Safety and OSHA News

Is this a good way to cut workers’ comp costs?

No one can blame an employer for trying to reduce workers’ comp costs through a return-to-work program. But an employer might run into trouble if the state workers’ comp board finds the policy to be illegal.

Erie County, NY, wanted to cut its $11 million annual outlay for workers’ comp payments.

So the County Executive, Chris Collins, announced a new policy: Injured employees would have to come to work and get their workers’ comp checks from their supervisors.

New York’s Workers’ Compensation Board ruled the policy was illegal. Specifically, the board said the Erie County policy violated the law that workers’ comp payments must be “periodic, prompt, in like manner as wages and direct.”

The Buffalo News reports Collins’ administration has backtracked a bit, but has refused to entirely end the policy. A spokesman says only workers who aren’t permanently disabled and might be fit for light duty would have to collect their checks from their supervisors.

The workers’ comp board had been deciding a challenge filed by an Erie County correctional facility officer who was injured when she broke up a fight between inmates. The worker had been awarded permanent partial disability. She had received notice that she would have to personally pick up her biweekly checks at sheriff’s headquarters.

The workers’ comp board said requiring employees in that situation to pick up their checks “overly burdens an injured worker by adding unnecessary traveling costs and potentially places an injured worker at risk of further injury.”

The injured officer had been receiving $390 a week — slightly more than $20,000 a year.

What do you think of the county’s policy and the state workers’ comp board’s ruling? You can leave a reply below.

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  1. This is ridiculus and yes it DOES “potentially places an injured worker at risk of further injury.”
    I think Chris Collins was more sympathetic to money than he was to his injured workers.

  2. I work in Erie County, though thankfully, not FOR the county. I’m interested to hear what others think of this.

  3. SafetyGoon says:

    I encourage employees who are able to do so to come in for their workers comp checks. I don’t do it to “cut costs” but rather as a convenient way to stay in contact with an injured employee. I don’t require that they come in for their checks, I request it. If they inform me that they can’t, I mail their checks on the normal payroll schedule. Still, I’ve found that it’s a great way for the employee and employer to stay in contact and get regular updates from each other. Most (though not all) of the injured employees I’ve dealt with over the years have not had a problem with it – in fact, some have said it’s a small break from the boredom of being off work while injured. Using it to cut costs seems under-handed, at least in the context of this article.

  4. If as noted in the article she was injured and partially permanently disabled, but able to perform light duty work then why don’t they have a light duty job she would be coming in and performing each day, obviating her need to make a special trip in.
    It’s hard to believe with all the paperwork any company or government agency generates that they can’t at least find a filing job that has been put off and needs doing.
    Lacking any organized light duty position, I would say this policy is merely one vindictive individuals power play. “I’ll show you!”

  5. PO'd Safety Guy says:

    I don’t think it’s good policy for injured workers to have to drive to their place of employment for their checks. Especially in Buffalo. Especially in the winter. On the other hand, I see employees that are “sick” on payday come in to pick up their pay checks. Some managers get ticked by that because they figure if the employee is well enough to drive they’re well enough to work. While some may be taking advantage of the situation, I choose to see it as the people just needing their money.

    Handled in a positive way, such as in SafetyGoon’s situation, comp check pick-up could be a good thing. My guess is Mr. Collins takes a bit more adversarial approach and wants to make the comp claimants “earn” their money by coming in. What does it prove or what problem does it solve?

  6. SafetyGoon makes a good point and if given the option to come in then take advantage of that situation to meet with the injured (and hopefully recovering) employee to discuss their status while maybe rendering some assistance – hey, do it.

    You won’t score any useful points by turning the meeting into an interrogation session with the employee who may, in many cases be more than willing to come back to work in a limited transitional position. Do you even have one set up? If not, then you should.

    You might even offer to have some refreshments on hand to show the employee(s) they are still valued while you are encouraging them to get well and return to work. No, you don’t have to kiss any butt – just consider how you might respond to similar consideration. The malingerers won’t show anyway (20%) so take the opportunity to get some positive results.

