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Innovative Program Reimburses Small Businesses for Ergonomic Interventions

Wednesday, July 29, 2009
By Anne Kramer

California has instituted a ground-breaking program that encourages small businesses to return employees with disabilities to the work force. The Bring ‘em Back program specifically targets businesses with fewer than 50 full-time employees. Part of the 2004 workers’ compensation reforms, the Bring ‘em Back program offers businesses up to $2,500 dollars in reimbursement.

Employers who make modifications and return a temporarily disabled employee to work can receive up to $1,250 in reimbursement, while those who bring a permanently disabled employee back are eligible for up to $2,500.

Benefits for Employers

Employers who make it a priority to retain and accommodate employees with disabilities, stand to profit from their efforts. In a study conducted by the US Department of Labor, companies that implemented accommodations reported an average return of $28.69 for every dollar spent. Employers realized these savings because they reduced spending on worker’s compensation and insurance. Furthermore, since they returned existing employees to the job, employers did not have to invest in training new employees.
One need only compare the cost of accommodations to the company savings percentages reported to the US Department of Labor. Companies nationwide reported this information through the Job Accommodations Network (JAN).

Accommodation Cost

% of Businesses

No Cost










More than $5,000


Value of Savings

% of Businesses

Value Unknown










Greater than $100,000


Although the companies reporting were of all sizes, small business owners can clearly save significant quantities by bringing employees with disabilities back to work.

In addition to the tangible economic advantages, employers also reap intangible benefits, like the promotion of workplace morale and diversity. Efforts to bring back injured employees show a commitment to employee health and wellness, along with a dedication to capitalizing on employees’ skills and abilities.

A third significant advantage of accommodating injured employees is an increase in overall productivity. Some accommodations and modifications, particularly ergonomic ones, actually improve productivity for all employees, because they facilitate higher efficiency.

Eligible Accommodations

Virtually any accommodation or modification that returns an employee with a work-induced injury to work qualifies for reimbursement from the Bring ‘em Back program. These include the following kinds of expenses:

  • Modifications to the worksite
  • Custom equipment or modifications to existing equipment
  • Specialized furniture
  • Modified or different tools
  • Any other reasonable costs required to accommodate the employee

Because office place injuries constitute such a large percentage of work-related injuries, ergonomic interventions are eligible for reimbursement. Employers have been reimbursed for ergonomic equipment as simple as a keyboard tray and a document holder, but the Bring ‘em Back program also covers more holistic services that will also prevent future injuries.

One such service is ergonomic consultation. Ergo Works of Palo Alto, California, offers comprehensive workstation evaluations for employers who wish not only to return injured employees to their workforce, but also to promote overall employee health through injury prevention. Their Comprehensive Ergonomic Evaluation is designed specifically for employees who already have medically documented symptoms or diagnoses of injury.

The experts at Ergo Works can also conduct office-space planning consultations and on-site installations. These services allow employers to be proactive in preventing future injury as they design the layout of their office spaces. Because Ergo Works complements these services with a wide range of workstation accessories and ADA Products, they offer small businesses a “one-stop” solution to employee disability accommodations.

Programs Outside California

Although the Bring ‘em Back program in unique to California, the federal government does provide tax credits to businesses that bring employees with disabilities back to work. The following deductions are available nationwide:

  • Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC): Worth up to $6,000, this credit is granted to employers who hire employees who receive Supplemental Security Income for disabilities
  • Disabled Access Credit (DAC): This credit is offered to businesses whose gross income does not exceed $1 million for the year. It provides incentives for providing services and modifying facilities to accommodate people with disabilities.
  • Architectural and Transportation Barrier Removal Deduction: This deduction is for businesses that modify their physical structure or offer supplemental transportation for people with disabilities.

Like the Bring ‘em Back program, these tax credits are awarded for any reasonable expenditure incurred for the purpose of accommodating a disabled employee. Eligible expenditures include ergonomic consultations and equipment, like that offered by Ergo Works.

Employers who would like more information about these tax incentives can visit the US Department of Labor. For more information on California’s Bring ‘em Back program, consult California’s Department of Industrial Relations.

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