Workers’ compensation claims can drag both you and your injured employee down. They often strain the employer-employee relationship. And the longer the employee is out, the worse it gets.
We’ve identified three of the most critical steps you can take to reduce the amount and length of your workers’ comp claims: timely reporting, strong medical plan coordination and creative return-to-work programs.
1. Reporting claims immediately
First, develop a system to actively manage claims reporting and filing. Be sure you’re reporting claims directly to the carrier right when they happen. Delaying a report by just one day can increase your cost by 3% to 5%.
You can improve your reporting timeliness by choosing a point person and holding that person accountable for promptly reporting each incident. In many workplaces, that’s an onsite safety manager, direct supervisor or site foreman. You can also build the reporting process into your safety training. As you build your messages and culture around safety, help employees see that you encourage and reward early reporting. When you report on your safety statistics, include timely reporting.
It helps to document your process for reporting claims and make sure the person responsible is familiar with the requirements. You can also audit the process annually to make sure you’re following it. Your broker can help.
Finally, within your process, conduct a mini-audit of each claim. Analyze the timeliness. This is also a time to consider ways the claim could have been prevented and look for workplace or work process improvements to avoid similar claims in the future.
2. Directing your medical providers
In the Midwest, the states of Missouri, Iowa and Kansas give the employer or insurer the right to direct medical treatment, and it’s in your best interest to do so. (Illinois allows the employee to choose, and Nebraska requires employees to complete a form prior to the incident that allows them to request the option to choose their own provider.)
Using an established occupational health clinic has several advantages:
- Most employers use the same occupational health organization for workers’ comp treatment and pre-employment and post-accident drug testing. This allows for continuity and promotes familiarity and trust for employees.
- The clinics are occupationally driven, so they will promote conservative treatment options and try to minimize time off.
- They will manage referrals to specialists and help you track the employee’s progress toward returning to work.
- The providers may get to know your workplace and have a better understanding of the conditions and requirements needed for a safe return to work.
By contrast, employee-chosen providers may be more sympathetic to the employee point of view, extending time off, pursing more aggressive treatment and ordering unnecessary diagnostic procedures.
One caution: Because they have their own, in-house physical therapy operations, occupational health providers may be inclined to overprescribe physical therapy. So you might want to build some flexibility into your contracting that allows outside PT providers.
3. Creating an early-return-to-work transitional duty program
Having a strong return-to-work policy benefits both you and your employees. Most individuals can’t survive very well without a full paycheck. So it’s in their best interest to return to work as soon as possible. Make any modified-duty options public, and educate both new and existing employees about them.
To exercise your return-to-work policy, you will need to ensure your job descriptions clearly define essential functions and physical and mental capacity requirements. These will allow you to have direct conversations with the employee and your medical provider about any possibilities for modified schedules or duties.
Transitional programs can immediately affect productivity and lead to a more successful return to full duties when possible. Make sure the transitional work is respectful and productive, however. Transitional work that is monotonous or lacks meaning can demoralize employees and delay their return to full productivity.
To avoid straining the employee-employer relationship, do what you can to keep the lines of communication open. Frequent touch-base calls or cards will help keep the dialogue going, make the employees feel part of the team and reassure them you do want them to come back and be productive as soon as it’s safe to do so.
By Steve Edwards
Claims Department Manager