A Claims Question That Saved an Employer Money and One Tacoma Driver's Job
For one Tacoma chip truck driver, prospects were looking dim. Already in his mid-50s, he’d suffered an injury to his shoulder that prevented him from being able to do his job.
“These semi-trucks filled with chips have tarps over them with giant arms,” says Scott Busz, a vocational counselor with Single Handed Consulting. “It’s physically demanding working to make that tarp go over the truck.”
Although the company valued their employee, they didn’t have a permanent job available for him. It seemed like their only option was to let him go.
The story might have ended badly were it not for Single Handed’s approach to vocational claims. Co-owner and founder Kevin Leneker spent years managing claims at the Department of Labor and Industries and gained a deep understanding of the entire process.
“We have more total claims experience than anyone in the state,” he says. “I have 15 years, our counselor Dale Bristow has more than 20 years, and Scott has 25 years. When someone refers a claim to us, we’ve been that person. We know what they need and what the expectations are.”
The One Pivotal Question
As a result, SHC counselors know that one pivotal aspect of the claims process can make the difference between an employee returning to work and an employer saving thousands of dollars or a less fortunate outcome for everyone. “There’s so much money at stake,” says Leneker. “For third-party administrators, the way they get paid is by reducing costs.” It all boils down to one question.
“When an employer or third-party administrator sends a referral, the average vocational counselor will meet with the employer and ask if there are any other positions or light duty options within the company,” says Leneker. “The approach is, ‘I’ve been tasked with identifying light duty’ so if the employer says ‘no,’ the conversation stops there.”
In contrast, at SHC every counselor knows the ramifications of not finding an alternate or light duty position for an injured worker. “If the answer is ‘no,’ start adding dollar signs,” says Leneker. “It’s a crucial point that adds a lot of costs. You’ve got a two-year minimum of additional time loss and retraining expenses.”
Identifying the Value of Experience
Experience also has value, particularly as the workforce shortage in skilled trades widens due to retirement. “If someone gets injured who’s been with the company for 25 years, not only does production go to zero, but good luck trying to hire someone with that experience,” says Leneker. “Anyone you hire will likely be at 30% to 40% of the capacity of that employee.”
If the employer’s initial response is negative, SHC’s staff will continue to ask questions. “We talk to them about the positions they have in their company rather than just accepting a ‘no’,” says Leneker. “We draw it out of them and help to identify potentials.”
Exploring Innovative Solutions
The staff will also look for innovative solutions that can enable an injured worker to stay on the job. That’s what happened in the case of the chip truck driver. “He was clearly a valuable employee and he went through a long series of rehab, but they couldn’t figure out how to keep him,” says Busz.
Then someone came up with the idea of connecting an automatic tarp arm to compensate for the driver’s injury. Busz contacted L&I Therapy Services Coordinator Sarah Martin and established that the company could get the arm paid for through the department’s Stay at Work program. “The driver got a permanent light duty job with that option,” says Busz. “They offered him that truck full time and the company gets to keep the device if he ever leaves.”
Busz credits Martin and the employer with providing a happy ending to the story. “It took a lot of paperwork and shuffling, but that’s the purpose of the Stay At Work fund,” he says. “It’s good when a program like that does what it’s supposed to do.”
Making it a Win-Win
From the employee’s perspective, being able to return to work full time in a job he knew was obviously a win. But the company also gained a huge benefit by saving retraining and hiring costs and retaining a worker with so much experience.
Leneker believes it comes down to his staff knowing not only which questions to ask but why they’re asking them. “If you’re looking through the lens of a vocational counselor, you only see the task in front of you,” he says. “You don’t see the end goal. It’s important to know what you’re trying to build.”
To learn more about Single Handed Consulting and how they get people back to work with vocational claims consulting, contact them today.