View From the Trenches
by Jamie Charter, MS,CPDM
For the past 23 years, I have had the opportunity of knowing many injured employees through the provision of a variety of services. Through my experiences, I have listened, counseled and performed damage control, many times after an injured worker is no longer in the workplace. There are certain sentiments that have been expressed repeatedly and the big question asked is "why don't they do this"?
With the hope of communicating some of these things to the readers of this article, perhaps the information will reach the people who can help to make a difference.
When meeting initially with an injured worker or employee, one of the first things they have expressed is "no one talked to me". For 19 years, I was one of the group, one of the gang, and then after filing my workers compensation claim, everyone stopped talking to me. Some injured workers have said that when they were in the hospital or off on medical recovery, they did not receive one call from anyone from the workplace. They have informed they started receiving paperwork in the mail, with official seals, with language and terminology unfamiliar.
Solution: designate someone in the workplace to issue a call to the injured employee, as a good faith gesture. What to say? A general inquiry of how are you...letting them know they are missed in the workplace and wishing them a speedy recovery.
Many times, injured workers and employees who cannot continue in the work place, are told they are on a 39-month rehire list,prevalent within school districts,without any explanation. To someone who has had the security of going to a workplace and suddenly does not have that option any longer, this can be confusing and overwhelming.
Through an interactive process meeting, a good faith gesture to explore reasonable accommodation and opportunity for modified or alternative employment, this term can be explained.
Solution: hold an interactive process meeting and review exactly what the 39- month rehire list is. Let the worker know how the process works, who will be responsible for sending out the job notices of potential openings for consideration and how to go about applying for a position in the event they are interested in the future.
I facilitate many interactive process meetings and recently, an employee who had worked for a City for 19 years was informed that based on his restrictions, modified or alternative employment was not available and he would be pursuing a retirement.
What were the steps? What about medical coverage for the future? How does a person institute the retirement process?
Solution: have this information readily available, or soon after the meeting, so the injured employee knows what the next step will be. Send a letter, outlining their benefit status for continued medical coverage and procedure for unused sick and vacation time. Provide information about the retirement process and how to go about filing for this.
At that same interactive process meeting, I left wondering why no one representing the employer had issued a few words of gratitude for the employee's dedicated service. After the meeting, I called the claims adjustor and voiced my disappointment that this had not occurred.
Subsequent to the meeting, the employee called and expressed their disappointment and sorrow that not one word was said. I let them know I completely agreed and would plan to mention this to the employer representatives next time, prior to the start of the interactive process meeting.
Solution: despite any ill feelings regarding the workers compensation claim, personal dislike for the injured worker or particular circumstances about the situation, find a way to let the employee know, on behalf of your professional organization, that their service was appreciated.
These are just a few of the impressions I have come away with, from having the opportunity of working closely with employees and employers over the years during my career.
Those of us working closely with injured employees have our jobs and the security of working and all that brings. There is a sense that none of this will ever befall us. When job security is removed from a person's life, there is an array of potential factors and issues that take over, including loss of income, impacted self esteem, domestic turmoil, lack of confidence, fear and confusion and a lack of information. All this coupled with pain!
This array of concerns goes across the board, whether it was an employee who worked in retail, law enforcement, fire safety, as an attorney...the concerns are the same, no matter what level of professionalism or sophistication the person has had. Once they sit down in the chair and start talking about their experience and concerns for their future, the feelings are the same.
Solution: you can make a great difference in a person's life, by remembering there is a human being with a range of emotions on the other end of this process. At any point, an injury can strike and few people would choose this path.
Treat the person with respect, compassion and ensure that they are being provided with adequate information throughout the process.
Author, consultant and educator Jamie Charter has been providing employment and litigation consulting services for 23 years through Charter and Company employer resource consultants in Soquel, California.
Jamie is available to assist your organization with direct service and customized training.