This will not be a new idea from me, but after proposing it at numerous presentations around the country over the last three years, I know it is an idea that bears repeating. It is a concept that has been universally well received by audiences and blog readers alike, and it serves as a pivot point in our ongoing national discussions regarding the future of workers’ compensation.

The word, of course, is “recovery”, which I have been advocating be used in place of the word “compensation” in our industry masthead. Simply stated, I have been proposing that the industry known as “Workers’ Compensation” be renamed; to the more aptly titled and more easily defined, “Workers’ Recovery”.

The concept first started its gestation with the realization that those people who were newly injured and completely lost within the matrix of workers’ comp were focusing on the word compensation; usually without fully understanding it in terms of how we are statutorily defined to provide it. As I originally wrote in 2013:

Our website is open to all, and while we primarily serve employers and the workers’ comp industry that serves them, we have a healthy dose of injured worker traffic as well. The injured workers are very active on our Discussion Forum. Over the years I have been bothered when I see a new injured worker find their way to the forum, give a general description of their accident, and then often ask the question, “How much will I make?”

The better question would be, “How do I get better?”, or “How do I manage this complex and frustrating system and get back to work?”

Our office receives a steady stream of phone calls from people who do not understand what workers’ compensation is. Their questions are sometimes centered on receiving compensation, even if they have never had an on the job injury. Some have been injured at home or elsewhere, but hold out hope that compensation is available to them, since they were a “worker”. One young lady, gainfully employed, simply had financial issues and wanted to know how she could get workers’ compensation to help in her predicament. When informed what workers’ comp was, she responded with, “Oh, I have to get hurt first?” The industry name conveys the wrong message to those people.

The industry itself is influenced by this notion.  We spend a vast amount of time and resources managing and litigating both medical and compensation, with comparably little effort toward restoring the value and purpose of the workers’ we deal with. You are far more likely to hear from today’s overworked adjustor the stated desire to “settle and close” rather than to “recover and return”.

I have had the intense honor of speaking at a fair number of conferences and seminars over the last three years. I’ve been asked to speak on numerous topics; technology in the industry, misperceptions that hurt the quality of our outcomes and cost us money, even what the future of comp may look like. I always, however, manage to work the idea of “Workers’ Recovery” into the session. And it is always well received, with numerous positive comments from people that hear the concept.

While I realize that such an endeavor is a herculean task, and I may never see the results in my lifetime, it is beginning to get some traction from a working perspective. I know of one state agency that has adopted the “Recovery” theme for its training sessions and other activities. I’ve had the head of another agency tell me they would like to be the Chair of the “Workers’ Recovery Board” in their state. We’ve even had a legislator in one state inquire of their workers’ comp agency on the practicality of making that change.

Using the word “Recovery” in our title would immediately change the dynamic for newly injured workers’ entering the system. Today, they are told by their boss they must complete a workers’ compensation FROI. They are assigned a workers’ compensation adjuster. In many states they are sent to a workers’ compensation doctor. Compensation is the common word, and, as previously noted, with our “process and close” mentality, recovery is often a happy coincidence when it does occur.

Imagine if that worker, ignorant of who we are and what we do, is told they need to complete a Workers’ Recovery Claim. They are assigned a Recovery Specialist. And they are not a claimant, or even an injured worker. They are, from day one, a “Recovering Worker”.

Could that make a difference in their focus, and the trajectory of the claim? I think, in many cases, it would.

And this is where the idea serves as a pivot point in our “National Discussions” on workers’ comp. At the Dallas meeting of the Workers’ Compensation Summit, one point of disagreement arose when some members objected to our group addressing what they saw as “cultural issues” in workers’ comp. They maintained that the group could only approach those issues which could be addressed legislatively, maintaining that we had no ability to change the cultural elements of the industry.

While I consider one of the people making this argument a good friend, and understand his concerns, I disagree on the point that culture cannot be affected through legislative action – and the “Recovery” concept is the best example of my argument. No state will be able to rename their workers’ comp system without legislative action making it possible. “Workers’ Recovery” will require such in virtually every jurisdiction if it is to become a reality. And it is an example of how legislative action could have immediate and dramatic impact on the culture of our industry.  

Change the name. Change the culture. While much more work would follow that action, it is a singular point of transformation that could bring dramatic effect in its own right.

Workers’ Recovery. Finally, change we can really believe in.

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