(This is Part II of What Every Employer Should Know About Workers’ Compensation)
Despite the best safety efforts, workers’ compensation claims happen. The unnecessary lag time between the date of a work-related injury and date of claim filing can mean the difference between a medical-only claim and a lost-time claim costing tens of thousands of dollars. A lag of more than 10 days is enough to make a claim unnecessarily expensive and can affect how soon employees return to work.
Too often, employees do not know what to do if they sustain a work-related injury or an occupational illness. An effective employee communication plan can help educate employees and reduce the intimidation factor of filing a claim. Besides encouraging immediate claim filing, it should outline protocol and provide answers to often-asked questions.
Employer protocols will differ based on the company’s philosophy and culture. How employers insure their workers’ compensation obligation is another factor. Employers with self-insured, self-administered workers’ compensation programs or an on-site medical staff will have different approaches than those who rely solely on their insurance company to handle and pay claims.
The key message of the communication plan should provide information on who to contact file a claim and answer questions. Ideally, this would be the outgrowth of an overall message that the employer cares about its employees.
Posting a sign in the lunchroom is not enough.
When developing messages and support content, it helps to know the experiences of past claims and how they were filed and handled to discourage future miss steps. Perhaps conduct an employee survey to learn what employees know about workers’ compensation. Employees might think they should rely on an attorney, a union representative or their doctor to file a claim.
Once the main message is established, identify the most effective ways to reach employees. This requires knowing and understanding them as an audience. (For more information, please click here for my blog on knowing your audience and here for customer empathy.) Do not be afraid to ask employees how they like to receive communication. Text messages are often the best bet for Generation X and younger. Old-fashioned table tents at the company cafeteria are still effective.
Generally, employee communication plans should be occasionally audited to ensure messages are effectively reaching employees. There is a tendency, for example, to publish newsletter articles when a list of bullet points is more effective. Articles should be limited to stories that will truly interest employees. Human-interest articles, such as employee testimonials of the company’s workers’ compensation support, or interesting workers’ compensation statistics, should draw interest.
To generate excitement, invite employees to develop a slogan or offer creative ways to get the message out. I recommend establishing a workers’ compensation hotline. This directly gets the worker to the right place and avoids the discomfort some employees might feel about telling their supervisors.
Launch the messages in exciting and creative ways, such as at the company picnic or Christmas party can also reach families with the message. Skits and videos can humorously make the message more memorable.
Since people need to hear a message several times before it becomes knowledge, reinforcement is just as important. Posting a sign in the lunchroom is not enough. Team meetings, occasional email messages and newsletter “ads” can reinforce the message. Finally, offering giveaways that employees can actually use, as opposed to landfill fillers, can help reinforce the message. (Click here to read my blog on giveaways.)
With concerted effort, employers can make a significant difference to save money and help workers get the right medical treatment as soon as possible to encourage healing and return to work.