Helping People Return to Work Following Disability Onset

Apr 02, 2015

Each year, millions of workers in the U.S. develop a chronic illness, disability, or other serious medical problem. Many of these individuals leave their jobs, especially if they do not receive timely support to help them stay at work or return to work (SAW/RTW). Without a paycheck, they can end up relying on public programs such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicare, and Medicaid for income support and health care. To help workers like these keep their jobs, the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), engaged Mathematica and its partner, EconSys, to examine SAW/RTW policies and programs that may help raise incomes for recovering workers while lowering personnel costs for employers and public assistance costs for taxpayers. In support of this project, three new research studies are now available:

Assessing the Costs and Benefits of RTW Programs
Employers, employees, and taxpayers can each gain much from RTW investments. But ultimately the employers decide whether and how to retain workers and are thus in a key position to help them return to work quickly. Many employers will invest in retaining workers when the benefits of doing so clearly offset the costs, but that balance is not always easy to achieve. Employers may face steep costs if they aren’t able to reduce productivity loss due to a worker’s disability. From the employer’s perspective, therefore, reducing costs related to any loss of productivity is vital to making RTW cost-effective. Read the issue brief and full report on this topic.

RTW in the Health Care Sector: Promising Practices and Success Stories<
The health care sector is an important stakeholder in RTW efforts and outcomes. Based on a literature review and interviews with experts, researchers identified several promising practices for promoting RTW among health care workers: training and continually communicating with managers regarding their organization’s RTW program and transitional work opportunities, conveying the importance of RTW to physicians and creating transitional work plans for physicians to approve, and funding transitional work positions in a way that motivates managers to bring back their employees. Read the report for examples of these and other successful strategies.

Returning to Work After Disability Onset: The Physician’s Role
Although physicians play an integral role in the recovery of ill or injured workers, they are not always able to incorporate effective RTW practices into their care. This in turn makes it more difficult for employees and employers to make safe and effective RTW decisions. Including physicians in the RTW process involves several concrete steps, such as encouraging the use of RTW best practices among physicians, offering them more education on RTW strategies and their implementation, and providing them with technical assistance regarding privacy concerns. Read the reportfor details. For more information on these and other studies associated with the SAW/RTW Policy Collaborative, please visit the project page or send an email to

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