It could be called a very expensive lesson, even though the retail value was just 92 cents. And while it is an unfortunate lesson to learn, it does accentuate one part of the claims management process that we do not often discuss. The lesson delivered by this postal service experience is reason to remind all injured workers that they have responsibilities in the workers' compensation process.
LexisNexis Editor, Author and Blogger Thomas Robinson published an article last week describing the case of a Missouri injured worker whose appeal was denied because it was found to be not filed timely. The tardiness was not for lack of effort on the part of said injured worker, but rather a lack of proper postage. Her initial request for appeal, “which had a private postage meter time date one day prior to the expiration of the 30-day period”, was returned to her for lack of adequate remuneration. The second envelope containing the request for appeal arrived two weeks after the 30 day appeal period had expired.
What struck me from Robinson's recounting was that, in court, the injured worker argued that the appeal had been filed in a timely manner, “but refused because the Commission refused to pay $.92 in additional postal charges.” The court rejected that argument, citing Missouri law that states proof of mailing included a requirement for adequate postage. In typical legal parlance it is a rather detailed and meticulous review, but it could have easily been summed up with the now politically incorrect phrase, “No tickee, no laundry”.
This was not the fault of the US Postal Service. Nor was it the fault of the Missouri Commission. This was simply the responsibility of a single person to assure that proper postage was affixed to the parcel she was mailing. I find the contention that the Missouri Commission somehow “refused” to pay the 92 cents in order to receive her appeal ludicrous. However, as I have earlier alluded, this does broach on a little addressed area of concern in workers' comp.
Injured workers have rights; that we discuss on an almost continual basis. They also have responsibilities. That is not discussed nearly as often as it should be. Yes, workers' comp is a complex and archaic system. Yes, there are holes in our safety net big enough for people to fall through. Yes, we are imperfect in many ways. All of those reasons make the responsibilities of the injured worker all the more important to recognize.
I'll start with a statement that will prompt howls of protest from some injured worker advocates. People injured on the job and now under workers' comp must take ownership for their situation. No one will be looking out for your interests like you will. We have a pervasive victims mentality in our system, one that is likely the most “disabling” viewpoint a person can assume. Your number one responsibility is to be aware, ask questions and challenge things you do not believe to be correct.
However, one of the responsibilities an injured worker has is to find reliable information. Today, on the internet, you can get all the free bad advice you want. You live in the information age – but you need to make certain that the information readily available to you is correct for your situation.
The next point should go without saying, as almost all injured workers want to get better and return to a normal life. Still, we have all encountered those who seem to resist that result, as if somehow staying injured and becoming “disabled” is for them a fait accompli. Therefore, it must be said that in order to have the potential to properly heal, an injured worker must actually want to do so.
There are many detailed points along this line of thought. Injured workers should communicate their needs and concerns. They should ask questions. They need to show up for appointments.
And they need to put adequate postage on legal documents they are mailing.
Of course, the problem is that people do not know what they do not know. Therefore, that means we as an industry have a responsibility in all of this as well. It is our job, and in fact would be to our benefit, to work with the newly injured to inform them of what they must do in this process. Some of these things are common sense, but we are dealing in the irrational world of pain and insecurity. The way we approach the newly injured; the way we educate and inform, can make a huge difference in the outcome of a claim.
Yes, injured workers have responsibilities. We clearly need to better communicate what those responsibilities are.