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Learn how employers can use stay-at-work/return-to-work programs as a retention strategy.

Stay-at-Work/Return-to-Work (SAW/RTW) programs help supervisors manage employee injury, illness, and disability and ensure that employees are able to return to the workplace as quickly and safely as possible. 

Benefits of SAW/RTW Programs 

Programs that allow employees to resume working in an appropriate and timely manner, with or without work restrictions, are essential for minimizing health-related absences and optimizing productivity. Successfully returning employees to work goes well beyond treating the physical nature of the injury, health condition, or disability; it also includes psychological impact and family and workplace dynamics. By creating an effective and holistic SAW/RTW program based on communication and trust, employers can take positive steps to keep their employees productive, safe, and valued in the workplace.

SAW/RTW programs have benefits for both employees and employers, including an estimated $8-$10 savings for every $1 invested in such programs. SAW/RTW strategies and programs have traditionally been utilized to reduce workers’ compensation costs; however, these programs are more valuable now than ever for companies to save time, money, and retain essential human capital. They can also be beneficial to federal contractors and subcontractors in meeting their goals under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Specific financial and other benefits of SAW/RTW programs include:

  • Speeding employee recovery after injury or illness.
  • Reducing employee absence and lost work time, costs related to training new employees, medical and disability costs, and the potential for litigation.
  • Increasing employee engagement, self-esteem, and morale; retention of valuable employees; and productivity.

Strategies for Success

Employers can implement a wide variety of policies, processes, and programming to support employees’ return to the workplace. Return-to-Work programs are most effective when combined with injury prevention and management strategies; stay-at-work strategies such as health, wellness, and prevention initiatives; and strong support from management at all levels. 

Collaboration among internal and external stakeholders is critical to the success of SAW/RTW programs. Developing a customized approach to a SAW/RTW program must include consultation with employees, managers, and human resource (HR) professionals. It may also include consultation with health care professionals and disability management consultants or other third-party providers. 

Resources to Support SAW/RTW Programs

  • The U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy’s Stay-at-Work/Return-to-Work resources provide information, tools, and strategies to assist employees and employers with the return-to-work process. You can also learn about provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that are applicable in these situations, and how intermittent leave may assist employees to remain on the job.
  • The Disability Management Employer Coalition can also assist employers with strategies to improve workplace productivity through better absence and disability management.
  • Learn about state financial incentives to support employers in establishing SAW/RTW programs, including workplace safety and illness and injury prevention programs.