Some Angry Injured Workers Completely Missed My Point, but Also Proved It

07 May, 2012 Bob Wilson


Last week I wrote an article on breaking the cycle of entitlement, and helping injured workers understand that healing and returning to work, whenever possible, was the best thing for their interests.

The response from industry professionals was extremely positive, including supportive comments on LinkedIn, nice emails from associates, and an invitation to Keynote at an upcoming conference. All in all, a good days work.

The response from injured workers was somewhat less enthusiastic. I am, apparently, a clueless scumbag.

As my intent was never to slight any injured worker with that piece, I was initially surprised at their negative response (not all of which we published in the article comments, here). But looking at it, it is clear they bristled at my use of the word "entitlements", and at least one poster mistook my reference to "malingering frauds" to be directed at workers, instead of the humorous jab at employers I intended.

However, in expressing their rage, their "gall", at my audacity, they inadvertently proved my point. The education of the injured worker through the claims process needs to be "job one", and will not be an easy task, as the "disability mindset" Dave DePaolo and Peter Rousmaniere discuss is pervasive.

These critics to my last article pointed out they make a fraction of their previous wages on permanent disability, they have bills to pay and families to feed.

Right. Exactly. Gotcha. Thanks for making my case.

They also pointed out that workers' compensation is paid insurance, and not an entitlement. That said, they went on to explain how they were entitled to more than what this insurance provided. (Actually, while WC is paid insurance, it is largely mandated for the employer and not voluntary, essentially classifying it as an entitlement)

I will directly address these people with the following statements:

1)    Workers' Compensation is safety net insurance designed to assist those injured on the job. It is not and was never intended to be a 100% income replacement plan. You should have been given a clearer understanding of this in the earliest phases of your claim.

2)    The amounts you are paid are determined largely by your states legislature, not the carrier you so love to blame. That carrier is simply following the amounts prescribed by the state in which you live. If you want that changed, start with your state government.

3)    This is by far the most important - NO ONE is more responsible for your care and recovery than YOU. You've been injured. We can't change that. You are angry. I understand that. Doesn't change my opinion. You can be an engaged participant or a helpless victim in this process – your choice. Healing to whatever extent possible and returning to some productive role in society should be your overriding goal. It is critical for you and your family, as well as your long term physical and mental health.

This, by the way, is what I call compassionate honesty. Doesn't mean you will like what I say.

I would never speak in absolutes. I certainly understand there are devastating injuries that completely destroy a person's ability to work. But I also understand that the perception of what constitutes a permanent disability seems to be expanding, and the level of disability that keeps one from the workforce today is not nearly as severe as 20 years ago. Indeed, many injured workers with permanent partial ratings believe that they can never return to work. They are often mistaken, and do not understand the crippling impact of this mindset.

The fact remains, many injured will never be 100% healed, and will always suffer pain or other symptoms, but there are still things they can do to contribute to their own well being. I still contend that facilitating this process should be a greater part of our focus as an industry.

I look no farther than my own office for inspiration in this area. We have an executive who has been, and still is, an "injured worker". She was struck by a bus over a decade ago while running an errand for her employer. She and I were discussing my previous post, and she told me how frustrating it was at that time that her treating physician, addressing her chronic pain, kept telling her "we'll just have to wait and see". It was not until her IME told her that her pain would likely be permanent, and worsen with age, that she actually felt some emotional relief. She finally received an honest assessment, a point from which she could rebuild her life. To her credit, she went back to work in spite of this permanent condition. She did not let that condition dictate the terms of the remainder of her life.

The more people who can follow that example, the better off we all will be.


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