Returning injured workers to the workplace is the goal of the State Industrial Commission and the Workers Compensation Advisory Council, but there are divergent opinions on how to accomplish it.
The council is studying a bill that will place responsibility on the employee and the employer to get injured workers back on the job. Commissioner John Florez said council members have until Dec. 28 to send their comments about the bill to the commission.During a recent meeting, council members agreed on the concept of a quick return to the job for injured workers, but Larry Bunkall, executive director of the Utah Manufacturers Association, said there already are ways to get injured workers back on the job quickly, and the bill would make it too costly for employers.
The council appointed a task force with James Swenson as chairman to deal with re-employment of injured workers. The task force met four times, and although the members couldn't agree on the language, they did say there was support for a bill providing for suitable vocational rehabilitation and defining the limits of employer responsibility.
The task force recommended that the changes be tried for two years and that the results be evaluated by the commission. Task force members also suggested the commission create a rehabilitation coordinator position and share cost with the commission and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Referral to vocational rehabilitation would be the employers' decision. The task force said that if employees did not accept the established rehabilitation plan, employers' responsibility for benefits should end.
After receiving the task force's report, the commission wrote a bill. Its intent is to increase "the state's capability to return the injured worker to the work force as soon as possible in the most cost effective manner and define the employer's and employee's responsibility in achieving that end."
One goal of the act is to intervene in the initial stages of a worker's injury. This would reduce the cost to employers and insurance carriers by shortening the time the employee receives temporary total compensation, by reducing the number of permanent total cases now being added to the Employer's Reinsurance Fund and by allowing workers to concentrate on their abilities and their quick return to gainful employment rather than be preoccupied in obtaining disability benefits.
According to information circulated by the commission to council members, one problem with the current system is that it provides more incentives to stay on workmen's compensation than to go back to work.
Hadley said the current system is costly because employers are paying an average of $12,000 annually per case and a maximum of $72,000. Also, seven cases involving permanently and totally disabled workers are added to the Employer's Reinsurance Fund each month at an average annual cost of $12,000 or an estimated $180,000 over 15 years.
The bill's provisions:
- Require early evaluation of the injured worker's capacity to return to the work force and the worker's commitment to a re-employment plan.
- Define the responsibilities of the worker and employer/-insurance carrier.
- Allow the injured worker to start a program that will allow him or her to return to the work force as quickly as possible.
- Allow the commission to hire a staff person to help the injured person get back to work and mobilize private and public resources to shorten the time the worker is unemployed.