Return-to-Work Outcomes of Injured Workers: Evidence from California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Texas

By Philip S. Borba, Te-Chun Liu

May 1, 2005 Related Topics: Outcomes for Injured Workers, Return to Work

Each year approximately 5 million Americans experience a work-related injury or illness. Of these, about 1.4 million workers lose time away from work. A safe and timely return to work is in the best interests of both the worker and the employer. If return to work is delayed, workers may suffer both short and long term physical, financial and emotional consequences. Employers may have to make additional investments in recruitment, training and education of new workers.

WCRI analyzed the self-reported experiences of injured workers in four states — California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Texas — to determine the extent to which certain factors, e.g., particular injuries, employment patterns and demographic characteristics, influence return-to-work outcomes. Quantifying the impact of these factors will assist policymakers, employers, labor representatives, the medical community and others to focus on the policies, programs and resources most likely to help improve return-to-work outcomes.

Among our key findings:

  • Workers ages 55 and older are less likely to return to work and are out of work for longer periods after an injury than younger workers. When compared to workers between the ages of 25 and 39, the older workers are 12 to 35 percentage points less likely to return to work and are out of work 62 to 276 percent longer. By 2012, there will be 11 million more workers over the age of 55 in the U.S. labor force, creating unique demands on employers’ return to work programs.
  • The lack of a high school education impacts return to work, especially the length of time off work after the injury. WCRI’s analysis found that workers with a high school diploma return to work 10 to 16 weeks faster than high school dropouts. Especially affected were workers with only a grade school education. These workers were out of work 2 to 4.5 times longer than high school graduates.
  • The most consistent predictors of return-to-work outcomes in all four states analyzed were workers’ perceptions of the initial severity of their injuries and the effectiveness of their recoveries. Policies that impact the physical consequences of an injury by minimizing injury severity and promoting more effective recoveries have the potential to improve average return-to-work outcomes by as much as 15 weeks.
  • Workers who worked part time or for a partial year only were less likely to return to work and were out of work longer than their full-time counterparts.
  • Disability prevention and return-to-work programs that target back injuries may present “win-win” opportunities for employers and workers. Workers with a back injury were out of work 35 to 108 percent longer than workers with inflammations, lacerations and contusions.

Return-to-Work Outcomes of Injured Workers: Evidence from California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Sharon Fox, Philip Borba, Te-Chun Liu. May 2005. WC-05-15.


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