4 Drivers Kohl’s Refined to Build an Award-Winning Workers’ Comp Program

Kohl’s Department Stores knew a reactive approach in claims management wouldn’t help them achieve their goals. So they got proactive.
By: | November 1, 2019

Voted as one of 2019’s World’s Most Ethical Companies, it’s no wonder the workers’ compensation team at Kohl’s Department Stores wanted their corporate responsibility to extend to their workers.

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“Kohl’s associates live out our values each and every day,” said Laurie Frey, senior manager, workers’ compensation, Kohl’s. “We put customers first and take a ‘yes we can’ approach to everything we do … we act with integrity.”

So when Frey and her team reviewed their workers’ comp program back in 2016, they realized there was work to be done in order to meet that same level of “yes we can.”

“We realized our claim duration and off-work time was not correlating with our values, and we owed it to our associates to fix this,” she said.

To do just that, the workers’ comp team focused on what was really holding them back: a reactive approach to claims management. They realized they needed a proactive approach that would not only help associates through their injuries from the start, but also assist in return-to-work and making certain each associate had a fully engaged role within Kohl’s upon their return.

Four areas were identified as potential drivers for this active approach: nurse triage and telepresence; wellness centers; a refresh to the RTW program; and aligning with the best claims practices available.

The results speak for themselves: In just three years, Kohl’s reduced losses by a significant amount. Pending claim counts, new claims and the total cost of risk for the workers’ compensation team decreased significantly year over year. Kohl’s has also engaged new partners, invested in new practices and strives to support its associates on every level.

“We saw an opportunity to bring in other internal partners across the organization and work together to create a better workers’ compensation program,” said Frey.

“Doing what was right for the company was top of mind. That meant determining solutions for our associates that were both helpful and cost effective.”

All together, the team’s efforts earned Kohl’s a 2019 Teddy Award.

1) Adding in Wellness Centers

Kohl’s has more than 1,100 locations across the U.S. and employs approximately 140,000 associates. For this retailer, advocating for its workers was paramount.

Laurie Frey, senior manager, workers’ compensation, Kohl’s Department Stores

The workers’ comp team knew it had to invest in programs that would keep the associates’ needs front-and-center throughout their employment with the company and any injuries that might arise. One way to do that was through the addition of wellness centers.

“Having wellness centers on site means our associates can be treated in a convenient manner before ever having a workers’ comp claim,” said Frey.

The workers’ comp team partnered with the HR department, establishing wellness centers within distribution buildings and credit and corporate locations. Associates, their spouses and their children all have free access to these centers and the opportunity to meet with a primary care physician. Frey added that one of the goals in having this kind of access to care is to prevent injury or illness.

“Things that can complicate a workers’ comp claim can be eliminated through routine visits to a primary care physician. Giving the associates the option of seeing someone right on site helps to keep our associates healthy and minimize injuries,” she said.

2) Getting Workers Immediately into a Nurse’s Care

The benefits don’t stop pre-injury, either. On the other end, “any associate injured at work has the ability to be seen immediately, on site, and without waiting in line at an urgent care center,” said Frey.

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As a next step in the process, nurse triage, said Frey, became the biggest driver for the team.

“We wanted associates to have access to immediate medical resources within minutes of their injury,” she explained.

Injured associates are put in touch with a registered nurse from the Kohl’s nurse triage program within minutes of injury.

Frey said this mandatory incident reporting took the onus of making medical decisions off of team leadership and instead placed it in the hands of medical professionals. Additionally, associates have the ability to connect with the Kohl’s nursing partner throughout the claim, whether that be over the phone or through video chat with a provider.

“Not only has this improved our results, this is the piece that most impacts our associates and provides them with the best possible resources at the outset of a claim,” Frey said.

“Moreover, the nurses in the program play a large role in our return-to-work process.”

3) Revamping Return-to-Work

The return-to-work program at Kohl’s was proving successful, but the team wanted more.

“We have always had a successful transitional work program,” Frey said. “My team wanted to enhance the program to not just get associates back into their locations, but to get them closer to a full-duty position sooner.”

What makes the changes stand out is Kohl’s perseverance to accommodate every injured associate regardless of possible restrictions. For the workers’ comp team, building a sense of goodwill with the associate drove change.

They aligned RTW with the process used on the non-occupational health side, which reduced the need for temporary and transitional tasks, and instead, gets associates back to their roles faster. In fact, the team has seen a decrease in temporary total disability days because of their efforts.

“The associate returns to work, returns to his or her team and is able to continue to feel like a part of the Kohl’s family, which encourages individuals to want to return,” said Frey.

4) Finding the Best Practices in Claims Handling 

Working with the associates pre- and post-claim was a successful start for the workers’ comp team. But they also agreed something had to be done on the back end of the claims process in order to make lasting change.

Kohl’s workers’ compensation team, from left to right: Matt Fredrick, Laurie Frey, Melissa Marks, Helen Collins, Lee Zubek and Nick Chorak

Frey said the team wanted to find new solutions to resolve claims more efficiently to help associates put the injury behind them. Kohl’s partnered with its TPA and brokerage to complete semi-annual claims reviews.

“The initiative has enabled us to put the right adjuster on a case at the right time, which makes sure the associates [of Kohl’s] get the right care and claims are handled in a timely manner,” explained Kohl’s broker.

Over the last three years, Kohl’s broker said she has seen the program evolve from a reactive take on handling claims to a more proactive role, where the team at Kohl’s is helping their associates get the care and treatments they need. “They’re engaged with the process from the start. It’s really amazing the drive that they have for their associates and for each claim.”

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Part of the claims process now involves what Frey described as a quarterly claim “blitz.”

“These ‘blitzes’ are a fun way for the team to work with their examiners to focus on particular claims, whether it’s based on the date of injury, location or other feature,” she explained.

“The team works with their individual examiners over the course of the quarter to see how many claims can be resolved in the best way for the associate and company. It is also a good way for the team to make sure the claims are on track to return associates to work and a fun way for the team to be more engaged.”

Acting with Integrity

According to Kohl’s broker, Frey has created an environment that not only supports the needs of the associates, but also enables her team to continue to innovate.

“It’s not about the results with Kohl’s; it’s about continuing to challenge themselves on ways to make the process better,” the broker said. “They have already had these amazing results, but they want to do more. You don’t see that level of integrity and dedication in every organization.”

“Knowing that your program is never perfect and being open to learning more about how you can help your company through your program can give you the opportunity to change and improve,” added Frey. &

Autumn Heisler is the digital producer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

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