No system is perfect. While workers’ compensation is a vital financial lifeline for many injured workers and their families every year, the fact is that this system can be greatly improved to better assist those who need it most.
Gerber & Holder Workers’ Compensation Attorneys have dedicated their entire practice to protecting the rights of injured workers in Georgia. We’re also deeply involved in helping shape workers’ compensation laws nationwide through organizations like WILG (Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group).
For this reason, we recently decided to sponsor a privately funded scholarship essay contest where we asked college students to answer the following question in a 300-500 word essay:
How would you change the workers’ compensation system to make it more equitable for injured workers?
We were thrilled to receive so many great responses, but there could only be 1 winner. Nevertheless, we wanted to highlight several of our top favorite responses and ideas from these future employees and employers of America.
Continue reading to see some top ideas from a handful of student respondents, in their own words.
Essay question: What changes would you make to the workers’ compensation system to make it more equitable for injured workers?
Kendall Allen, Spelman College (scholarship winner):
“Firstly, in my opinion, there should never be a case in which an employee is clearly hurt on the job and is unable to sustain themselves based on the benefits that they receive from worker’s compensation. The benefits that the employee receives should more closely match their income when they were able to work regularly. This hits very close to home for me. My uncle, who lives in Ohio, is currently receiving workers’ compensation benefits due to a work-related injury in which he lost forty percent of his hearing. He has been unable to return to his full-time job of twenty years due to his hearing loss; yet his workers’ compensation benefits continue to decrease. My aunt has taken on two additional jobs to help support their family. This has created a lot of additional stress for my family members. My uncle will more than likely never return to the job that he once held due to his injury. I know that there are many families in this same situation.”
“Increasing worker compensation benefits to more closely match an employee’s pay rate would make this a more equitable system.”
Dylan Esquivel, Trinity Christian College:
“If I were able to change the workers compensation, I would reevaluate what certain injuries that allow you to get workers comp because continuous strains or sprains in the workplace are overlooked and not given much attention. I would allow the injured person to be given physical therapy and any medications used throughout their recovery. Also, if the injury does continue to reoccur, I [would] offer time off to relieve any pain and provide a different form of work, so the person can prevent the injury from recurring and still generate an income…
My revalued workers compensation system will allow the injured worker to go to the doctor of their choice and will need to provide documentation from that doctor. It will allow the worker to feel safe, more comfortable, and trust the business more because they were given the opportunity to have a choice of doctor with their injury decision.”
Cody Woods, Mercer University:
“If the company paid the employee based on average hours worked including their average overtime, and with doctor’s supervision agree to come back by a certain date and pay into the deductible or copayments, this could create a better incentive for the employer and employee.”
Thomas Leonczik, Rutgers University-New Brunswick:
“What if, instead of putting the responsibility of applying for medical help on the injured worker who is unaware of the process, we had someone in a different department of the business responsible for the efficient & proper treatment of the injured employee from beginning to end? Surely, someone from the human resources department of a business would know just where to start and what forms need to be filled out to expedite the process…As long as both parties are allowed to communicate the finer details of the accident in which the worker was injured, it would ultimately hasten the process and remove the burden of unnecessary stress imposed onto the unhealthy employee, this making the workers’ compensation system more equitable for injured workers.”
Jacob Baburich, Trinity Christian College:
“…the WC system can be made more equitable for injured workers by eliminating the gender-based bias. For instance, women are 150 percent more likely to be injured doing the same job as a man; not only that, but some injuries, such as carpal tunnel that is exacerbated by pregnancy, predominantly affect women… by making the WC system’s guidelines view female-related conditions, such as carpal tunnel, not as predisposed, women will have a more equitable standing in the system.
…the WC system is biased against the employee as companies employ IMEs to save money by minimizing and denying WC claims. It is unfair that seriously injured employees’ WC claims are disregarded by biased IMEs. If an employee’s claimed work-related injury were evaluated by a third-party, unbiased medical professional, then the employee would have at least a voice.”
Anastasiya Kuzina, Seattle Pacific University:
“One way we could improve the injured worker compensation system is by letting the workers pick their own physical providers. Many times, those doctors never even see the patient with their own eyes, but simply read a brief file. In some cases, they don’t even have the proper degree or training to make the decision. I believe that the injured patient is the only one who would know what would work best for himself and his family. Letting the patient pick their physician would definitely help this issue.”
Marcos Fregoso, University of Nebraska:
“…my mother actually worked for [Tyson Foods] and messed up her arm on the job. All this company did for her was send her to get surgery and then another surgery. They never really took care of her…
…I would make companies send the employee that’s hurt to an adequate doctor who isn’t forced to give the patient an immediate diagnosis because then the patient or employee ends up getting a bad surgery and needing more treatment down the road. This is important because my mom actually had to go through three surgeries in order to fix her arm because the doctor was hurried up by the company. After the last surgery, she demanded that they send her to another specialist and when that doctor gave her a good diagnosis, she was told that he couldn’t do anything else for her — the reason being that the other doctor had messed up her hand too much.”
