Psychosocial Factors in Returning to Work

We all know that persistent pain from work-related injuries affects an employee’s attitude about returning to work. Unfortunately, the psychological ramifications of chronic pain can also result in prolonged legal action, increasing legal fees, large settlements, and ultimately, failure of the employee to return to work. So, how can we prevent chronic pain from escalating workers’ compensation costs?

In a study titled Integrating Psychosocial and Behavioral Interventions to Achieve Optimal Rehabilitation Outcomes that appeared in the December 2005 issue of the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, researchers studied the psychological factors that impede an injured worker in returning to work:

  • Obsession – The persistence of the pain becomes so overwhelming that it is the only thing the employee thinks about.
  • Fear – The employee fears the possibility of becoming re-injured, which increases their current pain. As a result, the possibility of another injury and resulting disability cripples the employee psychologically and causes them to put off returning to work.
  • Perception – When an injured worker has been on disability leave for an extended period, they may feel that co-workers believe they are faking their pain. This causes uneasiness about returning to work and facing co-workers.
  • Self-fulfillment – If an employee believes they are not physically capable of returning to work because of the severity of their pain, this can lead to a failed transition back to the workplace.

In addition to internal factors, researchers noted that there are external psychosocial issues that can impact the injured employee’s desire to return to work.

  • Co-worker support – When injured employees feel there is a lack of social support to help them transition back, they delay returning to work.
  • Job stress – Employees who believe that the stress level at work will intensify their physical pain tend to remain on disability.
  • Workplace attitudes toward disability – Injured employees who feel that the general attitude about disability is that it is a way to “milk the system” sometimes delay returning.

The researchers concluded that understanding the significance of the internal and external psychosocial factors on the employee’s successful transition back into the workplace is critical to the design of return to work programs. First-line supervisors should be trained to detect if an employee is experiencing any of the psychosocial risk factors, as well as how to eliminate or lessen the impact of those risk factors.

Beware of Deer when Driving

Before heading out for a week-end trip on beautiful, crisp autumn day, be aware that October, November, and December are the three months with the highest number of deer-vehicle collisions. These are the months when deer are both migrating and mating, making them more active and more likely to end up in the path of a coming car. Additionally, deer populations are getting larger, while at the same time, their habitats are being displaced by urban sprawl.

An October 2010 press release from State Farm notes that while the number of miles driven by motorists in the U.S. over the past five years has increased by only 2 percent, the number of deer-vehicle collisions has grown by ten times that amount. Based on claims data, it is estimated that 2.3 million deer-vehicle collisions have occurred in the U.S. during the two year period ending June 30, 2010. That figure represents 21.1 percent more accidents involving deer than 5 years earlier.

To put the numbers into perspective, during the time it takes you to read this paragraph, a collision between a deer and vehicle will likely have taken place. (They are most likely during the last three months of the year and in the early evening.)

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, deer-vehicle collisions in the U.S. cause approximately 200 fatalities each year, with an average damage to a car or truck around $3,100. And the accidents have a geographic component as well, with some states being far more dangerous than others when it comes to deer.

By evaluating the overall number of reported collisions in each state and weighing them by the total number of licensed drivers, a few states clearly led the list of deer-vehicle collisions. For the fourth year in a row, West Virginia tops the list of states where a driver is most likely to collide with a deer. The odds: 1 in 42.  Iowa is second on the list at 1 in 67, following by Michigan at 1 in 70. The state in which deer-vehicle collisions are least likely is still Hawaii, with the odds of deer strike being 1 in 13,011.

 Avoid Deer Collisions while Driving

If you are driving through a high-risk state, there are steps you can take to minimize your risk:

* Be aware of posted deer crossing signs. These are placed in active deer crossing areas.

* Remember that deer are most active between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.

* Use high beam headlamps as much as possible at night to illuminate the areas from which deer will enter roadways.

* Be aware that deer generally travel in herds Д± if you see one, there is a strong possibility others are nearby.

* Do not rely on car-mounted deer whistles.

* If a deer collision seems inevitable, trying to swerve out of the way could make you lose control of your vehicle or move into the path of an oncoming car

 Where does your state rank?

