• Understanding workers’ comp
     | April 22,2013

    Trust. It is so much more than a five-letter word.

    For instance, a patient’s trust of a doctor is imperative. A salesperson’s best asset is a customer’s trust in that person as well as the product. A passenger places trust in the operator of the car, and that operator places trust in the other drivers on the road. Every day, in almost any interaction, there is a component of trust. When someone is hurt at work, trust is imperative. The employee needs to trust in the employer, in the medical provider, and in the claims handler overseeing the claim. Trust is earned through communication.

    “The key to getting through a work-related injury effectively is communication,” says Jennifer Barrett, director of workers’ compensation risk management at Hickok & Boardman. “At the end of the day, all parties want the same resolution, which is for the injured employee to return to work in the same condition they were in prior to the injury. When the communication lines become disconnected, the trust factor between both parties is tested. Assisting your employees through the workers compensation process, with consistent communication, is a great way to build trust.”

    Rule 3 of the Vermont Workers’ Compensation Rules requires that “Every employer shall file a First Report of Injury (Form 1) with the (Department of Labor) within 72 hours (Sundays and legal holidays excluded) of receiving notice or knowledge of each injury for which an employee loses time from work or requires medical attention.” Some employers feel that once the report of injury is made to the insurance carrier, its job as the employer is completed. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. When an employee is injured on the job, the employer must work hard to keep the lines of communication open.

    “The employer and employee share a common goal when it comes to a workers’ compensation claim,” explains Matt Harmon, assistant vice president of claims for MEMIC Indemnity Company. “By keeping an open line of communication between the employer, the injured worker, and the insurance carrier, the parties can work together to ensure that the employee returns to health, and his or her job, as quickly as possible.”

    An employer can start by having an injury management plan in place in advance of an accident or injury in the workplace. Every employee should know that the employer takes safety seriously and that all incidents and unsafe conditions should be reported immediately. At the very least, when they are injured on the job, workers should know the name and contact information for the person whom they should contact at the employer. The injured worker should also be provided with the name and contact number for the insurance carrier and the name and contact number of the initial medical provider. This information can be easily printed out on a business card size document that fits into a purse or wallet.

    Keeping the lines of communication open is relatively simple for any employer by employing the “once a week” rule. The rule is easy to put into practice: once a week the employer makes telephone contact with all of the employees who are out of work as a result of a workplace injury. The purpose of the contact is not to be intrusive, it is not to be harassing, it is simply to communicate. The person assigned to make the call would say something like, “Hello John, this is Sally. I’m just checking in from the company to see if you need anything or if there is anything we can do.”

    Once the employer has checked in with the injured worker, if there is an issue, the employer will likely hear about it. For instance, a check might not have arrived on its usual day, a medical bill may not have been paid, or a prescription reimbursement may not been received. If the employer learns of an issue, there may be an opportunity to take action and improve trust. The employer should contact the claims handler, obtain a resolution or explanation, and then call the employee back to inform the worker of what has happened.

    That simple step can be very helpful, according to Barrett. “These unfortunate situations can put a large amount of stress on your employees. Your guidance in rectifying these issues that may arise outside of the injury, but as a result of their injury, is monumental in building trust.”

    Maintaining open lines of communication will keep the matter moving forward in a positive way to achieve the primary goal of returning the injured worker to work safely and as quickly as possible.

    Trust may be a five-letter word, but its impact on a claim can be much, much larger than the number of its letters suggests.

    John W. Valente is an attorney with Ryan Smith & Carbine, Ltd. in Rutland. He is the author of ‘‘Understanding Workers’ Compensation: Managing Workplace Injuries and Lowering Costs.’’

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