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Advocacy is a buzz word in the workers compensation sector, but this approach in dealing with injured workers can complicate a claim if communications are misinterpreted.
Advocacy is generally defined as the approach by which the claims manager, the insurer and the employer work in concert to advocate for an injured worker, helping to inform and facilitate what can be deemed a confusing and scary process, experts say.
“It’s not so much advocacy as it is treating people with urgency, empathy, understanding and care,” said Eddy Canavan, Orange, California-based vice president of the workers compensation practice and compliance for Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc.
But the process can go awry if the communication doesn’t involve sensitivity or good listening skills, he said.
The problem is that the approach, if translated into constant communication with an injured worker, can derail the objective by giving the appearance of “hounding” the injured worker, said Michael Stack, Kennebunkport, Maine-based principal for Amaxx L.L.C., which provides workers compensation consulting.
“Too much contact, asking about the injury too often” can establish an environment of mistrust and leave an employee thinking his or her employer doesn’t believe them, he said.
“That all stems from the intent of communication,” said Mr. Stack.
“The advocacy trend is fantastic, but when it is viewed as just a technique, it doesn’t work. Some are good at it; others are not.” “I do think that there’s a fine line (in balancing) claim management with unintended consequences,” said Bonnie Kristan, shareholder in the Cleveland, Ohio, office of Littler Mendelson P.C.
“That’s hard because it’s personal to the individual; some claimants might feel ‘my employer cares about me, they really want me to come back’ or, ‘oh, they are just trying to trick me or find a way that they won’t have to pay me.’ It can go wrong and unfortunately there is not a black-and-white rule on how much (contact) is too much. It’s more of a people skill,” Ms. Kristan said.
A negative relationship with a supervisor can be detrimental to a workers compensation claim, even before an injury occurs.