Concerns about job security and comorbidities are two important predictors related to whether or not injured workers return to work, according to the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) of Cambridge, MA.

WCRI research released in late January 2015 included input from workers in Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Researchers interviewed workers about three years after they suffered a workplace injury in 2010 and also received workers’ compensation benefits.

The findings in the study apply to all claims in a state, and the predictors that are highlighted as important apply to the overall sample of claims, while keeping other factors constant, according the study’s three researchers, who responded to Hospital Employee Health questions via email: Bogdan Savych, PhD, public policy analyst; Vennela Thumula, PhD, policy analyst, and Rick Victor, PhD, JD, executive director of WCRI.

The study did not include separate predictors for subgroups, such as health care, but the researchers say the predictors are likely to apply to most workers in the sample. Hospital employee professionals can compare the general research with their own data about workers’ return-to-work patterns, the researchers suggest. For instance, a hospital that finds a trend of diabetic employees having a slower return-to-work rate could target this population with special interventions to facilitate return to work or to determine the need for coordination of care between multiple providers, they told HEH.

The research, Predictors of Worker Outcomes, found trust in the workplace — an issue that has been rarely examined — to be one of the more important predictors. To assess the level of trust or mistrust in the work relationship, study interviewers asked workers if they were concerned about being fired as a result of the injury. The following are some findings regarding this predictor:

  • Workers who were strongly concerned about being fired after the injury experienced poorer return-to-work outcomes than workers without those concerns.
  • One in five workers who were concerned about being fired reported that they were not working at the time of the interview. This was double the rate that was observed for workers without such concerns. Among workers who were not concerned about being fired, one in ten workers was not working at the time of the interview.
  • Concerns about being fired were associated with a four-week increase in the average duration of disability.

Comorbid conditions

The researchers also identified workers with specific comorbid medical conditions (existing simultaneously with and usually independently of another medical condition) by asking whether the worker had received treatment for hypertension, diabetes, and heart problems. The medical condition may have been present at the time of the injury or may have manifested during the recovery period. Among those findings:

  • When comparing workers with hypertension with those who do not have hypertension, researchers found that those with the condition had a 3% higher rate of not working at the time of the interview.
  • Employees with heart problems had an 8% higher rate of not working at the time of the interview, and they had disability duration that was four weeks longer.
  • Workers with diabetes had a 4% higher rate of not working at the interview.
  • In all three instances, the reason for the workers staying off the job was predominately due to their injuries.

Although the state-by-state comparisons suggest a trend of a higher rate of people not returning to work in Southern states, such as Arkansas and Tennessee, it’s too soon to draw any state-to-state comparison conclusions until more states have been studied, the researchers say.

The WCRI Researchers conducted telephone interviews of 3,200 injured workers across the eight states.

Editor’s note: For more information on the research, including breakdowns by state, go to the WCRI website at: n