Mastering the Two-Pronged Approach to Workplace Disability

Workplace Disability 

When dealing with a workplace injury, negotiating the intricacies of disability management is something of a slippery slope. On one hand, you have the need to manage an individual’s recovery process. On the other, you face an array of cost implications and bureaucratic complexities that can snowball in a hurry.

Let’s illustrate this by considering a scenario involving an employee — we’ll call him Barry — who recently sustained a knee injury at work. Barry’s injury requires surgery, and following this, he’ll need to be on medical leave.

Workplace injuries like Barry’s should trigger two types of responses: disability management, which involves managing the employee’s recovery process, and account management, which deals with mitigating WCB costs and implications associated with a worker’s compensation claim. Both are crucial, and finding a balance between them is the key to successfully managing workplace injuries.

Striking the balance: Human recovery vs cost implications

In terms of disability management, the aim is to ensure that Barry can return to work as quickly and safely as possible following his surgery. This might involve regular wellness checks, occupational therapy assessments, modified duty offers, and planning meetings. However, the goal here is not just physical recovery. It’s also important to consider psychological barriers that might hinder Barry’s successful return to work. For example, his attitude towards work, his relationships with co-workers, and his attendance and performance history can all play a role.

Simultaneously, from an account management perspective, you’ll want to take measures to limit wage-loss costs, engage with case managers to ensure they understand the accommodations you can provide, and potentially request cost relief should a pre-existing condition come to light that could prolong Barry’s recovery.

There is a delicate balance that needs to be struck here: managing human recovery and dealing with bureaucratic and cost implications. These two priorities can often seem at cross purposes.

Common curveballs

But let’s suppose Barry had his opposite knee replaced a few years back. Now that he’s relying more on his replaced knee due to his recent injury, it begins to cause him pain too. With both knees painful, Barry’s mobility is significantly impacted. He finds himself unable to perform even his modified duties, and ultimately, he is forced to stop work altogether.

Suddenly, what began as a seemingly minor knee injury has escalated into a complex disability management case. This is a classic example of the “compensation effect”, where an injury to one part of the body indirectly affects another part. The employer is now facing a situation where an employee is considered completely disabled and they are potentially responsible for permanent total disability benefits.

This is a scenario that can seem daunting to any employer, particularly when it appears to have developed out of the blue. What seemed initially to be a straightforward return-to-work process has morphed into a situation with significant cost and human implications.
And this is why the importance of understanding and identifying risk factors cannot be overstated. It can make all the difference in navigating the complex and often challenging path of disability management. Common risk factors include:

  • Age – longer recoveries and higher claim costs correlate strongly with advancing age
  • Occupation – job duties that are physically demanding tend to reaggravate injuries and prolong recovery
  • Pre-existing conditions – underlying injuries/illness often complicate RTW
  • Complexity of injury – brain/spinal/psych
  • Multiple injuries – where more than one body part is deemed compensable
  • Psychosocial – interpersonal relations in the workplace
  • Absenteeism – pattern of poor attendance is a major precursor to long-term disability
  • Performance record – history of misconduct, conflict, and/or poor behaviour also a major precursor to LTD

Understanding these risk factors and foreseeing potential complications are only part of the equation in managing disability cases. Equally critical is having proactive strategies and robust systems in place to respond when complications do arise. Employers should aim to foster a workplace culture that encourages early reporting of injuries, collaborative development of return-to-work plans, and open communication between all stakeholders involved in the recovery process.

Further, it is vital to understand that disability management is not a one-size-fits-all process. Every case is unique, presenting its own challenges and opportunities. It’s not just about understanding the medical aspects of an injury or condition. It’s also about understanding the individual – their work, their lifestyle, their aspirations, their fears. This holistic approach is essential in creating tailored return-to-work plans that address both the physical and psychosocial needs of the injured worker.

Summon the reinforcements: Responding to unexpected WCB challenges

But, even with all the planning and proactiveness in the world, the return-to-work journey can sometimes veer off the expected path.
And when it does, it helps to have someone with experience and specialized knowledge to guide the way. While this piece provides a roadmap for handling a disability at work, remember that each case is unique, and multiple risk factors can introduce complexities that are best handled by professionals like those at Blue Collar Consulting.

Call (780)-340-5727 to speak with our 541 Eagleson Wynd, Edmonton T6M 0Y4 team for free.
Ben Barfett

Ben Barfett

Ben Barfett, Principal and Consultant, has spent his life in the construction sector, specifically heavy civil, enviro, commercial, and energy. Having held senior roles in business development, technical advisory, and regional management, he earned his stripes in the field and in head office. Conscious of the interplay between commercial, legal, and execution aspects of construction, his business insights are informed by expertise in WCB policy and enhanced with disability-specific training.

Ben Barfett

Ben Barfett

Ben Barfett, Principal and Consultant, has spent his life in the construction sector, specifically heavy civil, enviro, commercial, and energy. Having held senior roles in business development, technical advisory, and regional management, he earned his stripes in the field and in head office. Conscious of the interplay between commercial, legal, and execution aspects of construction, his business insights are informed by expertise in WCB policy and enhanced with disability-specific training.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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