A recent study found that if an injured employee sees out legal representation for a workers’ compensation case, the costs will be much higher. Recently, the California Workers’ Compensation Institute (CWCI) released a study finding that more than 11.6% of all California Workers’ Compensation claims and 80% of claims for permanent disability benefits involve attorneys. Temporary disability claims with attorney involvement had an average of $30,319 in benefits and expenses, compared with $5,598 for claims without attorneys.
Permanent disability claims involving attorneys, or 80% of permanent disability claims, averaged $66,208 in benefits and expenses, compared to $25,300 for claims that did not involve attorneys. Time away from work because of disability also was substantially higher and claims were slower to close.
So what are the key factors that cause an injured employee to see out an attorney? The severity of the injury, the claims process and the perception of the injured employee. While the correlation between severity of injury and attorney involvement is difficult to mitigate, employers can do a lot to minimize the other two factors.
A Workers’ Compensation injury is not just a medical problem, there are complex psychological and social issues involved. While there will always be some employees driven by greed and aiming to “game the system,” most people come to work wanting to do a good job, not to create problems. When an unexpected injury occurs, they are thrust into a situation that is scary, confusing and sometimes overwhelming. They worry about losing their job, the perception of their fellow employees as well as their ability to fully recover. We have found that providing an injury packet to the employee when they are hurt can go along way to preventing an employee from seeking out an attorney. In this packet is information on what the employee can expect from the employer, doctor and also what is expected of that employee. It provides them with forms for the doctor, return-to-work information and it helps educate them on the process so they aren’t confused and scared.
It’s somewhat baffling that the top reason injured employees seek attorneys is poor communications from the employer. Since this is a relatively easy issue to solve, it is surprising how many employers treat it casually or ignore its importance.
Here are seven tips to strengthen communications:
-Include on-the-job injury processes in new hire packages. Employers need to convey how serious they are about treating injured employees properly and returning them to work as soon as possible.
-When an injury occurs, communicate about the benefits and how the Workers’ Compensation process works. Try to relieve uncertainty and fear.
-Send a get-well card that clearly delivers the message the injured employee is valued, missed and wanted back on the job. Have co-workers and supervisors sign the card. I know that sounds simplistic but it works! I have never had an employer to me that it doesn’t work. Make your injured employee understand they are a welcome part of the team and that you care about making sure they are taken care of.
-Watch the language that is used when speaking to the injured employee. HR personnel or supervisors might think it’s a good thing to let injured employees know that the work is being covered and they don’t have to worry. But this can quickly send the wrong message – the employee is not needed and the job may not be there when they can return. Remember, the job is part of an individual’s identity. It’s important injured employees be part of the process and involved as much as possible.
-Speak plainly, avoiding acronyms. In most cases, this is the first time the injured employee is going through the process. Using legalese and comp terminology will build anxiety and drive employees to attorneys, whom they consider to be experts.
-Communicate in the language of injured employee. It’s hard enough to understand Workers’ Compensation; when it is presented in a second language, confusion can reign.
-Stay in touch in ways that resonate with the injured employee. If it’s a younger worker, an informal text message might make them most comfortable. For others, a phone call might be best. It’s noteworthy that a study by the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) found that older workers are more likely to be represented, which could stem from concerns about job security.
Delays in processing claims is another top reason injured employees hire an attorney. When money is not forthcoming, it’s natural for employees to get nervous, worry that the claim will be denied or considered illegitimate. While communication about the process will help, employers need to be proactive about quickly reporting injuries and moving the process along.
Don’t hesitate to contact us at UNICO to find out how we help improve your workers’ compensation program. We are recoginzed as work comp experts by our clients, peers, and our insurance companies. Our UNICOMP program and Certified WorkComp Advisors will help you lower costs and increase your profitability.