Survey: Workers Clueless About Comp

NU Online News Service, Aug. 29, 2:59 p.m. EST?A survey revealing widespread ignorance about the workers’ compensation system should prompt employer education efforts because informed employees return to work quicker, an executive at The Hartford contends.

“We encourage employers to discuss workers’ compensation insurance as a benefit with employees. We find when employees understand it as a benefit, they are far more likely to let supervisors know when they are injured, and we can get them better faster when we know about injury sooner,” and at less cost, according to Annette Sanchez, senior vice president of Specialty risk Services, Hartford’s third-party claims administrator.

Ms. Sanchez made her comments in explaining why the insurer had undertaken its latest “National Workplace Survey.” The poll by The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc. found that many workers have little understanding of the workers’ comp system’s medical coverage and salary benefits for people injured on the job.

The survey also revealed what The Hartford said was “substantial employee interest in returning to work, even in an alternative position.”

Fifty-one percent of those responding indicated they would be interested in returning to work in another position if they were temporarily unable to perform their original jobs. Another 23 percent said they were unsure what they would do, and 26 percent said they would not consider such an option.

It also determined that employees who work in blue-collar jobs perceive correctly that they will be injured on the job more frequently than white-collar workers.

The survey found that 58 percent of blue-collar households have a family member who has been injured on the job, requiring medical attention. Only 38 percent of white-collar workers reported the same.

On average, blue-collar workers, the survey found, believe it quite likely they’ll be injured on the job at least once, while their white-collar peers believe there’s little chance of that happening.

However, despite a high expectation of injury among blue-collar workers, the poll found that most have little understanding of the system that covers their injuries. The research showed that the same holds true for white-collar workers.

Among survey respondents, only 62 percent knew that medical costs related to an on-the-job injury would usually be covered by workers’ comp, The Hartford said.

Twenty-five percent incorrectly believe that on-the-job medical costs would be covered by their employers’ medical insurance; 8 percent erroneously think they would be covered by the employee’s disability insurance; and another 5 percent mistakenly assume these costs would be paid out-of-pocket by either their employer or themselves.

The survey found that this misunderstanding extends to workers who had been injured or had a family member injured on the job. Among this group, nearly one-third did not know who actually pays injured workers’ medical expenses.

Forty-four percent of those who had not been injured on the job were ignorant of who would pay for treatment.

“Our research reinforces what I have always believed. While workers’ compensation is a vital safety net for employees, there is a lot of confusion about who pays for what,” Ms. Sanchez said.

She noted a survey finding that about 15 percent of workers expect to receive little or no pay while out of work recovering from an injury, when in fact they will be paid a substantial percentage of their wages during recovery. Payment amounts vary among individual states.

“We’ve found that workers who return to work faster–even in a job that is different than the one they usually do–tend to recover more quickly and more fully than those that stay at home to recover,” said Ms. Sanchez.

“Workers often feel isolated at home, and typically the longer they remain out of the workplace, the harder it is for them to return at all. That’s harmful for the employer, who loses a valuable worker, and for the employee, who feels more and more detached from colleagues and friends,” she added.

“While our internal studies show that 90 percent of workers can return to their regular job within two-to-three working days, some injuries take longer to heal, and a small portion of workers never will be able to resume their job,” she said.

Ms. Sanchez said The Hartford’s effort to have employers educate workers about the workers’ comp system varies by size of client. She said company representatives might attend safety meetings at a client’s premises and chat with the operation’s safety professionals and frontline supervisors.

Workers tend to believe information from their immediate boss before others in the company’s senior management, she noted.

The Hartford, she said, also promotes the workers’ comp education message at trade conferences, in newsletters to its loss control professionals, and sometimes in payroll envelope stuffers.

A key point to focus on, Ms. Sanchez said, is to assuage employees’ “fear of retribution,” and make sure they understand that even if a workplace injury is their fault, “it doesn’t change their eligibility for benefits.”

Ms. Sanchez noted that employers should have a return-to-work program in place so an insured employee can resume light-duty work as soon as possible.

The survey of 610 employed adults was conducted between July 25 and Aug. 1 by Opinionsite.com, an independent online research company. The margin of error was given as plus-or-minus 4 percent.