Why Injured Workers Hire Attorneys (and What Employers Can Do About It) -Part II
(Due to the popularity of last week’s topic, I am publishing my blog a day earlier than usual.)
Last week’s blog covered some of the reasons why injured workers file claims according to a study, “Avoiding Litigation: What Can Employers, Insurers, and State Workers’ Compensation Agencies Do?” published by the Workers Compensation Research Institute in 2010. (In full disclosure, WCRI is a client of Lipold Communications.) The study is based on the responses of 6,823 injured employees with lost-time claims in 11 states that represent 46 percent of the nation’s paid workers’ compensation benefits.
This week’s blog covers on other factors that boost the chances workers will ask lawyers for help, according to the WCRI study.
Claims with greater injury severity or complexity are more likely to be litigated, according to the WCRI study. Attorney involvement among workers with the most severe injuries was 15 percentage points higher than those with mostly minor injuries.
Not surprisingly, soft tissue injury claims, for example, were more likely to involve attorneys. Unlike claims connected to specific incidents, soft tissue injury claims can often be filed without the employers’ knowledge, which makes it difficult for them to communicate to workers right away.
By considering employee demographics, employers know their audience better — which is essential for creating effective employee communication plans.
This underscores the point I made in a previous blog that an effective workers’ compensation employee communication plan should educate workers about workers’ compensation before work-related injury incidents occur. Workers who know what to do and what to expect are more likely to get the best medical treatment.
Employer size is also a potential factor depending on the situation, WCRI found. Larger companies are more likely to have co-workers with negative experience with workers’ compensation. However, larger employers are more likely to have the resources to provide timely and effective outreach to injured workers.
Workers in smaller organizations, however, are more likely to have direct personal relationships with their employers so claims are less likely to involve attorneys.
How long an employee has worked for an employer affected the likelihood of workers hiring attorneys. Workers who had less than one year on the job were injured were more likely to hire attorneys, according to the study. Meanwhile, those with more than 10 years of tenure with the same employer were less likely to involve attorneys due to employer loyalty. This was offset, however, when workers feared a pay cut from being unable to return to a job with their employer.
An employee’s age can also be an influence. Twenty percent of workers aged 55 or older hired attorneys, according to the study. About 17 percent of those between the ages of 25 and 54 hired attorneys, and nine percent of 15 to 24-year-olds did so. The study hypothesizes that older workers are more likely to know others who hired attorneys.
Union membership is often perceived as a reason why workers’ sought out legal help but this depends on the situation. The WCRI study noted union membership is not a reliable factor because the pros and cons of union involvement cancelled each other out.
Unions can provide valuable information to workers and tend to have connections to lawyers. Unions, however, can also provide protection for reemployment and can help members through the process.
An employee’s level of education is also a factor. The less educated workers were more likely to hire an attorney because they were more likely to be intimidated by the claims process. The study notes that high school graduates were six percentage points more likely to hire attorneys than college graduates.
WCRI’s study points to the importance of understanding the demographics of the local labor force. The key to effective communication is all cases begins with knowing the audience you are trying to reach. By considering employee demographics, employers can know their audience better — which is essential for creating effective employee communication plans.
(Note: This is part of my ongoing series on What Every Employer Should Know About Workers’ Compensation. Check out the “workers’ compensation” in tag in the left-hand column for more tips.)