Litigation in the Worker’s Compensation Field

The Misunderstood Benefits of Return-to-Work Programs

“Why would an employer ever spend more money to send their injured employee to volunteer? It doesn’t make very good business sense,” I was asked during a deposition in December. Recently ReEmployAbility had been named in a lawsuit; when such cases happen, I am usually called upon to testify and may be deposed as it pertains to details regarding the Transition2Work program. I admit that I’ve been mulling over the deposition ever since. I’m left pondering the impact that recovering the worker makes and the challenges we face when offering Return-to-Work programs. As such, I wanted to make my voice clear- stating why I believe so strongly in Return-to-Work and why it is paramount to help heal injured workers. In this case, this attorney could just not understand why an injured worker would be put in a Return-to-Work program where their employer would pay them to volunteer.

The Role of Litigation in the Insurance Industry

Litigation is an understood and expected aspect of the Insurance industry, especially in workers’ compensation. When used as intended, litigation is a great corrective force that sets boundaries and rights wrongs and retains the rights of both employers and employees. I am grateful that with litigation, we have a method to correct the abuses that will inevitably occur in the insurance industry. However, just as litigation can be a force for good, there are often litigious individuals who rush to place blame on return-to-work programs largely for concerns that are either blown out of proportion or not readily understood.

When an employer or adjuster chooses to have an employee take part in a return-to-work program, it may lead to or result in litigation. Luckily, studies show that employees who return to work quickly are less likely to pursue litigation.  As a provider for RTW, ReEmployAbility is also not immune to litigation or pushback that results from litigation. It is understandably just a part of the business.

Challenges and Misconceptions Surrounding Return-to-Work Programs

After the deposition, I was told by our attorney that this counsel “believed that I believed in what I was saying” but that he just frankly disagreed and believed otherwise. Some litigators across the country are seeking to throw out the baby with the bathwater by going after RTW programs. They want to destroy all the good that happens with RTW and disregard the human condition, which shows that humans do not do well when they are denied the ability to affect change in their lives. Not only is this misguided, but it actively hurts the good that we are attempting to create by failing to see the big picture.

I recently learned that a plaintiff’s attorney in a particular state litigates our program because he “has philosophical contention” with ReEmployAbility’s role in post-injury placement. He contends that any effort to place injured workers in accommodated duty positions with non-profit partners is “harassment of his client.”  Another plaintiff’s attorney sent a letter to a nonprofit hosting an injured worker saying in part, “…we’re suing you and the store if anything happens …I hope you have liability insurance.  You ought to think twice before taking advantage of injured workers.”   Taking advantage?  The role a non-profit plays in the community is the complete antithesis of taking advantage of people!  By partnering injured workers with nonprofits, we are giving injured employees the opportunity to connect to a greater purpose and their community while being given the space and time to heal properly. Reconnecting to a person’s sense of purpose and abilities is one of the greatest ways to assure them that they can overcome these injuries.

The Benefits of Return-to-Work Programs

Do these attorneys really understand the benefits of RTW programs? Is recovering the worker and their client their ultimate goal? Recovering the worker proves that Return-to-Work programs and our Transition2Work program reduce recovery times, heighten self-esteem for employees, reduce indemnity costs, and help injured workers get back to their lives.  It’s on all of us in the industry to flip the script.  With better communication about return-to-work by all parties (employers, adjusters, case managers, return-to-work providers, and all who interact with injured workers), this connotation can be changed.  We know with our own program that when we can speak to injured employees upfront before they hear about our program, they are more likely to participate, have a good experience and recover faster.

Last year, I testified at the state level to a committee striving to introduce RTW to the state, the committee members were doubling down questioning the efficacy of the program. My colleagues and I have seen the benefits of the program year after year. We get testimonials and positive responses every single day from injured workers, thanking us for allowing them a method to reintegrate themselves into their work lives. Not only are people given the opportunity to recover within their medical restrictions, continuing their wages, but they are also supporting their local community and participating in volunteerism that benefits others.

The Importance of Maintaining Connection and Purpose in Employee Recovery

While a Transition2Work participant volunteers with an organization in their community, they remain connected to the daily work routine while maintaining a relationship with their employer.   For the nonprofit, this volunteer supports their mission and daily work.  Even through a program like Transition2Work, employees reap the direct benefits of volunteering, including increasing self-esteem, comradery, and a sense of purpose. Even benefits directly support an injured employee’s mental health while working through the uncertainties involved with a workplace injury. These benefits are even more profoundly needed for an injured individual who is trying to regain a sense of his old life. RTW recovers the worker, giving them back their lives in a way that supports and bolsters their recovery.

The truth is that issues and concerns will certainly come up, but by creating blanket legislation or going after RTW providers, the industry is taking away a singularly unique method of supporting injured workers. The evidence proves that volunteerism helps people gain self-esteem, feel connected to their community, and allows people to create change. Return-to-Work programs, like ReEmployAbility’s Transition2Work, allow injured workers to maintain a connection to their employer, allow for pay continuation, and support their community while also recovering and becoming reintegrated into their life after an injury. Furthermore, Return-to-Work programs give injured workers their life back and enable workers to retain their earning power throughout their lives.

Embracing Innovation and Positive Employee Impact

As a CEO, I’ve learned that creating policies that try to mitigate any wrongdoing whatsoever are usually so restrictive that they backfire. By dealing with concerns as they come up, I can deal with issues directly instead of issuing decrees that will not work as anticipated. We must learn to manage the bad and allow the good to continue to flourish within RTW programs instead of stifling innovation and progress in the field. Return-to-Work programs will only get better when they are given the space to do what they do best, which is to recover the worker to their life. And so, I hope we can continue to learn and grow in the industry instead of using litigation as a reactionary method against innovations in the field.

ReEmployAbility’s Transition2Work program is still innovative and yet, every day I see all the good that is coming out of it. Injured Workers who go through our program recover faster, feel more connected to their work, and employers have the benefit of retaining a worker while saving on indemnity costs. Frankly, Return-to-Work solutions work. They work for employers, employees, and communities across the United States. Return to Work remains the single most effective way to recover the worker, and the results speak for themselves.  Why wouldn’t an employer use RTW when they see all the good that can come out of it for themselves and, most importantly, for their workers?

I hope we can continue to speak out about the good happening every day with RTW programs. Rather than having an injured worker drop out of the work field for the rest of their life, we have workers who have recovered and recuperated and can get back to the business of their lives. So, to respond to that litigator: Why do I believe that Return-to-Work is a good idea? Because taking care of people is always good business sense. We have the opportunity to recreate the worker’s compensation industry into one of empathy and humanity- we’ll take the chance, knowing that we are enabling people to live a better life after a workplace injury.

As a Worker’s Compensation professional, how do you deal with the litigation aspect of your job? How can we learn and partner together to make a greater difference for our injured employees?