Program pays small businesses to hire injured federal workers

    By Adrienne Burke | Small Business

    Would you seek out a new hire who was home with an injury collecting workers’ compensation insurance? What if the government paid you to?

    Partnership for Employment, an initiative of the nonpartisan group Women Impacting Public Policy, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, is designed to incentivize small businesses to hire government workers who are unable to return to their jobs due to an injury.

    WIPP board member Lisa Firestone, who has coordinated the pilot phase of the Partnership for Employment, calls it a “win-win-win” for government, small business, and injured workers.

    As the President and owner of Managed Care Advisors, Firestone’s specialty is assisting with the recovery and return to work of injured federal employees. As a government contractor, she also knows well the challenges of small businesses. Winning a contract can mean you need to staff up quickly. “Small businesses don’t have their own personnel office in house, and recruiters are expensive. Unless you have some conduit to skilled employees, it can really hamper your growth.” In addition, she notes, “if I win a new contract and have to hire 10 new people, by the time everything gets rolling I’m not going to see the first payment until months down the road.”

    The Partnership for Employment solution: tap into a database of qualified federal employees who are unable to return to their previous jobs, and get an upfront payment from the government to subsidize your new hires’ salaries.

    More than 100,000 federal government employees suffered injuries in 2011 alone, according to the DOL. The vast majority go back to their jobs, but long-term physical restrictions prevent some from being able to, Firestone says. She’s not talking about people who are too injured work at all: “It might be a pilot with inner ear problems who can’t fly, or a baggage handler with a back injury who can no longer lift 50 pounds alone. We’re talking about people who have transferable skills and good qualifications, but can’t return to that job.”

    In any job injury case, Firestone says the government first tries to accommodate the employee in their workforce. “But if they simply can’t, then we look into the private sector,” she says. “The ultimate goal is to avoid having people staying on workers’ comp because they can’t get a job.”

    Firestone says the Partnership for Employment builds on the Department of Labor’s decades-old Assisted Reemployment program, which provides a salary subsidy of up to 75 percent of gross wages for up to three years to private employers who hire government workers who are collecting workers’ compensation insurance. The exact amount and duration of the subsidy will depend on several factors, including the wage for the job and the amount of compensation benefit the employee is now receiving and training needs, according to the Partnership website.

    To address business owners’ reticence to hire someone with a job injury, Firestone says the program also provides for a vocational counselor to follow each worker’s progress for 60 days.

    The Partnership for Employment program will let small businesses post job openings free of charge to its website, and allows for a probationary period to protect employers when a new hire made through the program doesn’t work out.

    Firestone encourages small businesses to post job listings at the Partnership for Employment website to participate and get resumes that match their needs.

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