Instead of keeping employees in the dark about how the Workers’ Compensation system functions for fear of encouraging more fraudulent claims, organizations would likely be better off proactively enlisting their people in the cost-control crusade.
Indeed, employers who either overlook or purposely avoid the chance to collaborate with their front-line personnel on Workers’ Comp risk management are missing out on some terrific opportunities to improve loss control, safety and return-to-work efforts.
That was the message I brought to attendees in a speech I delivered and a panel I moderated on the subject at the Workers’ Compensation Educational Conference, held Aug. 19-23 in Orlando.
Employers routinely work with insurance carriers, third-party administrators and health-care providers as well as their agents and brokers to improve safety and loss control. Too often, however, a critical player is ignored—the employees for whom the comp system was created in the first place.
If you are skeptical, just think back to the last time you started a new job. Was Workers’ Comp ever mentioned in your new-employee orientation? Do you recall any discussion about Workers’ Comp in your employee manual? Did anyone from human resources or your particular department ever explain to you what you’re supposed to do if you are injured on the job? How about if you spot a hazardous condition in the workplace?
I’m sure you heard about health insurance, dental coverage, life insurance, and perhaps even something about reimbursement for a gym membership if the company has a wellness program in place. But I doubt Workers’ Comp was brought up because it’s not usually grouped with other standard “employee benefits.” Perhaps it’s time for that to change.
Most organizations handle Workers’ Comp on a need-to-know basis, which means the vast majority of employees don’t hear about it unless they are actually injured on the job. I would argue that all employees need to know how the Workers’ Comp system functions, and what workers can do to better protect themselves and their colleagues.
Why the mystery about Workers’ Comp? In speaking with risk managers and insurers, the explanation I hear most often is that the more employees know about Workers’ Comp, the more likely they’ll be to try to game the system. Hearing about the possibility of getting paid for not working—as well as how they could receive expensive medical treatment for non-work-related incidents without the deductibles and co-payments of standard health insurance—would only tempt more employees to file a fraudulent claim, this reasoning goes.
I would suggest this attitude is counterproductive. The more employees know about Workers’ Comp, the better off both they and their employers will be. The potential gains would likely far outweigh any potential downsides.
The goal should be for employers and insurers to establish a more transparent system that makes workers part of the solution, rather than merely part of the problem. Better communication and collaboration can make the difference.
A risk manager can start by incorporating information about Workers’ Comp into orientation materials, treating it like any other employee benefit. Explain in clear language how to file a claim, how medical treatment and rehabilitation are handled, and what efforts will be made to return them to work.
Most importantly, urge everyone to alert management if they spot a potentially hazardous working condition, following the example set by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which advises everyone: “If you see something, say something.” Include instructions on what to do if the reported hazard isn’t addressed through a change in working conditions, procedures and/or equipment.
Consider offering additional incentives—such as a bonus, extra paid days off and/or a public award ceremony—to encourage workers to bring management’s attention to safety challenges and provide suggestions on how to address them.
Organizations worried about encouraging fraud can certainly be transparent about that concern as well. Communications about Workers’ Comp should include the potential consequences of fraudulent activity, such as the possibility of termination or even criminal prosecution.
What else can employers and insurers do to more proactively engage workers in the cost-control crusade?
• Do you have an app for that? Create a mobile application to at least give employees quick and easy access to information about the Workers’ Comp process and provide an opportunity to file the first notice of loss right from their mobile device. A more sophisticated app could allow claimants to document accidents or hazardous conditions in pictures, videos and text.
• Show and tell. Set up an intranet site or send out an e-newsletter sharing success stories spotlighting employees who reported safety hazards, or who returned to work after an accident thanks to Workers’ Comp-sponsored health care and rehabilitation.
• It takes a village. Create Workers’ Comp communities, both live (such as a safety council made up of rotating members from management and the rank and file) and virtual (through internal social-media networks) to discuss ways to improve safety, more effectively navigate the Workers’ Comp system, and get people back to work.
• Who’s minding the store? Consider taking a lesson from the group health insurance industry by sending an Explanation of Benefits to comp claimants to secure their help in spotting provider fraud—as well as put them on notice that someone is indeed monitoring their care.
• Walk the walk. Senior management can support this collaboration and emphasize its importance by being visible, whether by meeting with employees on safety, personally giving out awards to those who spot hazards, or by contacting those who are severely injured to make sure they are receiving proper care. (I’ve heard about one company CEO who visits any injured worker requiring hospitalization.)
Bottom line, by proactively involving employees in Workers’ Comp risk management, rather than keeping them ignorant about the system, organizations and their insurers could upgrade safety systems and improve loss experience while bolstering the morale and camaraderie of their work force.
What other ideas might you have to improve transparency of the Workers’ Comp system, facilitate collaboration with employees, or prompt employers and insurers to be more proactive? Feel free to share.