Zyon Henderson, Morehouse College:
“First, states should raise the weekly payment amount not to have it be any lower than $500 a week. Mississippi provides a weekly compensation of only $468.63, which is just enough to cover the groceries with a house of four. Now, Iowa offers more than three times the value of this amount. I am not saying that every state should follow suit, but weekly payments need to become more equitable…
Second, [the Texas] state government should create a better system in handling the severity of injury or disability. In my view, the government should require companies (especially factories) to go over their worker’s compensation program.”
Jayme Coveliers, DePaul University:
“My mom got into a car accident and was then forced to get a double neck fusion. Within a week of returning to work, a janitor drinking on the job didn’t properly label a wet floor. She fell, resulting in several back surgeries, a spinal cord stimulator and pain pump. She’s been through the ringer. When I asked her about her experiences, what she would change about the process she went through for others, she responded with one word: compassion.
My mother said that following whatever accident befalls you, you are not in a right state of mind. You’re tired, medicated, in constant pain, and then simultaneously expected to read every line and avoid every obstacle your own company puts in your way. No one told her about so many of the options she had available to her… Her employer, the Chicago Public School System, fought her at every turn to make sure she didn’t get what she needed. She was followed. A co-worker who witnessed her accident was pressured to lie and change their story about what happened so that the school wasn’t culpable.”
“We exist in a system that tries to take advantage of you at every angle and uses its lack of transparency to trick and trap you… The largest changes we need to have in the workers’ compensation system are compassion, and trust. Sure, some people are going to take advantage of the system, but that is far outnumbered by people who are in legitimate distress and need real help. ”
Felicia Darden, University of Phoenix:
“If I had the opportunity to make changes to the worker’s compensation policy, I would change the amount of funds that each injured or disabled person received based on their injury report. The injuries that some employees suffer from being hurt on their jobs have ended up being permanent disabilities, but the amount of compensation they receive does not match their pain and suffering that they have endured. I would change it to where these employees who become permanently disabled are paid to cover their current and future medical visits or surgeries as well as enough money to help them to continue to have a place to live.”
Kahnya Humphrey, Shoreline Community College:
“During mid-2017, my mother had suffered a substantial back injury while on the job; she worked as a labor and delivery nurse… Even though my mother was receiving worker compensation, that money was never enough — especially in our situation, since there are six children ranging from seventeen to as young as four…
…one issue I feel as though the workers’ compensation system could work towards changing, which is providing an adequate amount of funds to families of a bigger size such as my own. At the time my mother was working nearly three jobs to make sure my family got by, but her injury resulted in her being unemployed.”
Carina McClean, University of Central Florida:
“In order to make the workers’ compensation more equitable for injured workers, I would implement a policy that increases the weekly benefit…”
“According to current workers’ compensation laws in Georgia, anyone who previously made over $35,100 or $23,400 a year for temporary total or partial disability, respectively, would be earning proportionally less than those who fall under those benchmarks. This inequitable practice means that while some workers are entitled to two-thirds of their average weekly wage before injury, others who exceed the benchmarks outlined above are making less than two-thirds of their previous wage… This severe pay cut is detrimental to these workers because they are unable to pay the bills they were once able to afford.”
Evan Delp, University of South Carolina Honors College:
“Currently, the workers’ compensation system is missing an opportunity to provide educational compensation to injured workers, in addition to traditional financial compensation. When injured workers are unable to work on the job, their employers should provide additional funds and payment for employees to take online classes or in- person courses. Not only would this increase their knowledge, train them for new job skills, and provide more resources for injured workers to make the most of their situation, but it would also allow injured workers to ultimately be better prepared for their eventual return to the workforce.”
Connor Hammer, Wayne State University:
“The best way to ensure that workers are safer during their jobs is to remove as many potentially dangerous factors as possible, thus the law should enforce that businesses strive towards maintaining safety by providing them with the threat of potential lawsuits based on their negligence. By allowing these lawsuits for potential negligence and removing businesses from their complete immunity, businesses would be forced to reshape their management on potential dangers and ensure, to the best of their ability, that working conditions weren’t hazardous when they need not be.”
Kayla Hartnett, Seton Hill University:
“The process is immensely time consuming and genuinely can be confusing for the majority of injured workers. For example, in the state of Pennsylvania, first the injury must occur and a report has to be made within 21 days of the injury occurring. When this happens the company most likely will file a Workers Compensation Denial, and this will follow many loops and holes of legal jargon until the worker is denied, or finally the business agrees to the compensation, and calculates the Statement of Wages to be submitted to the bureau. The time spent working through this process for workers is grossly inadequate and does not seem merciful in the slightest to injured workers.”
