A Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) program that helps support light-duty jobs after workplace injuries has reached two major milestones. The Stay at Work Program has now helped more than 20,000 injured workers and provided more than $50 million to reimburse businesses that take part.
The program pays employers for part of the costs associated with offering light-duty jobs to injured workers. It helps defray some of the expenses so businesses can allow eligible employees to keep working during their recovery and stay connected to their workplace.
“This return-to-work incentive is changing the workers’ compensation system, and more importantly, changing workers’ lives and improving the bottom line for employers,” said Vickie Kennedy, L&I’s assistant director of Insurance Services.
To date, more than 4,500 employers have used the program to offer light-duty jobs to help thousands of workers return to work as part of their recovery from a workplace injury or illness.
Mao Pen, an industrial seamstress at Seattle Tarp, is one example of those helped by the Stay at Work Program. Pen broke her left elbow and forearm last June when she fell backwards while helping coworkers stretch a large tarp. “It was a horrible break,” said Chris Perlatti, president of Seattle Tarp, where Pen has worked for 20 years.
After having surgery and staying home for three months, Pen wanted to come back to work. “And we wanted her back,” said Perlatti. “She’s a valuable employee and a sweet individual. She’s part of our work family.”
Perlatti said the answers came when L&I’s occupational nurse Deirdre Staudt started talking to his staff about how light duty could help both Pen and Seattle Tarp.
Through the Stay at Work Program, Seattle Tarp could get reimbursed for half of Pen’s light-duty wages (up to 66 days and $10,000), along with costs for training, equipment, tools, and any clothing needed for the light-duty work.
“This is a phenomenal program,” said Perlatti. “I wish we had known about it before one of our workers got injured.”
Changing Workers’ Compensation
“Instead of writing a check to the worker to replace some of their wages while they stay at home to recover, we’re reimbursing employers to help workers return to work as soon as medically possible,” said Kennedy, adding that the workplace connection offers financial, social and psychological support that a worker needs to improve recovery times.
Return-to-work initiatives like the Stay at Work Program, efforts to ensure quality medical care, and other improvements in the workers’ compensation system are helping an estimated 560 injured workers each year avoid possible long-term disability.
Together, these efforts have saved $700 million in estimated wage replacement, disability and medical costs to Washington employers, workers, and the workers’ compensation system. More importantly, these efforts are helping injured workers heal and return to productive lives.
L&I encourages employers to establish return-to-work programs at their worksites. Employers can start by creating light-duty job descriptions and using the Stay at Work incentives to offset costs associated with workplace injuries.