Understanding Workers Comp:
As Thanksgiving approaches people anticipate a day for turkey and stuffing, a day for football and family, a day for giving thanks. As the time of year approaches when reflection on the positive becomes prevalent, here are six employer practices in workers’ compensation to be thankful for:
Employers that take safety seriously. Safety may not prevent all accidents but having a safe workplace is no accident. The National Commission on Compensation Insurance, The Occupational Health and Safety Administration and many other public and private organizations, have resources to assist employers in making accident prevention part of the standard operating procedures of a business. These resources include information to assist the organization establish safety goals, train employees, perform inspections, accident investigations and take other steps to create a safe workplace. OHSA has tools on its website that assists employers in assessing the impact of occupational injuries and illnesses on their profitability. Safe workplaces have fewer accidents and fewer injuries to employees.
Employers who designate the treating health care provider to initially treat an injured employee immediately following a compensable injury. Having a medical provider chosen by the employer is beneficial to both the employee and the employer for a number of reasons. Using a medical provider that is familiar with the workplace, work stations and physical make-up of the plant gives the provider vital information for opinions on: (1) whether the mechanism of injury is consistent with the provider’s understanding of the job; (2) whether the injured worker is capable of going back to his or her old job without missing any time from work; and (3) any time limited light duty that may be available on site.
Employers with time limited return to work policies. Return to work policies make sense when done correctly. They limit the amount of wage replacement paid out. These policies keep employees active to some degree. They allow the injured worker to maintain relationships with co-workers and provide the worker with access through the employer to the person overseeing the claim. Many companies make the light duty time limited because they can’t continue the person on light duty indefinitely.
Employers who report claims when they are aware of them. In Vermont, an employer must report a work injury within 72 hours of notice or knowledge of an injury. Additionally, the employer has 21 days from receiving notice or knowledge of an injury within which to determine whether any compensation is due. That’s not much time to obtain medical authorizations from the worker, request and receive medical records, review the records, get information from the employer and otherwise investigate the claim. The earlier the report, the more time there is to obtain the information needed to determine whether workers’ compensation benefits are owed.
Employers who maintain contact with injured workers when they are out of work. It is important that an employee who is out of work due to an industrial injury not lose touch with the workplace. An employee absent from work due to a work-related injury may need as much attention from the employer as the workers on the production floor. Contact with the worker, either in person or on the phone, can occur on a regular basis such as once a week. This once a week rule allows the employer to schedule a check-in to see if the injured worker needs anything. Just a quick contact saying, “This is Sally from work, I’m just checking to make sure the insurance carrier has contacted you,” can mean a great deal.
Employers who inform employees about workers’ compensation procedures before an injury happens. Most people are not familiar with the workers’ compensation process. Sometimes the unfamiliar can be stressful and that stress can be increased when someone is hurt, in pain and has questions. Explaining the process before an injury, providing a card with contact information when an injury occurs and making sure an employee knows where to go for answers can ease the impact of a stressful situation.
Those are six simple things that employers hoping to improve their experience with workers’ compensation can consider. Hopefully after implementing some of them, they will be thankful, too.
John W. Valente is an attorney with Ryan Smith & Carbine in Rutland. He is the author of “Understanding Workers’ Compensation: Managing Workplace Injuries and Lowering Costs.”