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States of Progress:
RETAINing Talent Following Injury or Illness

Millions of working-age Americans leave their jobs every year after getting hurt or diagnosed with a chronic health condition; however, many could remain in the workforce if they received timely, effective support from their employers and healthcare professionals—in other words, collaborative stay-at-work/return-to-work (SAW/RTW) strategies.

SAW/RTW practices not only benefit ill and injured workers, but also their employers and local economies. After all, helping a worker remain on or return to the job enables businesses to avoid the costs associated with employee turnover such as training, onboarding and insurance expenses. More importantly, they help employers retain valuable talent in today's competitive labor market while promoting a culture of support and inclusion.

Across the nation, states and localities are recognizing the value of SAW/RTW strategies, as well. For example, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries funds Centers of Occupational Health and Education (COHE), which works with medical professionals, employers and injured employees in a community-based program serving workers. Other states including California, Georgia, Maryland, Montana, New York, Texas and West Virginia, have developed policy guides that describe best practices for designing, implementing and evaluating SAW/RTW programs.

These and other exemplary state practices are explored in the Stay-at-Work/Return-to-Work Toolkit—a new resource from the Council of State Governments that was developed in collaboration with the Office of Disability Employment Policy's (ODEP) State Exchange on Employment & Disability (SEED). Although designed for state policymakers, the toolkit includes best practices and implementation strategies that employers also can use to facilitate positive SAW/RTW outcomes.

ODEP is also working to promote exemplary SAW/RTW practices through the RETAIN (Retaining Employment and Talent After Injury/Illness Network) demonstration projects. Led by ODEP in partnership with the Department's Employment and Training Administration and the Social Security Administration, this program has enlisted eight state teams to test the impact of early intervention SAW/RTW strategies. You can learn more about the project, and read research briefs on the issue, on ODEP's RETAIN webpage.

Such efforts at the state level have the potential to lift the nation's entire economy by ensuring that workers who want and need to work following an illness or injury can continue to do so. In the process, America's businesses will be poised to empower and retain their greatest asset—their workers.

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