Column: Workers' Comp

Advocacy at the Forefront

By: | November 2, 2016 • 2 min read

Roberto Ceniceros is senior editor at Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. He can be reached at [email protected] Read more of his columns and features.

Kudos to employers who are building injured-worker advocacy programs.

They recognize that employees thrust into complex workers’ comp systems too often experience fear, uncertainty and frustration — emotions that deter optimal claims resolutions.

It’s refreshing to hear success stories about employer advocacy efforts, particularly because the workers’ comp blogosphere has been clogged with stories lamenting the dysfunction of the workers’ comp system.

But by devoting resources to advocacy, employers are taking their best shot at providing workers with a better claims experience, rather than just fretting about the system’s problems and failures.

The good news is that employers adopting advocacy are applying real creativity and deriving better outcomes from their efforts.

The fact is that advocacy, a.k.a. getting injured workers the appropriate attention they deserve, should have been work comp’s prime directive all along. Escalating complexity has obscured that over time.

The good news is that employers adopting advocacy are applying real creativity and deriving better outcomes from their efforts.


Target, a 2016 Teddy Award winner, for example, experienced lower litigation rates and decreased claims costs when it built an advocacy program.

Target, which already had a strong workers’ comp program, enhanced its offerings with additional advocacy efforts that helped solidify a caring culture as a hallmark of the program.

At this year’s National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo, a panel of employer speakers will explain how their advocacy efforts help keep injured workers’ welfare a top priority.

There are good reasons why employers are reporting success from advocacy efforts that include making sure claimants understand how the system works and what resources are available to them.

Consider that a 2014 Workers’ Compensation Research Institute study found trust in the workplace an important predictor of claims outcomes. To reach its conclusion, WCRI evaluated workplace trust by asking claimants whether they feared being fired post-injury.

Fear of being fired led to a four-week increase in disability durations, WCRI found.

And fear is just one among several emotions that can push injured workers to lose faith in their medical care, grow frustrated with their claims adjusters and seek attorney representation.

But helping injured workers understand that their employers are engaged in their care and will provide any hand-holding needed to navigate workers’ comp systems is bound to improve outcomes.

Hats off to those employers who understand this and are putting great effort into helping alleviate their workers’ concerns. &

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]