Are We Seeing the End to Ethics & Civility in Professions? (Part Two)

Yes, there’s still more from the infamous first article in the New York Times. Another colleague who I highly respect was quoted telling his client “Forget about personal. They don’t think of you as a person. They think of you as a file with a dollar sign on it. They don’t care if you can’t put food on the table or put braces on your daughter. You’re thinking of this logically. I stopped thinking that way a long time ago. This is comp.”

I sense his frustration and that of his client, but this unprofessional mis-characterization of the phantom “them” only perpetuates the loss of faith in the system. It also fails to hold all of us accountable for our own lives. Moreover, it represents only this one person’s beliefs, not everyone’s.

First, many of us DO care about the personal lives of the people in this process. We take the time to learn about the individuals, their motivations, their needs, and other factors that might influence their versions of “the truth.” None of us really know what the truth is. We’re just trying to understand and make the best decisions we can under the circumstances.

Second, many of us DO think of the claimants as persons. We know they have a variety of struggles, just like we do. That’s also why we scrutinize. We know they are as human and fallible as we are, and when backed into a corner or given an unexpected opportunity they might misrepresent facts, omit them or otherwise cheat “a little.”

Third, I know of few people in this system who think of people as files with dollar signs on them. If any one group tends to think of claimants in this way, it might actually be the attorneys who represent them. After all, it’s their fees that are determined by the dollar signs on the files.

I often know more about the claimants than their attorneys or doctors do. If given an opportunity to have real discussions about the true issues in the cases, I could be very creative in reaching resolution beyond just the injury-related problems. I know that sometimes workers don’t want to go back after an injury because their supervisors are not nice to them and they find it less stressful to be at home. I know that some of them make so little that they see little difference between their WC checks and their income when they’re working. I know some have kids they miss and would rather stay home with.

Fourth, many of us do care that claimants are struggling financially. We don’t enjoy seeing people starve or suffer. Yet we aren’t actually offering “corporate welfare” as one of my former associates describes it. We don’t expect you to pay our rent if we fail to save any of our earnings or otherwise have contingency plans to support our lives. We don’t demonize you for making choices about how to live your life or spend your money, and we expect the same courtesy. We will pay you what we owe you, but you don’t get a bonus because you have a child who needs braces. It was your responsibility to plan for that, not ours. We’re sorry that everything’s hitting you at once. Many of us have struggled in similar ways. But your employer is only responsible for what it caused, and that is what we try to determine…as best we can…with the information provided. (If you want to speed up your case, try actually submitting the documents needed to make decisions. That helps everyone. :))

Finally, the system is designed somewhat logically. A worker is injured. He and his employer are required to file forms. Then, the doctor files the required forms–with all of the necessary information. The claims examiner makes a decision as to whether the claim falls within the workers compensation law. If she doesn’t have enough information, she has to deny the claim until the rest of the information comes in. If the evidence is produced but not clear enough for a decision, the parties look to a judge for help. The judge hopefully takes the time to review the case carefully, see the big picture and make a fair decision. All of this can occur rather quickly, when everyone does his or her part and remembers that EACH of us in the process is a person of value who deserves the chance to be heard and treated fairly (or in the case of most employers, an entity comprised of persons).

Perhaps the fairness begins with a prohibition on hate speech, negativity and broad generalizations. What works for advertising agencies, professional wrestling and the media has no place in the professions or the tribunals.

Nance L. Schick, Esq. is a mediator, and conflict resolution coach based in New York City, where she works with creative professionals, entrepreneurs, human resources professionals, labor managers, risk managers, and executives to generate results beyond the boundaries of their imaginations. She is committed to creating a unified human race by empowering people to have lives they forgot were possible.