This is a guest post from our colleague Mack Babcock from Denver. We like the post because it directly the addresses the issue of the stigma of workers’ compensation. We have addressed that stigma indirectly in two recent posts (here and here), but we haven’t addressed the issue directly.
Both workers’ compensation claimants and attorneys know what a complicated, stressful mess a workers’ compensation claim can be
In the event of a workplace accident, workers’ compensation is intended to cover an injured worker’s medical expenses, lost wages, and any permanent disability. Even when filing a workers’ compensation claim is well within an injured party’s rights, they often face a difficulty they might not have expected: stigma.
Clearly, there’s a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding out there about what workers’ compensation is and when it applies. Even though workers’ compensation is a type of insurance — no different than car insurance or medical insurance — some people regard it as a welfare program for those who don’t want to work.
Stress and anxiety are already common among those injured at work, and the last thing they need is to worry more about how others might perceive them. It’s important for both employers and employees to understand that the primary goal of the workers’ compensation system is to provide basic protection to the injured worker, allowing them to recover faster and become a productive member of society once again.
In most cases, denying a claim simply shifts the burden of recovery to the injured worker, and prolongs the amount of time it takes for that person to return to the workplace.
Some employers dislike the workers’ compensation insurance requirement for various reasons, including financial complaints. They may feel they will be asked to pay for injuries that aren’t serious, injuries caused outside of work or by a pre-existing condition, or injuries that are the result of the carelessness of the individual seeking benefits. In reality, cases of people “gaming” the system are rare — despite the pervasive negative stigma that this is the norm.
In addition, workers often fear reprisal from their employer for filing a workers’ compensation claim. What they don’t realize is that most states have enacted varying degrees of protection for workers to prevent them from being fired for filing a claim.
Take Colorado, for instance.
If you’ve been injured on the job in an “at will” employment state like Colorado, it’s technically legal for an employer to fire you during the process of a workers’ compensation claim. However, employers are NOT legally able to fire employees out of retaliation because of the claim. They must present valid reasons for the termination. (Editors’ Note: This is true in Nebraska was as well)
Another source of the negative stigma surrounding workers’ compensation is co-workers.
Other employees, perhaps influenced by their supervisor’s attitude, may feel jealous of an injured co-worker who is receiving pay and benefits without having to come to work. They may feel as though the injured worker is getting away with something. Why should they work hard for their paycheck while the so-called injured person stays home and gets paid for doing nothing?
Other co-workers may even feel resentful, believing the injured person could work at a lesser pace or easier job rather than take advantage of a program for which others must pay.
Unfortunately, many injured workers are reluctant to file for workers’ compensation benefits because they feel embarrassed and ashamed. They wonder what their co-workers might think.
Lastly, not only can the criticism of employers and co-workers make a claimant hesitate to file for workers’ compensation, but the injured person may have to overcome their own sense of pride. It’s important to understand that workers’ compensation isn’t charity or welfare, but a legitimate insurance program that’s meant to be used if needed.
If you don’t feel bad about using your auto insurance to pay for vehicle repairs after a crash or medical insurance to help pay for an annual physical, then you shouldn’t feel bad about utilizing workers’ compensation insurance.
It’s okay to ask for help when you need it.
Don’t Be Afraid to Consult a Workers’ Compensation Attorney
We think it’s past time people overcome the stigma associated with workers’ compensation.
If you or a loved one have been injured at work, you should know there’s nothing wrong or shameful about filing for workers’ compensation benefits. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Plenty of people with long and successful careers file workers’ compensation claims. Workers’ compensation is an important tool for injured individuals seeking recovery and who want to become a productive member of society again as soon as possible.
While we can’t change the minds of 1 in 3 Americans, we do understand what you’re going through and we can help you navigate the process swiftly and easily. Don’t let the false stigma and stereotype of workers’ compensation deter you from pursuing the benefits you rightfully deserve.
Take the first step today by contacting an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to talk about your case.