For return to work, Tennessee offers ample reward

For return to work, Tennessee offers ample reward

With record unemployment, the “big quit,” and staffing shortages nearly everywhere, the timing for the Tennessee Board of Workers’ Compensation’s launch of a new return-to-work program couldn’t be better. Called “Returning Employees to Work and Reducing Disabilities (REWARD),” it is a comprehensive effort that involves training and supporting employers looking to reduce expenses and retain staff in their businesses. More importantly, it can reduce the dirge of “disability addiction” that we see when people do not return to a functional contributing role in society.

The REWARD program makes Tennessee one of the few states, perhaps on par with Washington, with a genuine focus on an effective return to work.

According to the BWC:

Returning Employees to Work And Reducing Disabilities (REWARD) is a program developed by the Tennessee Bureau of Workers’ Compensation to help employers interested in developing an effective return to work program or improving an existing one. The REWARD program was developed by a working group made up of interested employers, health professionals, insurance companies and employees of the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

There are five components that make up the REWARD program:

  • A toolkit that includes information and resources for starting a REWARDS (return to work) program
  • Certified Physician Program with increased billable hours
  • Training for Return to Work Coordinators
  • Resources and Networking Opportunities for Employers
  • Annual Honor Roll that recognizes employers who have outstanding return to work programs

The program includes monthly virtual training sessions, as well as in-person lunch meetings to exchange ideas and hear from respected speakers on return-to-work practices.

While a few elements of the program, such as the annual Honor Roll, will be implemented later this year, the core components have been operational for most of this year. Suzy Douglas, Medical Services Coordinator for the BWC, tells us that approximately 150 employer representatives have attended RTWC training or REWARD employer meetings. According to Douglas, the participants represent case managers, physiotherapists and lawyers. The goal of this “core group” of early adopters is for them to build relationships and hopefully benefit from the information suggested in the toolkit to help them create or improve their return to work program. .

The REWARD toolkit itself offers ideas “for businesses of all sizes that will help them get their injured employees back to work sooner.”

The toolkit includes:

  • Advice on what to do before and after an injury to get injured employees back to work as quickly as possible
  • Information on Effective Transition Work Assignments
  • Examples of Return to Work and Transitional Job Offer Policies
  • Information on the role of return to work coordinator and training for this role available from the Office
  • Tips for Choosing the Right Medical Panel Doctors and Communicating Effectively with Them
  • Return to work calculator to predict savings from implementing a return to work program
  • Help for employees who cannot return to work after an injury
  • The role of case managers
  • The catastrophically injured employee
  • Information about the upcoming Certified Physician Program that will train, test, and certify physicians interested in utilizing best practices in the Tennessee workers’ compensation system
  • Information on support and recognition opportunities for employers who enroll in the Office’s REWARD program

One of the most exciting parts of the program, which will launch later this summer, is the Certified Physician Program. This is a critical area, as physicians tend to be a major stumbling block in the return to work arena. We have far too few specialists in Occ Med, and too often untrained physicians in this area let the patient’s opinion alone dictate what their RAT status will be. And as I wrote recently, the constant attention of doctors to the restrictions with respect to capacity do not help the question.

The licensed physician program is expected to have a major impact on these current issues. The Bureau’s program will provide certification (training, testing, ongoing assessment) of physicians interested in providing workers’ compensation medical care based on best practices.

This will include:

  • The value of returning to work and guidelines to promote the participation of injured workers in their recovery
  • Training on the TN workers’ compensation system, including: causality analysis, work restrictions and report writing
  • Use of guidelines and form, ODGbyMCG for treatment guidelines
  • Support for injured workers to increase their activity as quickly as possible
  • Maximum Medical Improvement Assessment (MMI), and
  • Assignment of permanent impairment ratings and permanent work restrictions.

I hope other states will take a hard look at what Tennessee is doing, recognizing that an effective return-to-work effort will reduce expense and disability while helping employers improve employee relations and maintain a workforce. adequate. This last point is even more critical today than ever.

We’ve known this for a long time, but it’s a lesson that many employers and states seem to have forgotten. Getting back to work is critical to our society and our economy, and now, in Tennessee at least, it seems to have an even bigger REWARD.

You can find out more about the REWARD program here.

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Robert Wilson is president and CEO of, and “from Bob’s cluttered desk” comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations, and rants – often about workers’ compensation or employment issues, but sometimes not.

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Maria D. Ervin