 Here’s a list, from the highest risk to the least:

West Virginia: 1 in 41.91

Iowa: 1 in 67.09

Michigan: 1 in 70.36

South Dakota: 1 in 75.81

Montana: 1 in 82.45

Pennsylvania: 1 in 84.63

North Dakota: 1 in 91.11

Wisconsin: 1 in 95.68

Arkansas: 1 in 99.24

Minnesota: 1 in 99.51

Virginia:1 in 101.97

Nebraska: 1 in 110.60

Wyoming: 1 in 114.49

Maryland: 1 in 118.75

Ohio: 1 in 121.09

Mississippi: 1 in 131.35

Missouri: 1 in 133.88

South Carolina: 1 in 137.21

New York: 1 in 145.45

North Carolina: 1 in 147.27

Delaware: 1 in 149.86

Georgia: 1 in 149.88

Alabama: 1 in 150.32

Indiana: 1 in 159.61

Kentucky: 1 in 161.12

Vermont: 1 in 170.28

Kansas: 1 in 172.12

New Jersey: 1 in 182.75

Maine: 1 in 215.48

Tennessee: 1 in 217.83

Illinois: 1 in 218.45

Oklahoma: 1 in 245.35

Idaho: 1 in 249.18

Utah: 1 in 266.43

Oregon: 1 in 286.53

Louisiana: 1 in 288.45

New Hampshire: 1 in 299.49

Connecticut: 1 in 320.37

Rhode Island: 1 in 345.34

Colorado: 1 in 365.72

Alaska: 1 in 385.27

Texas: 1 in 399.97

Massachusetts: 1 in 452.34

Washington: 1 in 474.46

New Mexico: 1 in 606.78

District of Columbia: 1 in 747.47

Florida: 1 in 971.47

California: 1 in 1045.61

Nevada: 1 in 1,488.08

Arizona: 1 in 1,788.47

Hawaii: 1 in 13,011.28

Proper Treatment of Injured Employees Is an Important Element of Successful Return-to-Work Programs

In a study titled It Pays To Be Nice: Employer-Worker Relationships and the Management of Back Pain Claims, published in the February 2007 edition of The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Richard J. Butler PhD; William G. Johnson PhD; and Pierre Cote DC PhD discovered that workers’ satisfaction with their employer’s treatment of their disability claim is more important in explaining successful return-to-work outcomes than satisfaction with health care providers or expectations about recovery. The researchers added that dissatisfied workers have worse return-to-work outcomes because they are more likely to have lost time claims and multiple instances of joblessness.

The study found that the 64 percent of workers polled who were satisfied with their employer’s response had a medical claim only, while the 56 percent polled who expressed dissatisfaction had lost time claims in addition to the medical claims. For those workers who do have at least one lost time claim there is a lower likelihood of frequent injury-related absences. Only 32 percent of those satisfied with their employer’s response had multiple episodes of injury related absences, as opposed to 58 percent of those dissatisfied with their employer’s response who had multiple absences.

Maintaining a proper attitude toward injured workers is often a Catch-22 in most organizations. On the one hand, efforts to retain a skilled workforce are important because they give workers a greater sense of security, which is typically met with greater commitment to the success of the organization. However, there are concerns about how productivity is affected by reintegrating workers who are not yet fully recovered. That concern can result in instances where injured workers are treated with suspicion, and the validity of their claims questioned.

The pressure created by an injured worker on productivity and workflow is immediate. Although maintaining a good relationship with the injured employee will ultimately benefit the company, it can be difficult to keep this long-term goal in mind with the imminent demands of production looming. What usually happens is that the company ends up conveying to the injured worker that maximizing profits takes priority over their well-being.

This type of response on the part of their employers can alienate injured workers, and typically results in the worker extending the duration of the absence, or having more frequent reoccurrences. The overall outcome is increased workers’ compensation costs, not to mention the costs to train a new employee.

To combat the problem of alienation, organizations need to train first line supervisors in the empathetic treatment of injured workers. Supervisors need to learn how to express to the injured worker how much they are missed without making it seem as though their absence is only regarded for its economic impact. If the worker truly feels that they are needed in the workplace because they are a vital part of the team, and not because someone else has to cover for them, they will be motivated to return as soon as possible. The best way to give the injured worker this sense of belonging is through frequent expressions of sincere regard and regular communication that keeps them in the loop. If the return-to-work program incorporates these two elements, it will accomplish the goal of reducing the probability of lengthy lost time.

