Procedural Unfairness in Workers’ Compensation: The Employer’s Crucial Role 

07 Jul, 2024 Claire Muselman


Waterloo, ON ( -- Navigating the workers' compensation system can be difficult for injured workers, particularly those in precarious positions with low wages and inconsistent hours. Procedural unfairness in this context refers to the various ways workers experience injustices, such as delayed payments, lack of clear communication, inadequate medical assessments, and unresponsive claims adjudicators. These issues can exacerbate the already stressful experience of dealing with a work-related injury. A 2022 study by researchers at the University of Waterloo highlights employers' critical role in mitigating procedural unfairness. It outlines how improved understanding and communication can significantly improve outcomes for injured workers. 

Understanding Procedural Unfairness 

Procedural unfairness can significantly affect an injured worker's emotional and behavioral responses. The study identified several stages that workers typically go through when confronted with procedural unfairness: 

  1. Passive Response: Initially, many workers respond passively due to confusion and the need to understand the claims process. This passivity often stems from needing to know their rights or how to navigate the system effectively. 
  1. Fighting Back: As frustration builds, workers may become more proactive, seeking to challenge and rectify the unfair treatment they have experienced. Feelings of anger and determination mark this stage. 
  1. Quitting the Claim: Over time, the emotional toll and perceived lack of support can lead workers to abandon their claims altogether. Feelings of hopelessness and disillusionment often drive this decision. 
  1. Quitting the Job: For some, the frustration and disappointment become overwhelming, leading them to leave their jobs. Quitting is a significant step that underscores the profound impact procedural unfairness can have on workers' lives. 
  1. Winning or Progressing: A minority of workers overcome the obstacles, either winning their claims or making significant progress. In this stage, individuals experience a complex mix of determination, optimism, and wariness about the future. 

The Employer's Role 

Employers play a pivotal role in positively shaping the experiences of injured workers. They can significantly influence their employees' outcomes by implementing policies that mitigate procedural unfairness and fostering a supportive organizational culture. 

Transparent communication is a cornerstone in the fight against procedural unfairness. By ensuring precise, direct, and consistent communication regarding the claims process, workers' rights, and available support, employers can alleviate confusion and build trust, reducing the likelihood of disputes and dissatisfaction among their workers. 

Another crucial action is providing adequate training and resources. Employers should equip employees with the knowledge to navigate the workers' compensation system confidently. This education can be achieved through regular training sessions and easy access to informational resources. Offering workshops or seminars explaining the claims process's intricacies ensures that workers are well-informed and prepared. Creating a comprehensive resource guide or handbook that employees can refer to at any time can be immensely beneficial. 

Offering emotional and practical support is essential for helping workers cope with the stress and anxiety they may experience due to work-related injuries and procedural unfairness. Employers can recognize the emotional toll by providing access to mental health support and counseling services. Establishing a dedicated point of contact within the organization to address workers' concerns and provide personalized support demonstrates empathy and understanding, fostering a supportive environment where workers feel valued. 

Ensuring fair and prompt medical assessments involves collaborating with medical professionals to prioritize the worker's health and well-being over cost-saving measures. Employers should advocate for their employees by facilitating access to necessary medical evaluations and treatments without unnecessary delays. Building relationships with trusted healthcare providers can ensure workers receive high-quality care, supporting their recovery and return to work. 

Implementing fair return-to-work policies requires developing and enforcing policies that support a fair and safe return to work for injured employees. Avoiding claim suppression tactics and focusing on meaningful accommodations facilitates a successful reintegration into the workplace. Employers should work closely with injured workers to develop customized return-to-work plans that consider their needs and limitations. Regularly reviewing and updating these policies ensures they remain effective and responsive to workers' needs. 

Promoting an inclusive workplace culture involves cultivating a culture of fairness and inclusivity where workers feel safe to report issues without fear of retaliation. Employers can encourage open communication and actively address unfair treatment by implementing policies protecting whistleblowers and thoroughly investigating all reports. Regular diversity, equity, and inclusion training helps build a workplace environment where all employees feel respected and valued. 

