Office work isn’t thought of as physically difficult, but office workers can be vulnerable to hand and wrist injuries from overuse at work. While these injuries usually aren’t permanently and substantially disabling, these injuries can lead employees to lose wages and rack up thousands of dollars in medical bills.
Yet many clerical workers are reluctant to bring workers’ compensation claims. I think there are at least five reasons why office workers don’t claim workers’ compensation for hand injuries and wrist injuries.
Hand injuries aren’t thought of as serious injuries – According to some Wasington DC think tank, carpal tunnel syndrome doesn’t count as a serious work injury. This conclusion reflects common attitudes that carpal tunnel isn’t a serious injury. If you don’t think an injury is serious, then you won’t seek treatment for the injury or seek to put it under workers’ compensation.
Workers don’t understand causation standards – In Nebraska, occupational factors merely need to contribute to the development of an injury or medical condition for it to be considered by workers’ compensation. Work duties can also aggravate an old injury. There is a misconception that an injury or condition has to be new or mostly caused by work to covered by workers’ compensation.
Workers don’t understand that repetitive use injuries are work injuries – When many people think of an injury they think of a fall or collision that happens at a distinct point in time. But in Nebraska injuries that develop over a period of time can be covered by workers’ compensation.
The stigma of filing for workers’ compensation claims – I’ve written about a lot over concerns about retaliation for bringing claims and the perception that workers’ compensation claims are fraudulent. Colorado attorney Mack Babcock wrote a thoughtful post about how the stigma of filing a workers’ compensation claim discourages employees from claiming workers’ compensation. Employees feel guilty about making claims and are often criticized by co-workers for making claims as well. Employees may customarily pay the costs of a work injury through a short-term disability policy and private health insurance, so an employee who claims workers’ compensation may be rocking the boat.
The first four factors aren’t exclusive to office workers. But I think this next factor explains why many clerical employees don’t bring claims for hand injuries due to overuse.
Cost of work injuries shifted onto private disability and health insurance – I drive past major claims processing centers for Allstate and State Farm when I drive up 84th Street on the way to Omaha. My experience is that the clerical workers who develop hand injuries doing data entry jobs in large companies will often claim short-term disability for time lost after surgery and put medical costs on private health insurance instead of claiming workers’ compensation. I think the four other factors I discussed above lead employees to use short-term disability and health insurance instead of workers’ compensation.
In my next post, I will discuss the why and how of employees losing money by not claiming injuries as workers’ compensation injuries and what they can do if they have paid the costs of their work injury through health insurance and disability insurance.