Where do we place our values? Are blue collar, hardworking employees paid what they are worth? Do blue collar, hardworking individuals have the protections they need?
Let me start by discussing a client I met with today. He has been a long time worker at an Alabama company (36 years). He is 60 years old. He was injured on the job approximately 2 years ago. He hurt his back, a common injury for blue collar workers. His salary was just under $20.00/hour.
As a result of his injury, he reported it to his supervisor who told him to take advil. They sent him to the company doctor when it got worse, and the company doctor said there was nothing wrong, of course. Finally, after not getting the right treatment, he sought our services. It was determined from an MRI and a surgeon that he needed surgery, but he was on blood thinners so it was risky. He decided to take the risk because it was so hard to work with the pain.
He had the surgery, but he continues to have pain. His doctor said he was as good as he was going to get and sent him back to work. He can’t work as many hours (8/wk as opposed to 12/wk), and he is in constant pain with numbness down his leg. We request a panel of four physicians (you can only request one typically, or at least that is what the defense always argues). The panel has three known company doctors and one not known as a “company doctor”. We select that one.
The insurance company hires an RN case manager to go to appointments and talk to the doctors and “coordinate care.” He goes to this doctor, and the doctor says he has some other disk problems, but he won’t do surgery. He comes to me because he’s still in significant pain and having to work because he must have the income. He would consider disability, but he can’t afford to quit work and wait the time it takes to obtain SSD (contrary to popular belief, it’s not so easy to get on SSD, and it takes time so you need funds to survive).
I call the case manager. I ask her, did you ask about pain management or physical therapy? Her answer, “No.” I ask her her role, and as best I can tell, she takes information from my client to the doctor and reports to the insurance company. Additionally, she schedules appointments. She also, in my humble opinion, tries to sway the doctor against the employee (typically not hard to do since many doctors are biased against said employees).
So, here is my client who is stuck. Based on where he is, he can’t get medical treatment, he is having difficulty working (and the company is documenting everything to try and terminate him), and basically, his workers compensation claim is not worth a lot, especially while he’s working. The Alabama Workers Compensation Act has not been changed since 1992, and the maximum weekly payment for Permanent Partial Disability is $220/week, less than the minimum wage.
So, here is a loyal, hard working employee who has devoted his life to his company. He is injured while working. His company doesn’t trust him and is trying to get rid of him. He can’t get a fair shake from the workers compensation insurance company. And, the workers compensation statute really doesn’t help him, and I have VERY little leverage to help him.
Again, whatever happened to doing the right thing? Many doctors want more business from the workers compensation insurance companies so they send employees back to work instead of treating the patient. Companies don’t show loyalty to employees who are trying hard. Nurse case managers want more business from the insurance companies so they try to get the employee back to work.
Do some employees try to manipulate the system? Of course. Every industry has its manipulators. Even CEO’s manipulate the system – see Enron, Healthsouth, Tyco, Worldcomm, Bernie Madoff, etc. But, I submit to you that most people want to work and feel productive. Most people don’t enjoy going to doctors. And, if they are doing it for a workers compensation case, they are going to be sorely disappointed.
Whatever happened to trust? Helping your fellow man? Lifting people up? Sitting down and communicating with your employee? Maybe this man’s company could sit down with him and say, “What can we do to either help you get back to work pain free or help you move on with your life?” You have devoted 36 years to us so what can we do to help you in your time of need?
Here’s a thought: what if we considered compassion more than money? What if compassion was the bottom line?