One of the most profound lessons I learned from implementing a workers' compensation alternative dispute resolution (ADR) program was how employers could use a simple process to help reduce their litigation rate.
As I've seen in my own experience as a risk manager in California, ADR programs are designed to totally eliminate litigation by negotiating workers' compensation benefits and the dispute resolution process between the employer and its unions.
In one specific case I encountered, even though the unions were not encouraging litigation, some employees still retained the services of an attorney. To find out why, we asked our ombudswoman to call every injured worker who had attorney representation and ask why they got an attorney.
The response surprised me. 100% of respondents said they got an attorney because they had not been contacted by their frontline supervisor and they were worried about their status within the company and their job.
Though our claims administration policies included a call to the injured worker from both the claim examiner and the ombudswoman (to explain the ADR program and the benefits), we had no process in place to encourage the frontline supervisor to remain in contact with the injured worker.
Some frontline supervisors do not realize the profound positive impact they can have on their employees. I believe many frontline supervisors do not remain in contact with injured employees because the workers' compensation claims administration process is not designed to encourage that interaction. Supervisors can be uncomfortable trying to discuss a mysterious system that is expensive and complex. They also may be unsure of what they are allowed to discuss with the employee, out of concern for medical privacy.
Based on my own ADR program study, I believe employers can help reduce their litigation rate if they encourage their frontline supervisors to remain in contact with employees after an industrial accident and coach them on appropriate interaction.
The most important aspect of the process is to send the message that the employee is valued, respected and wanted back at work. Supervisors do not have to be workers' compensation experts; they should convey a sense of care and a willingness to keep the employee connected to their team.
Frontline supervisors may consider using questions and statements like these:
How are you feeling?
We miss you and the good work you do!
We are having our holiday party; if you can attend we would love to see you. Do you feel up to coming by to participate?
If you have any problems or concerns please call me and let me know so I can get the right person to help.
If problems or issues are identified, the information should be immediately conveyed to the claims examiner for action.
In workers' compensation claims, sometimes the smallest gestures can make the biggest impact. Don't forget to show injured or ill employees how much caring counts by encouraging frontline supervisors to maintain a sense of connection and support throughout the recovery and return to work process.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
William Zachry is a Senior Fellow at Sedgwick Institute. He serves on the board of the State Compensation Insurance Fund, California's largest provider of workers' compensation insurance. Zachry was appointed to the board by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010 and reappointed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014. He also participated in the design and implementation of landmark regulations to bring greater equity to the California workers' compensation system.