I’m starting here a three-part series explaining why workers should claim their rights under workers’ compensation laws. The three parts are, in summary:
- How the employer makes it tough to claim work comp;
- How the insurer makes it tough to claim work comp; and
- Summary: Why it’s Important to You and your Family that you Claim Work Comp when You are Hurt on the Job.
Below is the first installment.
Workers’ compensation [“work comp”] is every workers’ right. Yet, researchers years ago determined that many employers and most work comp insurers try their best to persuade workers to not make claims. That “persuasion” takes many forms. It’s important that workers know that this “persuasion” is calculated and how to deal with it. Why? Because workers’ compensation benefits are your right and those benefits are important to you, your family and the overall safety of your workplace.
Part 1: Dealing with the Employer’s Persuasion Tactics
- Suppressing Reporting of Work Injuries: Pizza-Bingo Party!! — Nancy Lessin (the MA AFL-CIO Health & Safety Coordinator) taught me years ago that giving workers some type of prize for so many hours without a reported injury is NOT based on generosity. No, it’s based on cost cutting. It’s also completely contrary to public policy!
Work comp is required by law. One of work comp’s basic purposes is to make workplaces safer. How? By making employers pay higher work comp premiums in circumstances in which there are high rates of injuries, thus giving the employer financial incentives to implement safety measures to keep injury rates low, leading to lower premium costs. Some sly employer offer such things as pizza parties, small bonuses, gift-drawings and the like knowing full well that doing so puts pressure on the workers to not report work injuries.
Why? Because the more a worker cares about her/his brothers and sisters, the more likely the worker will — when hurt at work — do the wrong thing. What’s the wrong thing? It’s preserving your friends’ pizza party or “prize” by putting the accident as “personal,” and putting the costs on health insurance, LTD and lost sick/vacation time. The problem with this is often not discovered until too late. What do I mean “too late?” I mean when the health insurance company investigates and finds the injury was caused by work and thus denies coverage under the standard health insurance exclusion for work injuries. And when the time missed due to the work injury outstrips the amount of sick and vacation you’ve banked for the last 13 years. Even that does not account for what happens years later.
First, you work injury may be “the gift that keeps on giving.” It may require 2 or even 3 surgeries, leading to even more medical expenses and time off work. Only work comp pays this. No LTD or health insurance comes close. Bottom line: Don’t be misled by the “gifts” for no reported work injuries. The only entity getting that “gift” is your employer.
- Termination—Yes, we all know the employer who makes up an excuse — ANY excuse — and fires the injured worker within days of the injury. This is illegal under all public policy, Iowa law (Springer v. Weeks) and U.S. law (the Americans with Disabilities Act).
- Return to work at a job that is not within even the company doctor’s work restrictions. Remember — not trying a tendered job — any job — sets up the argument that the worker is “insubordinate,” “refusing work” or “no-call/no-show.” One must try any job, whether the job’s tasks are within restrictions or not. One need not, however, continue to do any tasks that cause worsening of the work-injury condition. If asked to do something outside restrictions set by the doctor:
- report that the job’s outside your restrictions;
- when told to do the job anyway (which will likely happen), perform the job the best you can and hope for the best; and
- if the job does what is feared — worsens your injury condition — go to the company workers’ compensation officer and demand a return to the company doctor immediately, before your injury is permanently worsened.
Stay tuned next week for Part 2: Dealing with the Insurance Company’s Persuasion Tactics.