Each year, millions of American workers experience an injury or illness that puts them at risk of leaving the workforce.[1] Many injuries and illnesses are work-related – there were more than 4 million nonfatal work-related injuries and illnesses in 2015 – however, a much larger share of injuries and illnesses that may prevent continued employment occur off-the-job.[2] Tracking the number of injuries and illnesses experienced by workers that occur off-the-job is challenging, but estimates suggest that there were more than 15 million nonfatal, off-the-job injuries and illnesses requiring medical attention in 2015.[3]

When workers leave the labor force because they become sick or have an accident, it can be detrimental – for the workers, their families, their employers, and for the economy. Workers experience adverse effects on their health, family finances, and quality of life. Employers shoulder the direct and indirect costs that come with the loss of valuable employees. And all levels of government face reductions in the tax base, decreased economic activity, and hundreds of thousands of these workers go on to receive state or federal disability benefits. However, many injured or ill workers could remain in their jobs or the workforce if they received timely, effective help.

Early stay-at-work/return-to-work (SAW/RTW) strategies and programs succeed by returning injured workers to productivity as soon as medically possible during their recovery process. These strategies involve early action and coordination between ill and injured workers, employers, and healthcare and employment-services professionals. While disability cash and health benefits are an essential protection for workers with incapacitating long-term and permanent disabilities, they should not be the default path if viable options for full or partial RTW exist. By keeping these workers engaged in gainful employment as tax-paying members of the community, fewer individuals will need to apply for or receive disability benefits and the workers, their families, and their employers all benefit. Improving SAW/RTW outcomes is a win-win policy that benefits all stakeholders.

Recognizing the importance of giving workers with disabilities economically sustainable alternatives to Federal disability benefits, the President's 2018 and 2019 proposed budgets support early intervention SAW/RTW program demonstrations. ODEP, the Employment and Training Administration, and the Social Security Administration developed the RETAIN initiative — Retaining Employment and Talent after Injury/Illness Network — to implement and evaluate early intervention strategies designed to improve SAW/RTW outcomes. Visit the About RETAIN page for additional information and the News & Events page for the latest information on all things RETAIN.

[1] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities, Available online at https://www.bls.gov/iif/.
[2] National Safety Council. 2017, “Injury Facts, 2017 Edition.” Itasca, IL.
[3] National Safety Council. 2017, “Injury Facts, 2017 Edition.” Itasca, IL.