back to their full-duty capacity after a work-related injury. 

It really is a “win-win” for employee and employer. Employers get to retain a valuable, trained individual on staff while minimizing workers’ compensation costs. Studies show transitional return to work helps employees recover more quickly while maintaining their self-esteem and reducing their financial loss. 

Light-duty work exists in every company at every level, particularly if we break jobs down into smaller tasks. Those tasks that never seem to get done often make good light-duty assignments. Planning for light-duty jobs in advance can eliminate the frustration of trying to find work within a person’s work restrictions. Providing light-duty lists to your preferred providers can encourage medical professionals to approve transitional-duty for an injured worker. 

Transitional return-to-work programs offer several benefits. 

First, a formal program ensures consistency in how injured workers are treated and helps establish credibility should a workers’ compensation claim go to litigation. Transitional return-to-work programs are required by law in several states and employers should be aware of their state’s regulations. 

Second, these programs allow valuable employees to remain productive in the workplace. According to New York Workers' Compensation Board, only 50% of employees out of work for six months return to work successfully. But after one year, that number drops to 25%. In this day and age, it’s a challenge to hire qualified employees. Think of all the hidden costs that go into hiring and training. Don’t lose that trained employee. 

Additionally, in NCCI states, a formal transitional return-to-work program can also help reduce workers’ compensation costs and help lower your experience modification rating. In fact, medical-only claims are discounted 70% when factoring into the mod rate calculation. 

There are 7 key steps in building a successful transitional return-to-work program: 

  1. Knowledge and acceptance of the potential benefits
  2. Willingness to commit resources to develop and sustain the program
  3. Having a return-to-work policy statement
  4. Establishing and documenting the process
  5. Effective communication with all involved
  6. Formal implementation
  7. Monitoring and adjusting as needed. 

For more details on these steps, visit

For tips on taking your current return-to-work program to the next level, review MEMIC’s “How to Implement a Best Practices Return to Work Program” document.

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