What happens when a bakery employee hurts his ankle while lifting a 50-pound bag of flour? In some cases, he might miss a week or two of work. But in the case of “Jerry,” he shifts to a job that allows him to stay at work, off his ankle, and decorate cakes until he’s healthy enough to go back to his regular position.

“Jerry” is a character in a new Washington State Department of Labor and Industries TV spot. The ad promotes the agency’s new Stay at Work program, which pays employers up to half of an injured worker’s base wages. In exchange, the employee gets to stay on the job doing physically easier duties until the injury heals.

The question is whether employers will buy into the concept. That’s something the Washington State University College of Nursing will help determine. Labor and Industries’ Safety and Health Investment Project (SHIP) has awarded a grant to the college to survey employers’ thoughts about the barriers to bringing back recovering workers.

“Sometimes companies resist when people want to come back early to work after an injury because they want their employee to return at 100 percent capacity,” said WSU assistant nursing professor Denise Smart, a member of the team that will develop the survey. “But studies have shown that it’s best for employees to get back as soon as possible to stay away from depression and those other negative feelings that can develop when you’re away from work.”

SHIP has awarded the university a $138,225 grant during the next year.

Smart’s interdisciplinary team includes clinical assistant nursing professor Melody Rasmor at WSU Vancouver, occupational health nurse Susan Kent at Spokane’s Valley Hospital and retired occupational therapist Marilyn Wright.

In addition to the survey, Smart says the team will create an assessment kit that will help companies determine the types of jobs that are appropriate for employees recovering from injuries.

Two other members of the team, Jerry Reynolds and Matthew Blythe from the College of Nursing, will produce a video that companies can show new employees about the benefits of staying at work after an injury.

Oringinally published by By Doug Nadvornick, WSU Spokane.