Pre-school Saves on L&I Costs by Bringing Injured Cook Back to Work
A pre-school may seem like an unlikely place for employees to get injured; the persistent and highly contagious colds that run through their classrooms are more likely to bring staff low. For one pre-school cook, however, a flu wasn’t the problem.
The woman, who also served as an assistant at the school, lost consciousness during a health episode at work. As she fell to the ground, she fractured one arm above the elbow and hit her head. Given how much lifting of pots and pans her job involved, returning to work right away was not an option. Unfortunately, her school had no policy for getting injured workers back on the job unless they were 100% capable of handling their responsibilities.
Potentially, the worker would be away for months without the ability to earn a salary, a less than ideal situation. “She was a widow and really needed the income,” says Kyle Maxwell, a Vocational Rehabilitation Consultant with Single Handed Consulting. “She had just a few years left until she was going to fully retire.”
A Solution for the Injured Worker that Saved on Costs
Like many employers, the school was concerned about expense. If they brought their injured worker back before she could fully perform her job duties, wouldn’t that mean paying two people to do the job of one?
Maxwell helped them see a bigger picture. “We looked at the cost and benefits,” he says. “Yes, temporarily it would be more expensive, but overall, expenses would actually be reduced.” Bringing the employee back on light duty made the school eligible for L&I’s Stay at Work program, which reimburses an employer for 50% of the employee’s wages up to a maximum of $10,000.
For Washington employers, L&I costs add up quickly; between time loss payments to injured employees, retraining expenses for temporary or permanent replacements while the worker is off the job, and increased insurance premiums, workers compensation claims can be a financial nightmare. Lacking adequate understanding of the claims process, some employers - like the school in this case - can become too focused on the short-term and lose sight of the real impact on their business.
Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors like Maxwell provide expert guidance and support through the process, expediting claims and working toward solutions with the greatest benefit for all concerned. Participating in L&I programs like Stay at Work and Preferred Worker avoids changes to risk classifications that can drive up insurance premiums. That’s what happened in this case.
After gaining a better understanding of the advantages of returning their employee to work in a light duty capacity, the school provided accommodations for her role. She was able to continue her work with children and in the kitchen at a reduced level of responsibility.
New Challenges Arise
But then a new challenge arose. The preschool was in Bellevue, but the employee lived in Puyallup. Even with the new arrangement, she couldn’t get off work in time to make her physical therapy appointments, thereby hindering her full recovery.
Again, the school rose to the occasion. “They adjusted her schedule accordingly,” says Maxwell. “The employer had other people come in during the mornings and before each lunch to do the heavy lifting. She was able to take off in the afternoons and get to her appointments. Everyone got what they needed.”
Maxwell believes that by enabling the injured employee to return to work sooner, the school significantly accelerated her recovery. “The doctors and physical therapists agreed with me that if it weren’t for the constant movements and strengthening exercises that were part of her job, it could have taken five or six months for her to recover. Instead, in a three-month time frame we were able to get her fully healed up and back to her duties.”
Better Experiences Equal Better Employees
The outcome was a win for the school, which was able to cut down costs on the claim itself and retain a good employee. “What employers don’t take into consideration is that in the long run, when you’re able to help someone, they appreciate it and become a better employee,” says Maxwell. “It makes people more likely to stick around.”
The injured worker was equally happy with the result. “When I was able to convince the school to allow her to do light duty, she was ecstatic,” says Maxwell. “It made such a difference to her to be able to get that income. She was happy to stay on and continue with her job. This was a win for the worker and a win for the employer."