Why “Workers’ Comp” Are Not Dirty Words: CSR and Workplace Injuries

In the business world, few phrases carry as much emotional baggage as “workers’ compensation.” Those who receive it, like most people who file personal injury claims, are often stereotyped as “lazy” or “greedy.” In an ongoing effort to detect fraud many companies go to extensive lengths to scrutinize such claims. It’s enough to make an employee feel guilty for getting injured on the job.With the stress of liability weighing on their shoulders, employers can get into the habit of thinking of workers’ compensation as “dirty words.” Worse, entrepreneurs may get into the mindset that injured employees are out to scam them, as though a rising epidemic of dishonesty will threaten to drill an endless pit in their bottom line.However, as noted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of nonfatal workplace injuries has been on a steady decline over the last decade. The number of cases of employee fraud have actually gone down over the years. For the most part, workers’ compensation is working as it was intended: as a protection for employees.One statistic that has increased, however, is the number of lawsuits concerning retaliatory actions made by employers against employees who filed workers’ comp claims. Workers’ compensation isn’t a threat to businesses; in fact, it protects them. In the past, employees had to sue employers to receive compensation for injuries. Workers’ compensation laws replace legal liability with no-fault insurance. Taking a hostile approach to these claims is a fruitless endeavor. Overly reactionary, aggressive workplaces can cost businesses millions of dollars by illegally retaliating against those who file claims.Say “no” to retaliationFiling for workers’ compensation can be a daunting proposition. The fear of retaliation — of being incessantly scrutinized, bullied, and even ostracized — can make employees reticent to even file a claim in the first place.This fear is a product of the work of (perhaps unreasonably) enthusiastic insurers and risk management professionals who often order employees to inform a supervisor when they see signs of workers’ compensation fraud. The natural assumption is, of course, that employers are extremely suspicious of all workers’ compensation cases.Worse, there are countless stories of business who really did retaliate against employees for filing such claims. Employees who have done so in the past have been excluded from meetings, reassigned to less favorable positions, given suspiciously low performance reviews, and generally pressured to drop a claim. Anecdotes in this vein feed into the idea that filing a claim after being injured on the job is a mistake.Workers’ compensation is a necessary protectionOn the contrary, filing for workers’ compensation is nothing to be ashamed of, nor is doing so an engraved indictment of a business for insufficient safety measures. Employees and employers in the U.S. need to dispel the myths surrounding it. Most employees who file for compensation are not “faking it,” and even the most prepared business owner can’t safeguard their employees against every possible injury. Workers’ comp is merely a protection; it ensures that an employee’s livelihood cannot be endangered while on the job.Workers’ comp and corporate social responsibilityIf a workplace creates an atmosphere of fear surrounding workers’ compensation, they dissuade employees from filing such claims. And, of course, if an employee fails to seek medical attention, they may exacerbate their injury or condition. A business cannot accurately claim to care about its employees if it promotes such behavior — intentionally or otherwise.This means that businesses should adopt a positive mindset in regards to workplace safety. Instead of calling for employees to report on possible workers’ comp fraud, they should have employees practice this level of vigilance when it comes to reporting potential workplace safety hazards. Simply put, better work environments mean better productivity. Rather than creating a toxic work environment by ostracizing employees who dare to file a claim, they should show compassion by addressing safety issues and encouraging employees to be open about their experiences while on the job.Corporate social responsibility also entails educating employees about risks in the workplace and enforcing safety protocols. For example, in the case detailed above involving Lancaster General Hospital and Weber-Brown, a well-informed risk management professional might advise the employer to strengthen their focus on educating nurses about the occupational hazards of working around illnesses.Furthermore, the hospital could adopt programs to reduce stress, thereby reducing the number of workplace injuries to begin with. Some hospital administrations have found creative ways to combat stress. For instance, Rush University Medical center offers a program called “Pet Pause,” which consists of free animal therapy sessions with specially trained dogs. It has had a measurable effect on reducing stress, including decreased blood pressure and lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Measures like this not only demonstrate to employees that management legitimately cares about them, but it can also reduce claims. Alleviating stress reduces mental and emotional injuries, which could otherwise lead to claims in regards to sleep disorders, panic attacks and depression.For the benefit of everyone in the workplace, misinformation about workers’ compensation needs to end. Instead of creating fear about filing claims, businesses should demonstrate care and understanding. Filing a claim after an injury is not a hostile act on the part of the employee, and it is rarely done fraudulently. To foster a more positive relationship between employers and employees going forward, we need to drop the emotional weight connected to the phrase “workers’ compensation.”Hattie E. James, MBA, is a writer and researcher.

About John Fagan

John is a Jacksonville native who grew up on the First Coast. He graduated from Bishop Kenny High School in 1975 and went to college at Florida State University where he completed a 4-year program in 3 years. John graduated from the Florida State University College of Business in 1978 and went straight into Florida State University College of Law. While in law school, John earned a position on the prestigious Law Review Board serving as its Business Editor. As a law student, John studied in the Oxford program. He also interned with the Florida Legislature working in the Florida House of Representatives Criminal Justice Committee. John was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1981. John began his legal career as a law school intern in the State Attorney's Office in Jacksonville in 1981. After his internship, legendary State Attorney Ed Austin hired John as a full-time Assistant State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit (Clay, Duval, and Nassau Counties). As a prosecutor, John tried jury and non-jury trial on charges ranging from DUI to Murder. In 1983, John moved from the State Attorney's Office to begin his career in private practice. He has practiced law for 30 years on the First Coast. For the last 20 years, John and his family have made Clay County their home. John limits his practice to personal injury and disability cases. While there are many fine attorneys in Clay County, John is one of only a few Clay County attorneys who limit their practice to personal injury and disability cases. John takes pride in helping clients resolve injury claims in ways that avoid the stress, uncertainty, and the expense of unnecessary litigation. Professional Activities John is the past President of the Clay County Bar Association and has served on the Board of the Clay County Bar Association from 2009-2013. He is an active member of the Florida Bar, and the Federal Bar of the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida. He is also a member of the American Association of Justice, the Florida Association of Justice, the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives, and the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates. Service to the Community John is involved in the Clay County Community serving as a member and Director of the Rotary Club of Orange Park, of the Clay County Bar Association, and the Putnam County Bar Association.
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