Workforce

Paving the Way to Managing Workers’ Compensation Claim Costs

A comprehensive light-duty program is a tried-and-true method for controlling workers’ compensation costs. While the construction industry may not generate many inherently light-duty positions, many work restrictions can be accommodated with a little creativity.
By Amanda Conley
August 24, 2021
Topics
Workforce

One of the most effective ways to control costs in a compensable workers’ compensation claim is to have the ability to offer suitable light-duty work. Multiple studies have shown that the likelihood of an injured worker returning to gainful employment decreases exponentially the longer they are out of work. By providing light-duty work to injured employees, employers maximize the likelihood that those employees will ultimately return to their regular jobs, minimize the number of claims that go into litigation and reduce the overall cost of their workers’ compensation claims.

How to Develop Suitable Light-Duty Jobs for Injured Construction Workers

Employers can achieve a successful light-duty program by knowing what restrictions they can accommodate and making that information available to their employees and the physicians involved in treating the claims. The construction industry presents some unique challenges in the accommodation of light-duty restrictions due to the nature of the business. However, given the cost savings associated with a viable light-duty program, many construction companies have found ways to develop such programs in a way that does not impact their business.

There are necessary limits on what kind of light-duty tasks any construction company can offer. The first step is to assess the medical records and determine the severity of the injury. The routine strains and sprains that commonly result in temporary work restrictions generally provide the employer with an opportunity to offer a suitable light-duty job. These types of claims usually result in work restrictions for a limited period, which can make the process of locating a suitable light-duty job less onerous. Even if an employer cannot provide full-time light-duty work, part-time work is better than sending the employee home to collect indemnity benefits.

The more challenging claims are those involving injuries likely to result in permanent restrictions. Few employers can offer permanent light-duty work, and many have set limitations as to how long they can and will provide it. The objective here is for the employer to offer suitable light-duty long enough to posture the case for a favorable settlement. Providing light-duty work can dramatically reduce the indemnity exposure and result in significant savings, particularly if the claim can be settled while the light-duty job is ongoing.

Ideally, light-duty positions will be legitimate jobs that provide a benefit to the employer. Such positions are more palatable to the injured worker and stand up to greater scrutiny if the claim ends up in court. The key is to start by identifying existing jobs that would be suitable for employees with light-duty restrictions or jobs that can be easily modified. Many employers are surprised by how many positions they can modify once they start looking closely at the physical demands of each job. Construction companies may have a leg up in this instance because they typically have multiple projects going at any one time, leading to a greater variety of opportunities for light-duty work. Each job should have its own written description for easy reference as to the physical requirements of each. Communication between the injured worker, the treating physician, and the employer is critical to alleviate confusion about the restrictions and whether they can be accommodated.

Use a Panel of Physicians

Some states, such as Georgia, require employers to post a panel of physicians. The purpose of the panel is to provide physician options for employees who sustain an injury, and the panel is critical as it allows the employer/insurer to maintain control of medical treatment. These are physicians who employers will see repeatedly on their claims, so it is important for the physicians to be aware of the employer’s ability to offer light-duty work, lest they forgo issuing work restrictions based on a belief that no light-duty is available. Particularly in the construction industry, where the same injuries are likely to occur on a regular basis and one may assume that light-duty is not available, employers must familiarize themselves with their panel physicians to ensure the doctors have a complete view of the business.

Monitor the Light Duty Work

The other aspect of a successful light-duty work program is monitoring. Commonly, employees will contend that the job is not suitable because they were asked to exceed their restrictions. If the position is monitored, there will be witnesses who can refute this contention. If the claim ends up in court, employers can impeach the employee’s credibility relative to their testimony that the job is not suitable.

Getting Creative Will Control Claims Costs

A comprehensive light-duty program is a tried-and-true method for controlling workers’ compensation costs. While the construction industry may not generate many inherently light-duty positions, many work restrictions can be accommodated with a little creativity. Most importantly, employers should have a plan in place before work accidents occur to know ahead of time what restrictions can be accommodated and make that information available to their employees and physicians. The extra effort is well worth the reward.

by Amanda Conley
Amanda Conley is a partner at Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers, LLP, with vast experience defending workers’ compensation matters. Her clients include insurers and companies in the construction, hospitality, tree service, cable, utility, ride sharing, manufacturing and furniture sales industries. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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