Workers Comp Zone


The American public is skeptical about workers’ comp.

That’s the take away from results of a recent Harris Poll, noted in a by Ben Miller.

Harris Interactive performed an October 2014 online survey of several thousand people, commissioned by a pharmacy company.

Here are the questions Harris asked and their findings:

“How strongly do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?


If I were injured on the job, it would be a nightmare process to get the pain medication(s) my doctor prescribed. (Employed, n=1,031)

One-third (34%) of American employees believe this would be a nightmare process.

  • Those age 18-34 are most likely to think this (46% vs. 36% of those age 35-44, 29% of those age 45-54, 20% of those age 55-64).


You need a PhD to complete all the necessary paperwork associated with a worker’s compensation claim. (All Respondents, n=2,016)

Over one-third (35%) of Americans think you need an advanced degree to fill out worker’s compensation paperwork claims.

  • Those age 45-54 (41%) and those age 65+ (38%) are both more likely than those age 18-34 (31%) and age 35-44 (30%) to say this.


Most workers’ compensation claims are made by people who don’t want to work. (All Respondents, n=2,016)

Close to two-in-five (37%) Americans think that most worker’s compensation claims are made by people who don’t want to work.

  • Those age 18-34 (42%) and those age 65+ (38%) are both more likely than those age 55-64 (29%) to believe this.


If I could not work for more than a month because of an injury, my household would be fine. (Employed, n=1,031)

Half (51%) of American employees think their household would be fine if they could not work for more than a month.

  • Those employed age 55-64 (66%) are more likely than those age 18-54 (46%) to believe this.
  • Employed men (55%) are more likely than employed women (46%) to indicate this”

Whether the methodology and statistical sample used in this poll are reliable is a question for statisticians.

However, the poll does confirm anecdotal evidence of widespread perception that workers’ comp is a difficult system rife with problems from over-complexity to fraud.

As a workers’ comp lawyer I’ve had to set the record straight in countless conversations. Unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation out there about how workers’ comp works and what the system does and does not deliver. Among many there is the perception that workers’ comp is a haven for bottom feeders.

Instead of celebrating the social bargain that created workers’ comp, too often the perception is that the system is out of control. And that stakeholders are only out to aggrandize their share of the pie.

Ultimately this has made it hard for injured worker advocates to gain much traction in the court of public opinion.

Despite wave after wave of reforms, I’m only aware of one instance in which the premier Bay Area public radio talk host scheduled an hour on workers’ comp topics. For a social program that affects so many people and generates so much revenue, it’s actually a bit surprising. Workers’ comp is seen as either arcane, deadly dull, or somehow tainted.

Perhaps the public thinks that the system provides too much “no” as well as too much “yes”.

Even progressive think tanks and politicians view workers’ comp as the ugly stepchild.

According to the poll a large fraction of the public views workers’ comp as a nightmare process.

Could it be that one reason for the skepticism is that we rarely define success in workers’ comp?

It’s hard to quantify how many folks got healed, or whether their treatment was cost effective. It’s difficult to define how many workers were adequately compensated. How many returned to work with a smile on their face. How many reaped satisfactory rewards from the system. How many experienced the system as compassionate. Fair. User-friendly.

Might it be a good strategy for some of the system stakeholders to spend more time documenting and publicizing what does work?  Despite plenty of warts, how does the system stack up against alternatives?

It just might be easier to garner support for changes if the public thought the system was worth saving and honoring. If the public thinks the system is rotten to the core-a view shared by  some advocates as well as some claimants-then it is going to be hard to generate enthusiasm to tinker with changes.

Stay tuned.

Julius Young