Workers Comp Zone


Aa a lawyer representing injured workers, I’ve often wondered how those workers perceive the end of the year holidays.

Thanksgiving gives way to Black Friday, and then to Cyber Monday, and pretty soon the Christmas and New Year season is upon us.

Many Americans experience the end of the year holidays as incredibly stressful. Whether it is the whirlwind of activity itself or the pressure of personal, familial and societal expectations, many of us feel a great anxiety and ennui amidst the sound of Bing Crosby crooning in the background.

There are images and expectations that are often hard to fulfill.

It’s a time of year when many work comp professionals attend open houses and cocktail parties put on by vendors and colleagues. Contacts are made, acquaintances renewed, and the wine tends to flow.

For many of us the end of year holidays signal a time to savor the rewards of the year and turn the page toward a new beginning soon.

But what about the workers? How do the holidays play out for those who are wrestling with disabilities and income losses?

Anecdotally, I can say that over the years the call volume from clients tends to increase. Disability checks that are late take on an added urgency, as it is a bad time of the year to have problems with the landlord and the creditors.

Towards year’s end I’ve usually noticed more calls requesting advances from a possible settlement. While it’s not my pattern and practice to delve deeply into the finial status of clients, in some cases it is clear. For some workers, without some extra cash flow it will be a grim holiday season. It’s pretty predictable that we’ll field some calls from workers who feel terrible that they can not provide for their spouse or kids this holiday.

And of course as claims handlers or attorneys take time off during holidays it sometimes becomes more difficult to do business. On the other hand, some employers and insurers suddenly perk up at year’s end, looking to resolve cases and remove liabilities from the books by the end of the last quarter.

Admittedly, it’s hard to systematically gauge  how workers off on disability experience the holidays.

Researching the experience of disabled workers would be a worthy social science project. I have no doubt that they would find extremely high levels of frustration, anger and shame around this time of year. Those aren’t the perspectives that are especially helpful in generating  recovery and healing of physical and emotional disabilities.

What one doesn’t hear is a lot of “Thanks”. In a way that’s understandable as many injured workers find that the script they must live is to accept the system and the limitations it enforces. They may become acutely aware that they are caught up in a system that heavily screens medical treatment, second guessing their doctor.

And ultimately many of these workers will come to feel that they are being seen and dealt with as a number rather than as a person. Some of them will come to feel that no one is listening. Not the doctors. Not the lawyers. Not the insurer. Not the employer. Not even the judge, and, by extension, the state.

Getting benefits provided and getting recommended treatments OK’d may be a significant victory, but it does not generate loving hurrahs from the worker toward the system stakeholders.

Yet, some workers do feel thankful for what the system delivers.

I’ll never forget the most touching thank you gift I ever received from a client. It was not a fruit basket, or a bottle of wine, or flowers, or a gift certificate.

The most notable gift was a couple of cans of Bumble Bee albacore tuna fish.

The client had lived pretty much on the edge for three or four years, bouncing from trailer park to trailer park.

But the thought counted, and he delivered the cans of fish to the front desk at my office. He was delivering the tuna after his case was settled, so it was essentially a thank-you offering from the heart.

As we enter the holiday season, claims professionals might do well to take a moment to reflect on how the injured worker and their family experience the season.

Stay tuned.

Julius Young