Does My Insurance Cover My Gift Cards?

What do you buy for that special someone when you can’t think of anything else? With increasing frequency these days, the answer is a gift card. The National Retail Federation has reported that Americans spend more than $26 billion on gift cards during the holiday shopping season, and the average consumer spends more than $120. The reasons are simple — gift cards are easy to purchase, never come in the wrong size or color, and the recipient is guaranteed to get an item she wants with it. Like anything else of value, however, they come with risks. Some have fees attached to them, and some expire if the owner does not use them within a certain period of time. They are also vulnerable to theft, disappearance and destruction. If your gift cards are stolen during a burglary or burn up during a house fire, will a homeowner’s insurance policy reimburse you for them?

The standard homeowner’s policy provides partial coverage for gift cards. It limits coverage for money, bank notes, coins, “stored value cards,” smart cards and similar cash-like items to $200 for all property in that category. Also, the policy covers personal property, including cash and similar items, only for a list of 16 causes of loss. The list includes such causes as fire or lighting, windstorm or hail, explosion, smoke, vehicles, theft, vandalism, weight of ice, snow or sleet, and others. The policy provides no coverage if a cause that is not on the list is responsible for the loss.

A few examples will illustrate how this works.

Joe receives a $50 gift card for an electronics store for his birthday and leaves it in his living room with his other gifts while he goes out to celebrate. Someone breaks into his home and makes off with all the gifts. His policy will provide full coverage for the clothes, DVD’s and workout gear he got and the full $50 for the gift card. This is because the value of everything in that category of cash-like items was less than $200.

Joe’s family can’t think of a thing to get him for Christmas, so he gets a sweater and a pile of gift cards to various electronics and sporting goods stores and coffee shops. He feigns enthusiasm for the cards and leaves everything under the tree when he goes out to visit friends that night. Unfortunately, he has forgotten to water the tree for two weeks; an exposed tree light wire ignites it. The resulting fire cooks his downstairs. The policy covers the damage to the home and contents, but it pays only the $200 maximum for the $300 worth of gift cards.

Next year, Joe’s gift cards survive Christmas Day and, because he enjoys being stuck in traffic jams, he goes to the mall the day after the holiday to use them. However, when he steps up to a cash register with a Blu-Ray player under his arm, he cannot find any of the cards. He searches his car, every pocket in his coat, pants and shirt, and every place he went to in the mall, but he never finds the missing cards. Unfortunately, because disappearance is not one of the causes of loss listed on the policy, his insurance will not pay anything for them.

Some insurance companies may offer to increase the amount of coverage and the covered causes of loss for these items, so check with a professional insurance agent to identify those companies and find out the cost. For a small amount of money, you may be able protect yourself against the loss of these common gifts.

Risky Business: Why You Need Employment Practices Liability Insurance

Running a company can be a risky business. According to the Department of Labor, the amount workers received from employers due to discrimination claims rose nearly 78% between 2001 and 2006. A total of more than $51 million dollars was awarded to employees who pursued claims in federal court.

You may have seen news stories about huge jury awards in workplace discrimination claims. It happens every day, and every business is vulnerable. Here are just a few examples:

·   Thirteen current or former computer company employees claimed employment discrimination on the basis of race and national origin. Employees claimed they were treated unequally and subjected to a hostile work environment. Amount of settlement: $635,000 (salary increases, enhanced promotional activities).

·   Eight employees filed a class action suit alleging sex discrimination by their employer in the handling of wages, promotions, pregnancy leaves and other conditions of employment. Amount of settlement: $600,000 (plus $5 million in legal fees).

·   A senior regional attorney sued a securities dealer claiming age discrimination and retaliation. He claimed he was unfairly terminated for advice he gave to a co-worker regarding his employment rights. Amount of verdict: $443,000.

All businesses are at risk from issues related to employment practices. It can come up during hiring situations if you don’t hire someone who then assumes you were discriminating. It can happen if you terminate an employee who then decides he or she was treated unfairly. Employment-related lawsuits are filed every single day, and up to half of all businesses will face a lawsuit at some point. Is your business prepared?

How can you protect your business?

