If an attorney is involved in a Workers’ Compensation case, the costs will be much higher. The California Workers’ Compensation Institute (CWCI) released a study finding that more than 11.6% of all California Workers’ Compensation claims and 80% of claims for permanent disability benefits involve attorneys. Temporary disability claims with attorney involvement had an average of $30,319 in benefits and expenses, compared with $5,598 for claims without attorneys.
Permanent disability claims involving attorneys, or 80% of permanent disability claims, averaged $66,208 in benefits and expenses, compared to $25,300 for claims that did not involve attorneys. Time away from work because of disability also was substantially higher and claims were slower to close.
The perception of the injured employee, the severity of the injury and the claims process are key factors in what claims are litigated. While the correlation between severity of injury and attorney involvement is difficult to mitigate, employers can do a lot to minimize the other two factors.
A Workers’ Compensation injury is not just a medical problem, there are complex psychological and social issues involved. While there will always be some employees driven by greed and aiming to “game the system,” most people come to work wanting to do a good job, not to create problems. When an unexpected injury occurs, they are thrust into a situation that is scary, confusing and sometimes overwhelming. They worry about losing their job, the perception of their fellow employees as well as their ability to fully recover.
It’s somewhat baffling that the top reason injured employees seek attorneys is poor communications from the employer. Since this is a relatively easy issue to solve, it is surprising how many employers treat it casually or ignore its importance.
Here are seven tips to strengthen communications:
- Include on-the-job injury processes in new hire packages. Employers need to convey how serious they are about treating injured employees properly and returning them to work as soon as possible.
- When an injury occurs, communicate about the benefits and how the Workers’ Compensation process works. Try to relieve uncertainty and fear.
- Send a get-well card that clearly delivers the message the injured employee is valued, missed and wanted back on the job. Have co-workers and supervisors sign the card.
- Watch the language that is used when speaking to the injured employee. HR personnel or supervisors might think it’s a good thing to let injured employees know that the work is being covered and they don’t have to worry. But this can quickly send the wrong message – the employee is not needed and the job may not be there when they can return. Remember, the job is part of an individual’s identity. It’s important injured employees be part of the process and involved as much as possible.
- Speak plainly, avoiding acronyms. In most cases, this is the first time the injured employee is going through the process. Using legalese and comp terminology will build anxiety and drive employees to attorneys, whom they consider to be experts.
- Communicate in the language of injured employee. It’s hard enough to understand Workers’ Compensation; when it is presented in a second language, confusion can reign.
- Stay in touch in ways that resonate with the injured employee. If it’s a younger worker, an informal text message might make them most comfortable. For others, a phone call might be best. It’s noteworthy that a study by the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) found that older workers are more likely to be represented, which could stem from concerns about job security.
Delays in processing claims is another top reason injured employees hire an attorney. When money is not forthcoming, it’s natural for employees to get nervous, worry that the claim will be denied or considered illegitimate. While communication about the process will help, employers need to be proactive about quickly reporting injuries and moving the process along.
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