Employees need to know their medical costs will be covered and that they are required to notify the appropriate people in the company should an injury occur. It should be a condition of employment that all injuries are reported before the end of day in which the injury occurs. Employees shouldn't be given the opportunity to see if it “feels better tomorrow” instead of notifying the employer they have been injured.
We also have to let them know what lost income benefits they will receive if they are out on workers' comp. Every state has a waiting period in which workers will receive no pay. While it is generally allowable for an employee to use their paid time off in this window, it's important for employees to know this time can be unpaid.
Research — check out these sources: www.acoem.org/PreventingNeedlessWorkDisability.aspx; www.webility.md/jwc-w2000.htm — shows that employees recover faster back at work, so employers should want to build the expectation the worker will be released to work and is expected to return immediately after being seen by a doctor.
In the vast majority of states the employer can at least recommend which doctor an injured employee should see when injured. When you let an injured employee go to his or her personal doctor — or worse, to the emergency room — the stage is set for the workers' comp claim to go sideways and cost additional dollars even before the employee completes his or her first doctors' visit.
Employers should identify — with their agent's assistance — a doctor who is skilled in treating occupational injuries. Local urgent care clinics are a great source because many are already advertising services as workers' comp doctors. Many of these clinics are searching for businesses partners to improve their business.
When you visit their facility, make sure they do not have live TV on in the waiting room. Daytime television is rife with ads for attorneys, and it not a good idea to have them chirping in the ear of an injured employee before they even have the opportunity to see the treating physician.
When you partner with a physician, invite him or her to visit your facility. The more the doctor understands your business and processes, the more effective the physician can be in setting restrictions for injured employees. Speaking of restrictions, you want a doc who will send every employee back to work with restrictions unless they are in one of the following conditions: hospitalized; contagious; or on medication that makes it unsafe for the employee to get to or be at work.
Back to work faster
Other than these three issues, the injured employee should be back at work doing something, rather than just sitting at home. If the physician is going to return the injured employee to work, the doctor must understand that the employer has a functioning recovery-at-work program. There may be employers who resist these types of programs, but it's important they understand that recovery-at-work benefits both the injured employee and the employer.
Injured employees who return to work tend to get better faster. Insurance companies are unlikely to pay indemnity benefits, which reduces the cost of the workers' comp claim. In many states, when no indemnity is paid, this claim qualifies for a 70-percent discount on the experience modification factor. The employee can continue to collect full wages rather than the 66.7 percent most states mandate an insurance company pay.
Bottom line: With a recovery-at-work program, an injured employee is likely to return to his or her full-duty job more quickly, while also reducing the overall cost to the employer as a result of the injury.
When you communicate with employees about how workers' comp works before they suffer an injury, many good things happen. When they know what to expect, which doctor they'll see and what their expectations will be returning to work, an employer is very likely to have positive results in the company's Workers' Comp program while also having happy, healthy and productive employees.
In a perfect world, no employee would suffer an injury, but just tune in to the nightly news to realize the world is far from perfect.
Employers who are prepared for employee injuries and have engaged their employees in how the process works will reap the rewards of lower costs and higher productivity.
Regardless of the statutes in your state, when you have a process in place that puts everyone on the same page, that's when workers' comp will work for both the employer and the employees.
Kevin Ring is the lead workers' compensation analyst for Asheville, N.C.-based Institute of WorkComp Professionals, which trains insurance agents to help employers reduce workers' comp expenses. He is a licensed property and casualty insurance agent, and co-developer of a new workers' comp software suite to help insurance professionals in working with employers. He can be reached at 828-274-0959 or [email protected].
This opinion piece originally appeared in the Dec. 7 print edition of Tire Business. Have something to say about it? Send your comments or a letter to the editor to [email protected].