As an employer, you do everything you can to treat your employees fairly. However, you can be held liable for the actions of your other employees or even vendors and customers. And with new employment-related regulations being added to the books frequently, it can be difficult to understand exactly what you are expected to do.

It’s important to make sure you remain in compliance with laws governing treatment of employees. But there’s an added layer of protection you can obtain: employment practices liability insurance, or EPLI.

What EPLI covers

Employment practices liability insurance can protect your business against claims made by potential hires, employees currently on your payroll and terminated employees. With a good EPLI policy, your company is protected against claims of:

·   Wrongful termination

·   Employment-related emotional distress and invasion of privacy

·   Defamation

·   Retaliatory/constructive discharge

·   Sexual harassment and discrimination

·   Workplace torts such as slander

EPLI coverage generally includes the cost to defend against the charges plus any damages you are ordered to pay. Depending on your business needs, it might make sense to purchase EPLI coverage as part of your company officers’ liability insurance since company officials can be named in lawsuits against the business.

Learn more about EPLI

Your business insurance agent can answer your questions about EPLI and recommend the coverage that is right for you. Your agent can also discuss how employment-related lawsuits can affect your business by assessing the risk typically associated with your industry.

Remember, employment-related claims can affect businesses of all types. Even if you are just starting out, you could be the subject of a discrimination suit if someone you interview but fail to hire feels that he or she was treated unfairly. And even if you do everything right and comply with all federal, state and local regulations, you can still be held liable for the actions of your employees, vendors or customers. EPLI can provide much-needed protection – and welcome peace of mind.

How to Stay Safe during Vehicle Trouble on the Roadway

As far as vehicle trouble goes, personal safety must remain the primary concern when your car breaks down away from home. In such a stressful and helpless time, it’s easy to embrace a stranger as a Good Samaritan. However, that isn’t always the case. One well-documented example of stranger danger is when Bill Cosby’s son, Ennis Cosby, had a flat tire on Interstate 405. After pulling his Mercedes over to change the flat, he was approached by a stranger that he assumed was approaching with an intent to help him. Instead, the stranger demanded money from Ennis, and then shot him in the head and fled.

The above tragedy should serve as a reminder that, no matter what the circumstances, personal safety must be forefront. Here are some safety tips for vehicle trouble away on the roadway:

Remember to always travel with a fully charged cell phone, especially if traveling long distances or in an unreliable vehicle. Even if your vehicle has an emergency system, such as OnStar, it’s prudent to travel with a cellphone to alert family or friends that you’ve had vehicle trouble.

Never exit, examine the damage, or attempt any vehicle repair on the side of a roadway with a high traffic volume or traffic traveling at high speeds. Whatever the damage, it isn’t worth the risk of being struck by a passing vehicle.

If possible, move the vehicle to an area away from the roadway before getting out. When a vehicle isn’t drivable, lock the doors and call for help.

If another driver is involved, such as in a vehicle accident, motion for the other driver to accompany you to a safer spot before calling the authorities or exchanging personal information. When possible, try to find an area that isn’t busy with traffic, but that is still populated.

Turn on the hazard lights to alert other drivers that you have a problem. If the car is in a safe place, you may exit the vehicle to further mark the vehicle location and alert other drivers to a motionless vehicle with reflecting triangles or roadside flares.

It might damage the rim, but go ahead and drive the vehicle to a safe location before trying to change a flat tire. Any damage to the tire or rim can be fixed, whereas the probability of you being fixed after a high speed car strikes you isn’t so good.

In the event that a stranger approaches or offers assistance, return to safety of your vehicle. Don’t roll the window down or exit the vehicle. If you don’t personally know the person, yell to them that you have assistance coming and politely refuse their assistance.

Be Proactive to Minimize Risk of Employment-Related Lawsuits

If you own a business, the last thing you want to face is a lawsuit filed by a current or former employee. In addition to the obvious financial risk involved in defending a case, a lawsuit can result in lower employee morale and a damaged reputation in the community. Even if you win your case, you’ll lose time and money in the process.

For these and many other reasons, it’s a good idea to be proactive about avoiding employment-related lawsuits. How do you do it? A good approach is to familiarize yourself with situations that can prompt employees to file suit. When you understand the common legal pitfalls, you’ll be in a better position to avoid them and protect your business.

