Is Worker Advocacy Really a Strategic Shift or Just a Passing Fad?

At NWCDC, panelists talked about establishing open communication with injured workers ... and keeping it. 
By: | November 6, 2019

Twenty years ago, no one talked about worker advocacy.

Employers had money on their minds. When someone was injured on the job, the goal of insurance companies was tailored to deny or not pay a claim.  

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Naturally, this attitude resulted in inherent distrust on both sides of the table; workers didn’t trust their insurers, and the physicians rehabilitating workers didn’t trust the insurance companies.

A sense of compassion was not present. Fingers were constantly being pointed. Thankfully, the need for humanity was recognized.

Are Advocacy Programs Worth It? Absolutely. 

Worker Advocacy is a buzz-worthy topic that was prominent at this year’s National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference and Expo® in Las Vegas because of it’s high price tag, convoluted definition, and severely understated importance to worker health.

But the trend is slowly but surely becoming an essential strategy amongst employers.

I think we’ve evolved as humans and an industry,” said Theresa Bartlett, senior vice president and medical officer, Sedgwick of the shifted focus to this issue. 

Bartlett was one of the panelists at Wednesday’s session, “The 64,000 Question – Do Advocacy Programs Really Work?”

Her co-panelists were Anas Al-Hamwi, senior director, Health & Safety and Injury Management, Walgreens and Dawn Watkins, director, Integrated Disability Management, Los Angeles Unified School District.

Together, they spoke on the importance of humanity, how to communicate and establish genuine trust and care with injured workers, and what helps litigation rates plummet.

Constant Improvements for Constant Results

Successful advocacy programs require consistent focus on company values.

“If there is absolutely no trust, how do you build credibility for your program?” asked Watkins. “It’s about honoring your commitments. You have to develop that reputation as the go-to ‘program person.’ “

Being that program person requires an intimate approach and an understanding that things that translate in the industry may not translate to workers.

“It can be difficult to communicate someone their rights. You need to communicate with injured workers in a way that makes the most sense.”

“We do things that are required by law without understanding why they are implemented,” said Bartlett of the need to develop an external understanding.

But First, What Is It?

In order for workers to understand their claims process, it’s important to understand what advocacy is in the first place.

Components of advocacy include absence management, short- and long-term disability, employee assistance program, operational functions, end-to-end processes and health care.

“We speak powerfully when we speak a numbers language,” said Al-Hamwi.

“Advocacy does not mean just a team talking to injured team members. Its how you do the process with your team and the approach you take. We need to connect with the health care system.”

In order to do so, the workers’ compensation team must understand the needs of workers, trust each other and insureds, be open to ideas, and provide all information despite data siloes.

Teach your attorneys about your complex compensation plans,” said Watkins about establishing open communication.

Answering obvious legal questions before they are asked by insureds is a way to avoid hassle on both ends of a claim.

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“When you have an oppurtunity to reach across the other side of the aisle, teach them.”

According to all panelists, the most consistent and common theme in your advocacy program should undoubtedly be your desire to improve. Constant improvement inevitably results in proper program models, employee satisfaction, lower litigation rates, and better financial outcomes and brand protection. 

As Watkins stated, “Employees come and go. Vendors come and go. It’s about continually refreshing the advocacy model.” &

Emily Spennato is a staff writer with Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]