Us vs. Them

 In Workers Comp

As a Past-President of a local Chamber of Commerce, I often have heard employers say:

“Employees want a paycheck but they don’t want to work. Injured workers abuse the system as much as they can, taking advantage of loopholes to get Workers’ Comp benefits. The California Workers’ Compensation system is skewed too far in favor of the allegedly injured workers. The system unfairly favors the employee.”

These ideas are not new. In 2005 and again in 2013, the California legislature, in response to such complaints from employers and their insurance companies, reformed the California Workers’ Compensation laws. The most recent reform in 2013 took away an injured worker’s right to appeal the denial of medical care to a judge. In other words, the employer’s insurance company can cut off a needy injured worker who has been receiving medical care in the past, i.e.; medications and treatment. The injured worker has no right to appeal that (IMR: Independent Medical Review) denial by going to court and asking a judge for relief.

How can our Workers’ Compensation system be both skewed in favor of injured workers yet so biased against them that it takes away their basic fundamental due process rights? How can our employers believe what they say (and they truly believe) when injured workers are treated so badly by the Workers’ Compensation system? How did we become so polarized?

Here are a few ideas:

First, neither side is willing or able to walk in the shoes of the other. To an employer, labor is nothing more than a component of whatever the employer creates, be it services, goods, or both. However, the employer must understand they are dealing with a human being who is sometimes seriously injured, not just a component. Sometimes injured workers have a limited ability to communicate or cope with their new medical condition. The employer’s statements above are clearly not thoughtful or even slightly humanly compassionate.

Second, injured workers do not understand that they are a component of their employer’s production. Injured workers do not understand that Workers’ Compensation laws are different than tort or personal injury laws. Thus, we see injured workers fail to comply with the legal mandates of Workers’ Compensation laws.

Third, virtually every employer has an insurance company. The insurance companies’ goal is to maximize profits The insurance companies foster a “Us vs. Them” environment that does no one but insurance company stockholders good. On top of that, insurance companies throw outrageous and unbelievable amounts of money into the legislative process to make their profit-making easier.

When the Legislature changes the Workers’ Compensation laws, they should take into consideration that the complaints of the employers and the injured workers are deaf to the other side. That is why there are often negative unintended consequences of many of the legislative changes.