The Workers' Compensation System Is Broken - Or Is It?

The Workers' Compensation System Is Broken - Or Is It?

I know I have heard this said by an employer at least 3 times in the last 2 weeks: “The Workers’ Comp System is Broken.” When I ask how it is broken and how it can be fixed, I get a lot of examples of how people are allowed to “work the system,” but no one can offer a fix. In my experience, the first thing that needs to be fixed is how employers perceive their ability to control their workers’ comp exposure.

Every person who has any knowledge of the injury, has contact with the injured worker, has accountability and touches the claim has the ability to “fix” the system.  These parties need to recognize the power they have and decide to use it. Instead, I hear phrases like “we’ve never done that before”, “we can’t do that”, “the commission has all the power”, and “my insurance company takes care of that.”  The power is given to anyone else, and the proclaimer has no part in “fixing” the system.  

Working with injured workers, I get a sense of their frustration with their employer and the workers’ comp system. Much of that frustration comes from misinformation and conflicting messages they receive, including who has the responsibility to get them back to work. Many times I have had an injured worker complain because they were sent to a “workers’ comp doc” instead of someone else. A little reality check is needed at this point to alter their perception. Any physician who receives payment from the employer’s carrier could be considered a workers’ comp doctor. I remind them that they can certainly see a non-workers’ comp doctor, but they would then need to pay for it themselves. The light seems to come on that they are not being disrespected by the system, and with a little further education, they see their participation is needed to make getting back to work a much easier and better process. The workers’ compensation system has provided them with all of the tools they need to recover if they are willing to do their part.

This same frustration is present in the employers for similar reasons; all of the tools are available to them in the current workers’ compensation system to make a Stay-at-Work or Return to Work program possible and successful. Those programs must start at the time of hire. Employers need to benchmark their jobs by doing a job analysis of the essential job functions and identifying the physical demands necessary to perform those functions. At hire, post-offer, pre-placement functional testing will allow employers to identify at-risk employees and intervene before they are placed and injured. After hire, similar functional testing will make stay at work and return to work programs possible with reduction in impairments and disabilities. The employer and employee will enjoy a better, more profitable relationship for both parties.

So, how do you fix something that is not broken? Add Education, Communication and Accountability to your role in the workers’ compensation system. These words may seem out of place in today’s workers’ comp system, but they can be really simple if a clear policy is in place, is practiced based on job-related demands, and is consistent with business necessity.

-Submitted by Debra Lord, President of Job Ready Services

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