Injured Employee — What Happens Next?
Picture this: You were just hired as a retail associate in your local mall. You’re working the cash register one Saturday morning, and a new shipment of clothes comes in. As you’re picking up the box to unload, you feel a pop in your back. You’re instantly in pain and don’t know what to do next. Should you tell your employer? Should you go to the doctor? Will you get in trouble for getting hurt at work?
Employees often experience apprehension and fear when injured at work. After reporting the injury to their supervisor, who within their organization will communicate next steps? Timely and clear communication will minimize the chance an injured employee may be left feeling isolated and insecure about their job.
Employers who have established protocol with an employee-focused mindset when an injury occurs can truly impact the outcome of a claim in terms of direct costs of the workers’ compensation claim and indirect costs including lost productivity, decreased morale, and an increase in their experience modification rating.
There are multiple strategies to put the employee first when a workers’ compensation claim occurs, two of which are trust and education.
- Trust — Employers should trust an employee’s admission of their injury and not condemn or make assumptions. Starbucks has decreased their workers’ compensation loss reserves by more than $50 million over the last three years — earning it a 2018 Teddy Award due to their “looking through the lens of our partners” approach. Starbucks calls their employees “partners” and initiated a self-reporting system so employees feel empowered to report their injuries themselves in a truthful and timely manner. Studies show that only 1 to 2 percent of workers’ compensation claims are fraudulent.
- Education — When a claim occurs, the employer should educate the employee thoroughly on what to expect. Ensure they receive appropriate medical care and are given access to reputable providers. A workers’ compensation patient deserves the level of service and care any patient would receive in the normal healthcare setting. Employees need information on how/if their medical bills will be paid, who they should contact for questions, and what will happen if they’re unable to work. This communication should be addressed with the employer working in tandem with the assigned claim adjuster.
When employers stay in close contact with their injured workers, issues, such as treatment delays, work restriction concerns, and claim process questions, can be quickly addressed. Return-to-work discussions should start immediately so the employee understands they’re valued and encouraged to return to work, even if accommodations are needed for work restrictions. Return-to-work and modified duty significantly impact not only the cost of the claim, but also the employee’s morale, the company’s safety culture, and the productivity of the organization. An open channel of communication from beginning to end is critical in claim success.
Remember, an injured employee’s journey doesn’t end after settlement and their claim may still have impacts on their life even after their file is closed. For example: Injured employees who settle their claims often feel despair and anxious when they’re given a sum of money for their case and are free to visit any medical provider of their choosing for further treatment. They’re unsure on how they will support their family now that their functional capacity on the job has been decreased. Injured employees can use the services of settlement fund administrators who act as the custodian of the funds and help to manage their healthcare expenses. Tennessee has actually started the initiative of the Next Step program, which provides injured employees (who are unable to return to employment) opportunities for vocational assistance without going through a formal education program. The goal is to help the injured employees obtain new skills and be exposed to options of meaningful work by partnering with the American Job Centers in Tennessee, who works with local employers.
I’ve only covered a few best practices within this blog. My best advice is to simply ensure your employee receives a personalized and focused approach to their claim management. Getting hurt at work can be embarrassing, confusing, and even devastating to the employee’s future. Putting injured employees first and focusing on what they specifically need to have a successful outcome makes all the difference.
Published on: 03.28.19