Understanding why employees sue

If you’re like most employers, you try to treat your employees fairly. But complicated situations can arise. And remember, your perceptions may not match your employees’. Here are some issues that can result in employment-related litigation:

  • Employees feel they have no voice: If you provide employees with a way to express opinions or address problems, you’ll generally have more motivated employees and may also reduce exposure to lawsuits.
  • Employees aren’t in the loop: If your business is going through changes, it’s a good idea to keep employees in the loop. Otherwise, their expectations may not match future business plans, which can result in hard feelings.
  • Managers don’t understand regulations: There are hundreds of employment-related regulations governing the relationship between employers and employees. Make sure you understand them and abide by them.
  • Employees are dissatisfied: When employees are unhappy, they aren’t as productive, and they may also be more likely to resort to litigation to express their unhappiness. Good morale can reduce exposure to litigation and improve business performance.

Avoiding situations that may create a lawsuit

Even employers with the best intentions can make mistakes that result in legal action. There are many regulations that can lead to legal pitfalls, especially in the areas of hiring, managing and firing employees. Employment-related regulations are not only numerous, they change from time to time, so keeping up with them can be challenging, but it’s vitally important. Here are some of the situations you should be aware of as an employer:

  • Promotion opportunities: Be sensitive to employee perceptions when you reward good performance or hold employees accountable for short-comings. If a court finds you created barriers to advancement for a protected class of employees, you could be held liable.
  • Compensation issues: Employee wage and hour regulations can be complex. Make sure you understand them and follow them to the letter. If you’re unsure, it’s a good idea to seek expert advice.
  • Harassment and discrimination: Employers have a responsibility to ensure a harassment and discrimination-free work environment. A sound harassment and discrimination prevention policy is essential.
  • Accommodation issues: Employees or potential hires who are disabled or who have accommodation needs due to religion are a protected class. It’s important to understand the regulations around accommodation.
  • Leaves of absence: Employers in certain locations and those who employee more than a specific number of employees should make sure they comply with state, local and federal regulations on leaves of absence.

How you can reduce legal exposure for your business

We’ve reviewed why employees might sue and some of the reasons employers get into trouble. The next step is to formulate a strategy to reduce risk for your business. A good first step is to formalize a method to address conflicts. If you have an employee handbook, outlining a way to address problems at work as a policy is a good idea. Another effective step is to implement harassment and discrimination prevention policies and outline how incidents will be addressed.

Taking steps to reduce your exposure to employment-related lawsuits takes some time and effort, but in the long run, it’s worth the effort. Not only will these steps help you stay out of court, you’ll improve morale at your company.

What to Expect during Your Condominium Coverage Checkup

Due to the fact that condominium coverage must be properly coordinated with the condominium association’s master policy, making sure that you have the proper amount of insurance on your condo is often much more difficult than run-of-the-mill coverage on a single-family dwelling. In order to avoid catastrophe, you should do a routine periodic condominium coverage checkup with your insurance agent.

At this time your agent will look for ways to ensure that you avoid any substantial coverage gaps and improve your coverage protection where needed. Here are some key points about what to expect during your condominium coverage checkup:

* Before visiting your insurance agent, ask your condo association for a copy of the declaration document that indicates the coverage you (the unit-owner) should be insuring yourself.

* You should help your insurance agent evaluate the appropriate property insurance limit for your specific condo. If you’ve done remodeling work, for example, then your unit-owner policy dwelling limits may not be sufficient and any damage incurred to your updates wouldn’t be covered under your master policy.

* The chance of assessments (from the association to you) in order to reimburse any deductibles the association incurs from a loss covered by the master policy is also an important consideration. This is a situation that can be very problematic for you if the assessment is from high property deductibles within the condo association’s master policy. The amount of the deductible can be found in the declaration document mentioned above. Most policies usually provide a limited amount of coverage for the assessment. If this is your case and there’s a possibility that you’ll be assessed over the assessment coverage limit, then you can probably increase that amount of coverage for your assessment.

* Your insurance agent will look for coverage gaps in the perils covered under your unit-owner policy and help you decide if the perils should be expanded.

* One last important element to review under your unit-owner policy is your personal property or content limit. Inform your agent of all big-ticket purchases that you’ve made since your last review, as your limit may need to be increased to provide adequate coverage.