Erie County (NY) executive Chris Collins was frustrated by an annual outlay of about $11 million for workers comp. So the county implemented a policy requiring workers collecting indemnity (about 300 in all) to pick up the checks in person from the supervisor. Collins hoped that this face to face contact might lead to quicker return to work for employees capable of performing light duty.
Not surprisingly, the state comp board had serious concerns with the new "return to work" program.
"It places an additional burden upon an injured worker at a time when the claimant is not medically able to return to the workplace." Oh, by the way, it's also illegal.
The Collins administration fired back, saying that the board lacks the authority to halt Erie County's new policy and that it will continue, at least for workers with temporary injuries.
Erie spokesman Grant Loomis blasted the comp board: "We were not surprised that a board full of Albany bureaucrats would raise objections to getting municipal workers back to work as soon as possible." (With his demonstrated talent for distortion, Loomis may have a future in politics.)
Loomis said Collins wants to revise the program to call in only the recently injured who might have substantially recovered and can perform light tasks, currently about two dozen people. Collins wants workers to receive their checks directly from their supervisors, who then would ask whether they could return to work in some capacity.
The Erie folks are making a couple of basic mistakes: first, they issue a blanket policy covering 300 people, even though they only want to target about two dozen. Then they ask supervisors to do things they are not qualified to do: determine whether injured workers can perform light duty tasks and, while they are at it, distribute checks. All in all, not a very good idea.
The missing piece is obvious: no one is talking to the treating physicians. Only doctors can determine the medically necessary restrictions - what the injured worker can and cannot do - and whether temporary light duty would be appropriate.
Now before Erie County implements a policy requiring doctors to show up in person for their checks, here is an alternative: establish lines of communication with the treating doctors. Track medical visits and ask doctors to update restrictions each time the employee sees the doctor. Supervisors should be kept in the loop, especially in regard to available light duty tasks, many of which are seasonal, but they should not be asked to manage the entire process. That is a job for county administrators. Heck, even Grant Loomis could help out, provided, of course, he takes a class in diplomacy. Angry rhetoric might work for politicians stirring up the masses, but it is usually counterproductive in the challenging world of workers comp.