My wife and I purchased a new Christmas tree a couple weekends ago at our local Hobby Lobby (that is where Florida Xmas trees are grown – in retail locations that had them “grown” in China). As we waited for the tree to be brought up front from the storeroom, I watched the employees, busily serving customers and performing the various functions of their jobs. I thought of these employees, covered by the Florida workers' compensation system, and then of their counterparts in Oklahoma, as well as how those employees could potentially find themselves in an entirely different system, devoid of the claims processing transparency traditional comp systems employ. 

To be very clear, Hobby Lobby is not an Opt Out employer in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma based company, to the best of my knowledge, actively supported reforms in that state and is closely watching Opt Out to see if it should be an option for them. The thought that crossed my mind while standing in their Sarasota facility will be applicable to them if they choose to go that route, as it is currently applicable to companies that have already made the move; companies like The Home Depot, Lowes, Macy's Nordstroms, and more.

The thought was simply this; Opt Out proponents give much emphasis to the importance of communication when they discuss the “success” of Opt Out. Employees are given written copies of the “plan”, in “language they can understand”. There are meetings, phone calls, and numerous efforts made to communicate to the employees what their rights and responsibilities are under the alternative plan their employer is adopting. Much weight is given to the importance of communication when Opt Out promoters give the pitch to support their cause.  

They are completely right to do so. Clear communication is essential for the successful utilization of any program. 

But my question is this – why is extended and complete communication from employers solely contained to the realm of Opt Out? Why aren't employees in Florida, California, New York and elsewhere entitled to full and thorough communication about their rights and responsibilities under their respective systems? Why is the push for that limited to employees subjected to alternative plans?

I have long recognized and emphasized that many employees are ignorant not only of what workers' compensation should provide, they are generally clueless about what it actually is and how it operates. It is an ignorance that costs both them and their employer in the form of increased injury duration and decreased quality of outcome. Employers, as a rule, generally do not communicate information about workers' comp freely and in a manner their workforce can relate with. If your company does so, kudos to them. It is in a special class that deserves our recognition and respect.

My intent is not to pick on Hobby Lobby; I don't know their processes, and they may do things much differently than the relative norm I convey here. Their store just happened to be where I was standing when this realization hit me. Should they someday move to opt out of Oklahoma workers' comp (if proponents are being honest with us), they will have meetings. They will share the plan. They will answer questions and educate employees. And as far as I know, they will have no such effort in any of the other states where they do business. The Florida employees I watched efficiently toiling away will not have meetings to discuss the program that covers them. They will not be informed of their rights and responsibilities. They will not be the recipient of this critical communication; the ingredient that Opt Out supporters tell us is so vital to their effort. This is not a criticism, but simply a recognition that for most companies the daily protection afforded by traditional comp is “business as usual”, and we do not give it the educational attention it truly requires.

My opposition to the secretive and opaque world of Oklahoma style Opt Out is well known. Still, one thing they have right is that communication is key. It is critical, and should not simply be the domain of employers opting out of comp. I maintain that workers' compensation itself could be improved upon with that same communicative effort. Employees who understand benefits and limitations of the workers' compensation system will make better decisions and have a better chance of being a partner in their own recovery. 

Employers across the country might just find they would be as well off if they stopped worrying about opting out of comp, and spent more effort opting in to effective communication.


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