Businesses Benefit in Washington When Injured Workers Stay on the Job

Employers who help their injured workers stay on the job by creating or providing light-duty jobs for them may be eligible for reimbursement through Washington state’s new Stay at Work program.

Stay at Work partially reimburses Washington employers who pay premiums to the state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) for the cost of bringing injured workers back to safe, light-duty jobs before they are medically cleared to return to their old jobs.

While the program's official launch was Jan. 10, the law creating it took effect on June 15, 2011, and L&I expects several thousand reimbursement requests from employers who have been providing light-duty jobs for their injured workers since the legislation took effect.

"The Stay at Work program gives us a unique opportunity to give Washington businesses an active role in their injured workers' recoveries and return to productive employment,"” said L&I Assistant Director for Insurance Services Beth Dupre. "Most important, we have a much better chance of helping injured workers stay on salary and in the game while they recover under their doctor's care."

Under the Stay at Work program, the employer creates a light-duty or transitional job for the injured worker in keeping with medical restrictions, and the worker receives a wage from the employer instead of time-loss compensation from L&I. An example might be an employer who creates an inventory job for a forklift driver recovering from a broken foot. The Stay at Work program will reimburse the employer 50 percent of the worker’s base wage, plus some expenses, up to $10,000 per claim.

The new program was one of several, historic workers' compensation reforms passed during the 2011 legislative session. The reforms are meant to reduce costs and improve the recoveries of workers with on-the-job injuries.

The program model, already successful in Oregon, tends to speed recoveries and reduce long-term disability. Occupational health professionals say that recovering workers who are more active and engaged are less likely to suffer from long-term disability.

"This is a win-win for our employers," Dupre said. "It's a strategy that will help their businesses and workers, and it won’t negatively impact their premium costs."

In addition to Stay at Work, L&I this year is launching several other reforms aimed at reducing costs and improving worker health, including a Workers’ Compensation Provider Network, expansion of the successful Centers for Occupational Health and Education (COHE) and Structured Settlement Agreements.

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