An Employer's To-Do List 

Procedural unfairness in the workers' compensation system can have profound emotional and behavioral impacts on injured workers, particularly those in precarious employment. Employers are crucial in preventing and addressing these injustices by fostering transparent communication, providing adequate support, and promoting a fair and inclusive workplace culture. Employers can improve individual outcomes and enhance organizational resilience and morale by taking proactive steps to support injured workers. 

  • Conduct regular training sessions to educate employees about their rights and the workers' compensation process. Regular training ensures that workers know the steps in filing a claim and understand their entitlements. HR professionals or external experts can conduct these sessions and should include practical examples and Q&A segments to address specific concerns. Incorporating training into the onboarding process for new hires can also ensure that all employees are equipped with this critical knowledge from the start. 
  • Establish clear communication channels to ensure consistent and transparent communication regarding claims and support. To streamline communication, designate a point person or team responsible for handling workers' compensation claims. Use multiple communication channels, such as emails, intranet updates, and informational meetings, to keep employees informed about any changes or updates in the process. Regular status updates on claims can help manage expectations and reduce anxiety among injured workers. 
  • Offer access to mental health resources by offering counseling and support services to address the emotional impact of injuries—partner with mental health professionals to provide employees with on-site or virtual counseling sessions. Employers should also consider implementing Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that offer confidential support and resources for workers dealing with stress and mental health issues. Promoting mental health awareness through workshops and seminars can encourage employees to seek help. 
  • Develop fair return-to-work policies that support safe and meaningful return-to-work practices. Work collaboratively with injured workers, medical professionals, and HR to develop individualized return-to-work plans. These plans outline the specific accommodations and support needed to facilitate the worker's reintegration into the workplace. Regularly monitor and review the progress of return-to-work plans to ensure they are effective and make adjustments as necessary. 
  • Encourage a speak-up culture by fostering an environment where employees feel safe to report unfair treatment without fear of retaliation. Implement policies that protect whistleblowers and ensure that all reports are taken seriously and investigated promptly. Create anonymous reporting mechanisms that allow workers to voice their concerns without fear of reprisal. Regularly communicate the importance of a speak-up culture and the organization's commitment to addressing and resolving issues fairly. 
  • Collaborate with medical professionals to ensure accurate and timely medical assessments and advocate for the worker's health. Establish partnerships with reputable healthcare providers who understand the workers' compensation process and can provide quality care. Facilitate timely medical appointments and follow-ups to ensure workers receive the necessary treatment and assessments. Keep open lines of communication with healthcare providers to stay informed about the worker's medical progress and any adjustments needed in their return-to-work plan. 

By implementing these action items, employers can transform their approach to addressing procedural unfairness and effectively supporting injured workers. Perception is reality with a workers’ compensation experience where action can be taken to alleviate misunderstandings to support the injured worker during the claims process. These measures enhance the well-being of individual employees and contribute to a more resilient and positive organizational culture.  

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About The Author

  • Claire Muselman

    Meet Dr. Claire C. Muselman, the Chief Operating Officer at, where she blends her vast academic insight and professional innovation with a uniquely positive energy. As the President of DCM, Dr. Muselman is renowned for her dynamic approach that reshapes and energizes the workers' compensation industry. Dr. Muselman's academic credentials are as remarkable as her professional achievements. Holding a Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership from Grand Canyon University, she specializes in employee engagement, human behavior, and the science of leadership. Her diverse background in educational leadership, public policy, political science, and dance epitomizes a multifaceted approach to leadership and learning. At Drake University, Dr. Muselman excels as an Assistant Professor of Practice and Co-Director of the Master of Science in Leadership Program. Her passion for teaching and commitment to innovative pedagogy demonstrate her dedication to cultivating future leaders in management, leadership, and business strategy. In the industry, Dr. Muselman actively contributes as an Ambassador for the Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation and plays key roles in organizations such as Kids Chance of Iowa, WorkCompBlitz, and the Claims and Litigation Management Alliance, underscoring her leadership and advocacy in workers’ compensation. A highly sought-after speaker, Dr. Muselman inspires professionals with her engaging talks on leadership, self-development, and risk management. Her philosophy of empathetic and emotionally intelligent leadership is at the heart of her message, encouraging innovation and progressive change in the industry. "Empowerment is key to progress. By nurturing today's professionals with empathy and intelligence, we're crafting tomorrow's leaders." - Dr. Claire C. Muselman

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