    If any of you have had the misfortune of working for government and being injured and out of work to boot, you may be able to relate how ignored and unimportant one might be left to feel at this time. Bottom line – people are people and have needs and feelings but do not need to be coddled.

  7. Downside – Workplace Violence Concerns.

    With all the recent and past shooting spree incidents by either mentally imbalanced, stressed or those with perceived workplace injustices may require extreme caution and preparation on the part of any entity considering it.

    Detecting any hints of potential violence that might occur is not a skill many managers have in their tool kit……making this an awful risky venture for a large employer having little or infrequent contact with employees.

    Smaller employers may have a better read on their employees if the relationships are closer. Nothing unfortunately is ever perfect…..but this effort by Erie leaves a lot to be reconsidered.

  8. If they are that concerned with having the employee at work why don’t they simply create a job that meets the doctors work restrictions? There are always small jobs around such as shredding papers, pushing a broom or possibly just answering a phone that would keep them busy and somewhat productive.

  9. In terms of “Claim Management” there are many opportunities to stay directly involved with an injured employee who is ordered off from work or assigned to a less than full duty status. One of the things we discuss with new hires during orientation is “Workers Compensation Fraud”. We know it exists and for that reason among others, we expect ALL injuries to be reported immediately and so on…..We also talk about our diverse production opportunities where we are able to accomodate one hand work, sit down work, and part time work for those given restrictions. We also invite occupational MD’s in to visit our facility and verify the light duty assignments; all of which are productive assigments and not just for show or to monitor employees. We do find a great benefit in keeping in direct contact with our employees during a recovery period. Getting updates on their PT progress for example, this is managing the employee and their respective claim situation. It is the employers responsibility to stay involved and nurture the recovery process.
    If “asking” and employee to come in once every two weeks to say hello, get caught up on the employees progress, share any company policy updates etc…and picking up a pay check, especially if the employees doctors are indicating that returning to work is in the near future; I feel this is not only a good idea, but is necessary.
    If requiring someone to come in for pay checks who has recently suffered a more debilitating injury such as an amputation or has chronic illness where returning to work is out for at least another month or more, then that doesn’t asmake much sense. Definately not something to treat as a “Policy.”
    Think in terms of uniqueness and customize your approach as required by the claim, the employee, and stay directly involved in the process until the claim is closed. Make choices that are reasonable and customized to the employee’s and employer’s given situation and adjust as things progress. Avoid creating policies that limit your ability to manage. Better to develop a policy that strengthens the ability to manage a claim and an employee through to a full recovery. If your intentions are pure and direct and consistent as far as your intent to responsibly manage the claim then you should expect to find more support than resistance.
    Should the employee, his doctor, or lawyer decide to impede progress, your direct involvement and consitent and complete documentation will eventually leave you in a position to address their resistance and possibly minimize damage caused by fraud.
    Ever notice how some Dr’s will put down whatever the employee tells them and won’t return a call if you have a question? These are the same Dr’s who consider your attempts to make contact “harassment by the employer”. Their either scared into a full CYA mode for fear of a liability suit from the patient or just plain “too busy/lazy” to hold their end up in managing the claim/case/patient’s recovery. A good WC Insurance partner should be quick to deny payment in cases where the Doc or employee isn’t forthrite or deliberately lying or mis-leading/impeading the recovery process. Be persistant if you have questions and document the attempts to make contact and extent of any contact you’re allowed. If your intentions are pure, you’ll find your way to the right answers and best results possible.
    I hope this reinforces what I’m sure many of you do already. Wishing you all continued success.

  10. Safety Geek says:

    Where the Return To Work Program? If someone has a broken arm they can still answer the phone, file paperwork, shred paper or clean.

  11. I wonder if having an injured employee come to work to pick up a comp check could cause more of a liability to the company if something were to happen to the employee on the way to pick up the check? Do States have different laws concerning this?

  12. I am from Oregon and our workers comp provider issues and sends the checks directly to the injured employee. Problem solved.

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