I have defended a lot of employers, workers compensation (“WC”) insurance carriers, and third-party administrators (“TPA”) in WC claims. Often, the cases we could be administering with minimal litigation end up with multiple hearings over periods of several years because the injured workers become increasingly disgruntled as the confusing process continues longer than they think it should. Admittedly, there are cases that the claimants know from the outset they will push to its limits. They often involve soft tissue injuries in workers above the age of 50 who are seeking what they believe are “supplemental retirement” benefits that they are entitled to for their many years of service. Despite their pensions, medical benefits and paid vacation days in an economy where many people have none of these, they will pursue “every last penny.” I am not referring to those cases here. Instead, I want you to think about that sweet receptionist who slipped in the restroom, broke a wrist, and aggravated a back injury. Or perhaps it is the new employee who was enthusiastic about the work and practically ran between assignments before a box was left in the path. The resulting fall caused several knee injuries that aren’t healing due to underlying conditions you had nothing to do with, and everyone has been so busy covering the worker shortage that no one has been checking in to see how that injured employee is doing.
Now, put yourself in their shoes. You got hurt at work. You don’t really know the difference between WC and disability benefits. You don’t know who is supposed to pay for your medical expenses, but you do know it’s not you. You aren’t used to having limitations in getting dressed, sleeping, or engaging in some of your favorite activities. You feel a bit isolated from the world because your friends are at work all day while you are at home without much to do. You’re embarrassed to admit it, but you’ve started watching some of the worst television programs ever made, and you even watch the commercials now. There is an attorney advertising at nearly every break. You wonder if you should get an attorney or if yours is getting you everything you deserve. The attorney on TV said insurance companies try to cheat people like you. Maybe you shouldn’t trust that nice claims representative who has been paying you and your bills. She is probably up to something. You just don’t know what it is yet. You’d better get her before she gets you, and if you can attain a permanency classification, you can stop working. Bonus!
This is not an unusual scenario, and employers are missing huge opportunities to improve relationships both with the injured workers and their co-workers. What’s even more disappointing is that the actions required to make a difference require very little effort. These three gestures could communicate what you want but have either been too afraid or busy to make:
1. Set up a weekly call with the injured worker. Let him or her know that you miss having them at work, that others are asking how they are doing and that you look forward to their return. Ask if there is anything they need help with, such as obtaining forms or personal belongings from the workplace.
2. Send a Get Well card. Have co-workers sign the card and mail it “just because.”
3. Accommodate light duty work when possible. You don’t have to create a new position, change your employee work groups or do anything drastic that might harm the business. Yet you can be on the lookout for ways to not only have an injured worker back in the routine of reporting to work but to also improve the ways you currently distribute work. This can be an opportunity, if not confronted only as a challenge!
NOTE: This post is a general overview of actions some employers take to compassionately address workplace injuries. It is not legal advice, and there is certainly no guarantee that any of the actions detailed above will generate a similar or specific result. Past success is never a guarantee of a future outcome. If you require information or advice applied to your unique situation, please make an appointment to discuss it with an attorney. Don’t rely solely on what you read on the Internet.