Colten Blick, Murray State University:
“A few years ago, my mother was injured while helping mentor and chaperone at a youth day camp. She was playing basketball with some kids that were part of her camp group and felt a pop in her knee… After telling her supervisor about the incident, they advised her she needed to go see the worker’s comp clinic that her company used and have a physician make sure there was not a serious injury. She filled out the paperwork, went to the designated physician’s office and had a check-up. They dismissed a serious injury and sent her to receive physical therapy for two weeks. After those weeks of physical therapy she was eventually allowed an appointment with an orthopedic. The specialized physician believed her injury to be more severe than initially diagnosed. After an MRI was ordered that diagnosis was confirmed. She had a full tear of the ACL in her left knee. She had surgery to repair the tear and was off of work for 8 weeks.
This experience leaves me asking a few questions about the worker’s compensation system. For example, I wonder, if she had been able to see an orthopedic sooner might the surgery have been avoided?”
“I think the referral process should be looked at in cases when the doctor’s expertise doesn’t line up with the patient’s injury or complaints. This may cost more money for a specialized appointment but potentially be more cost effective than risking further injury or waiting for an injury to get worse and have a longer recovery for the patient and loss to the workforce for the employer.”
Angela Burton, Saginaw Valley State University:
“So many companies deal with hazardous chemicals or toxic fumes that could cause harm to the employee, even with the required safety equipment. The reason that most of these [workers’ compensation] cases are denied is due to the statute of limitations. This leaves these employees with a condition that could limit their ability to work or is costly to treat with no help.
I would suggest making changes to the workers’ compensation system to accommodate these situations… There should be a separate section added to the system that accounts for long term injuries or illnesses.”
Nathan Beaumont, University of Utah:
“Another way workers’ compensation can be improved is by involving the voice of two doctors from different practices where possible…. By relying on the voice of two doctors, there can be less of a biased opinion. This should be utilized when appropriate.”
Josmary Familia-Garcia, Berea College:
“Coming from an immigrant family that has always worked hard has taught me a lot. My parents have worked rough jobs and have often been hurt, and yet still returned to work. The workers’ compensation system should also stand behind those who are illegal. [Citizenship] is ignored when you are hired to work. And so, it should be ignored when you get hurt doing such work.”
Sydney Boland, Northern Arizona University:
“My idea to make worker’s competition better is to make mandatory doctors appointments bi-weekly, depending on the injury. Also, instead of having the worker get the maximum “loss time benefit” stipend, workers and workers’ families housing, food and other needs should be paid for… The worker should have forms signed by the doctor for each time he or she is there. That way each month the form can be turned in, to prove that he or she is attempting to get better.”
Cynthia Hughes, University of Phoenix:
Unfortunately, 3 years ago, I was injured while doing my duties as a Special Education teacher. While assisting a special needs student, I badly injured my right hand. I required surgery and rehab. During rehab, while doing an exercise I was asked to do, my knee was injured. I had surgery again, and after months of no improvement, a nerve study and bone scan showed damage to my nerve during surgery. I had my final MMI rating, and was given an insulting 14%… Now, my credit is ruined, we are on the verge of losing our home, and I had to sell my vehicle to pay some past due bills. If it was not for my partner, I would possibly even be homeless at this point. I suffer from chronic pain, I am unable to walk without the use of my crutch and brace, and my dominant hand is at less than 40% what it was.
“I believe three separate judges should be always left to make a decision, as it becomes very easy for a judge to be influenced by attorneys she knows on first name basis.”
Carlee J. Kamerer, University of Phoenix:
“I personally think that once a case is opened, that client should receive a personal email for them to give to their doctors for direct contact. There was a lot of back and forth, miscommunications that shouldn’t have happened, weeks on end with no answers from either party.”
Desiree Lewis, St Mary’s University School of Law:
“I would change the employee intoxication defense outlined in the Texas Labor Code. An injured employee is barred from receiving workers’ compensation benefits if he or she was intoxicated at the time of the accident… Many employees lose benefits when they were not actually intoxicated at the time of the injury and without workers’ compensation benefits, some employees cannot and do not receive the care they need. Without the proper care, employees can suffer long term debilitating injuries. The intoxication defense should not bar recovery unless the employer can prove that the employee was intoxicated at the time of the injury.”
Gemma Alvarez, Cal State University Fullerton:
“Employees who…[develop] stress or other mental injuries should receive the proper medical attention as all other claimants. Mental injuries are real and can developed into depression that can lead into suicide. I would like to see the workers’ compensation system take these claims more seriously.”
Devon Wright, University of Kentucky:
“Even though it could be very difficult to know if a mental issue has come from work or not, I don’t think its right to dismiss those types of injuries due to the problem. If this was changed, then even more workers could get their right to file a claim and possibly get workers’ compensation benefits.”
Participate in our next essay contest!
Are you a currently-enrolled college student? Be sure to join in our next essay contest for a chance to compete for a $1,000 scholarship. Visit our Scholarship page soon to see the next essay question and submit your entry.
Thanks to all the students who participated in this contest! Best of luck in your academic studies.