A post appeared last week in Jon Gelman's blog that was written by guest blogger, attorney Jon Rehm. It was subsequently republished on our site earlier this week. It questioned the reasoning and practicality of presenting awards to injured workers; specifically, he addressed the Comp Laude event held in California last month. His criticism centered on his belief that “the types of injured workers recognized are atypical and focusing on individuals ignores legal and political issues that impact injured workers and workers' compensation laws.” He also wrote that “Award winners aren't representative of injured workers as a whole.”
I am certain that Mr. Rehm is a skilled and passionate advocate for the injured workers he represents. The article, however, displays a relative ignorance regarding the broader context and purpose of the Comp Laude event. It was pretty clear to those of us who have been there that he has never attended the conference. We'll get to that in a moment, but first must address a few of the specific criticisms presented.
Mr. Rehm rightly stated that Comp Laude recognizes “workers who were catastrophically injured.” However, a more accurate description would be to say that Comp Laude recognizes workers who have been nominated and have gone through a vetting process. The core of that issue is the industry tends to nominate the most visible success stories, and “coming back” after a catastrophic event tends to be more visible. He goes on to say that “Catastrophic injuries and death claims are different than your typical workers' compensation claim in that it is less likely compensability and nature and extent of injury will be disputed by the insurer. These workers and their families are less likely to have a bad experience with a workers' compensation insurer or claims administrator.”
That may be true, however, at least one of the catastrophically injured workers honored at this year's event (not one I've written about previously) detailed for me several significant fights they had in obtaining treatment and services. Yet despite those issues, they still successfully returned to a functioning and contributory role in society. The insurance company did not do that. The worker did; and that resolve and commitment to oneself is what is celebrated as just a small part of the Comp Laude program.
Another criticism involved this comment:
Heroism should not be the standard that injured workers are held to when it comes to recovery from an injury.
Maybe the industry doesn't believe that heroism should be the standard for injured workers. But the Comp Laude awards seem to signal that workers with more mundane injuries workers' compensation injuries (sic) that they don't have it so bad and they should suck it up.
There is a great deal of assumption in the last sentence of that statement, and I would label it grossly inaccurate and unfair. No one I know believes any true injury is “mundane.” And heroism is not a word I would choose to describe the recipients of awards that we are discussing. It certainly can be applied, but I would prefer to use the words resilience, commitment and resolve. And there is not a damn thing wrong with applying and recognizing those standards when it comes to recovery, regardless of injury severity. That is sort of what the message is in the first place.
I would hope that we in workers' compensation haven't become so jaded that we can't recognize or celebrate any good news when we see it, lest we offend someone else.
It is pointed out that two of the workers' recognized, both policemen, have strong unions that no doubt improved their experience within the workers' compensation system. He mentions the “more generous leave policies” offered to union members, although the link he provides with that statement confuses me somewhat. It leads to an article about maternity leave benefits for union members. Neither of the men we are discussing was pregnant as a result of an accident that happened on the job, so I am not seeing the relevance of that particular point.
I'm sure it is just me.
And finally, Mr. Rehm ends his article with a discussion on the importance of improving workplace safety and changing the workers' compensation system. On that point we agree, and would also add, “Welcome to Comp Laude.”
Comp Laude is more than awards for select individuals. It is two days of sessions and intensive discussions about building a better workers' compensation system. It is a push to improve safety and apply worker-centric claims management practices. It is about advocacy-based claims and understanding the bio-psychosocial aspects that affect recovery outcomes. It is an opportunity to hear from injured workers about their path and their battles, and their critical messages that those in the audience need to hear. In short, it is about creating a better workers' compensation system and getting better results.
And there is nothing wrong with recognizing results when people have earned our admiration and respect. In fact, it is a critical component of the overall message. Even if we could miraculously create a flawless workers' compensation system that met every conceivable need, the ultimate resolve to “recover and return” is solely in the hands of the injured worker. Highlighting and promoting success in even the direst of cases can send a positive message that reverberates with others.
On that point, with a bit of a digression; I personally do not like the award being titled an “Injured Worker Award.” I would much prefer that it be called a “Recovering Worker Award.” After all, we are giving them an injured worker award, but not because they were injured. It is rather because they fought back and refused to let impairment define who they were. And in that sense, by restoring their identity beyond the boundaries of any preconceived limitations, they recovered. THAT is what we are celebrating. THAT is the message.
I would encourage Mr. Rehm to get involved in Comp Laude and nominate those workers' that he would feel worthy of recognition. I also invite him to join us next year at the Comp Laude event. I would be honored to have him there as my guest (Offer includes conference registration only. Travel and ancillary expenses not included. Offer not valid in Hawaii, Alaska or Puerto Rico. He is, after all, an attorney. I need to be very specific here).
Hopefully he will join the discussion on fixing what is wrong with comp. We could certainly use his passion.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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