By MELISSA TURLEY, a writer in the Washington bureau of cyberFEDS®, which is produced by LRP Publications, the parent company of Risk & Insurance®
CHICAGO---Sue Wetherington, president of G.S. & S and Associates, told attendees of the Annual Workers' Compensation in the Federal WorkplaceTM Conference that, to get the most for their money, agencies must utilize the skills of the existing, and sometimes forgotten, workforce--federal workers 'compensation claimants.
While many agencies need to acquire skills to get the job done, they don't necessarily need to hire more people.
"Agencies have injured workers with capabilities they might not even know about," she said. "Why not get something for their money and do the right thing by returning these folks to work?"
In some cases, one claim can cost agencies upward of $3 million. The key to "stop the bleeding," Wetherington said, is to look closely at illnesses and injuries to see where limited duty is possible. For example, some employees might be completely well physically, but they're out on workers' comp because of hearing loss. Those employees more than likely can come back to work at some capacity, she said.
And if the supervisor is reluctant to bring back employees who aren't 100 percent recovered, workers' comp specialists need to talk to HR about it.
"I can't imagine a situation where an agency doesn't want someone to come in and at least answer the phone and do filing," Wetherington said.
She recommends agencies "get in the trenches" by:
-- Look at continuation of pay. Specialists must ensure they're tracking COP hours effectively. The Federal Employees Compensation Act requires agencies to continue an employee's regular pay for a maximum of 45 calendar days. Agencies--not the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs--pay COP.
-- Convene FECA working groups. Teams of management officials, safety and occupational health representatives, and workers' compensation specialists can ensure safety practices and care for injured employees complies with federal workers' compensation law.
-- Form partnerships with Department of Labor district offices. A good relationship with claims examiners can help quicken the process. For example, if an employee declines a suitable job offer and the claim is bumped up to the district office director, there's a better chance that office will work faster to resolve the issue if they're familiar with the agency workers' comp team.
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Annual National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference®
November 18, 2009
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