Attention – Employees Have Rights, Too!

“My employees can go wherever they want and I can’t do anything about it.”

I hear this too often: companies saying they cannot send their employees to a medical provider of their choosing when one of their employees is injured on the job.  As the Director of Business Development for Illinois Work Injury Resource Center (IWIRC), I speak with employers daily about their occupational health and workers’ compensation needs.  Employers typically feel helpless when their employees are injured and the employer is left in the dark regarding their employees’ care.  Hopefully after reading this article that train of thought and feeling of helplessness will end today!

Employers can refer their employees to a place of the employer’s choosing for an examination.  While there is considerable discussion and debate on this, according to the Illinois Work Comp Act: An employee entitled to receive disability payments shall be required, if requested by the employer, to submit himself, at the expense of the employer, for examination to a duly qualified medical practitioner or surgeon selected by the employer, at any time and place reasonably convenient for the employee, either within or without the State of Illinois, for the purpose of determining the nature, extent and probable duration of the injury received by the employee, and for the purpose of ascertaining the amount of compensation which may be due the employee from time to time for disability according to the provisions of this Act.

Just as the employer has the right to choose a provider to care for the injured employee, so does the employee.  The reality is that most employees want good medical care and will seek medical attention where the employer wants them to go.  Also, it is in the employer’s best interest to find a provider who provides the best care for an injured employee.  Inadequate medical care does not equal less workers’ comp costs.  In fact, just the opposite is true.

How can employers make sure a provider of their choosing examines their employee?  First, find a qualified provider for comp care.  Second, educate employees about the provider and his or her qualifications.  Even ask the provider to come introduce themselves to the employees.  After this, if an employee continues to refuse to be examined by a physician of the employer’s choice, according to the law, the employer can stop paying medical fees from the date of refusal until the employee complies.  “If the employee refuses so to submit himself to examination or unnecessarily obstructs the same, his right to compensation payments shall be temporarily suspended until such examination shall have taken place, and no compensation shall be payable under this Act for such period.”

            Employers must know that in order to manage their workers’ compensation costs they have to take control of their own situation.  Choosing a medical provider who specializes in occupational health, practices evidence-based medicine and understands the rules and regulations governing occupational health (e.g., ADA, OSHA, DOT, and Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act), will save companies thousands of dollars annually.

Many will not be surprised to know that central Illinois was once considered the most highly litigated area per capita for workers’ compensation in the state.  Yes, there are those people who abuse the system and attempt to supplement their income through work comp.  For example, I recently spoke with a local HR manager who has an employee looking for their fourth surgery in three years and the employee received $20,000-$30,000 in each of the previous cases.

Now that employers have a better understanding of what their rights are, they can be in charge of their occupational health programs and work with their employee base to cultivate trust and to establish expectations for when injuries happen.