Workers’ compensation claims are too often adversarial, leading to unnecessary litigation and increased costs. The advocacy approach to workers’ compensation claims handling focuses on enhancing the injured worker’s experience, which in turn can have a tremendous impact on the success of employers’ program results. At the PARMA 46th Conference and Expo, this live “Out Front Ideas with Kimberly and Mark” session explored the benefits of employee advocacy in workers’ compensation claims.
- Kimberly George, Senior Vice President of Corporate Development, M&A and Healthcare, Sedgwick
- Mark Walls, Vice President Communications & Strategic Analysis, Safety National
- Jeff Rush, Workers’ Compensation Program Manager, California JPIA
- Peggy Sugarman, Director of Workers’ Compensation, City/County of San Francisco
- Patti Williams, Risk Manager (retired), City of Huntington Beach
At its very core, workers’ compensation is in the business of taking care of people. Sometimes we forget that. Advocacy starts by finding all options and presenting them to the injured employee. Knowing who you are talking to, and adjusting your delivery and approach to best communicate with that injured worker, is critical. Empathy, listening and communication skills are extremely important to the advocacy approach. Your model should also reflect your organization’s culture and core values.
There are several examples of advocacy-based programs. Some include a paid advocate to reach out from day one of the claim to communicate with the employee, letting him or her know that their conversations are confidential and that they truly are the employee advocate. This allows the employee to potentially gain comfort with issues that they would normally not discuss, which would otherwise leave concerns unaddressed.
Even simple gestures work like sending a get well card to show the injured employee that your organization cares. Each situation is different. Sometimes meeting with the employee in their work environment helps educate you on their perspective and build your empathy towards their situation.
Often law enforcement and firefighters are guarded in these situations. Meeting with them at the hospital goes a long way to convince them that you truly are there for them throughout this process. Regardless of the profession, you cannot assume that the injured worker has a support system. Lack of help can impair their ability to heal and, if you can give them the help and services they may need, it can have a large impact. You could never know this without making that in-person connection.
Sometimes the best advocate is your union liaison. If you can build this relationship, it can work wonders for your program. On the other hand, often the best advocate resides in the injured worker’s department. The advocate is not just explaining the claims, but rather they serve as a well-rounded resource for the injured employee. In fact, supervisors and managers are often untapped resources to keep the line of communication open.
In an evolving industry with constant advancement, it is important to remember that it is not always about technology. Our gut feeling is still very important and these human skills are invaluable. Reskilling or upskilling our workforce on these advocacy-based interactions is necessary to fully deliver this approach.