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But I Told the Department that this Decision is Wrong…

I hear this at almost every new client interview – “I told my claim manager that this is not right, and they know it!” I leaf through their paperwork and see that there has never been anything sent to the Department. I then have the very uncomfortable job of telling them that the decision is final and binding because they did not put their protest in writing.

What is final and binding? It means that the Department has made a decision and enough time has passed that you can no longer protest, appeal, or change the outcome in any way.

If you disagree with a decision or order made by the Department, put it in writing and send it in. You only have a certain amount of time to submit a protest so do not hesitate.

Sending in a handwritten note saying “you’re wrong about the thing you said on May 25th, 2014” may not get the claim manager to change his or her mind, but it does mean that the order will not become final and binding without the Department taking further action.

The strongest protest is accompanied by your doctor’s note, but this can sometimes be difficult as doctors don’t always make notes at the exact time they meet with you, and unfortunately the medical note doesn’t always match the conversation.

If you have a question on an order you received, need to protest a claim manager’s decision, or need help figuring out the next step on your claim and you would like a free consultation with a dedicated worker’s compensation attorney, contact Carlisle & Byers for a time to meet.

Beware That Light Duty Job Offer

After an L&I claim, your employer may offer to bring you back to work, with consent from your doctor, for a “light duty” or “transitional” job. This offer may be legitimate. Maybe your boss really wants to help you get back on your feet and will work with your doctor to spend time and resources to help you recover… or maybe you need to take a second look at that job offer.

The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries is very proud of their Stay At Work Program, putting out press releases about the benefits and cost savings. There’s even a nice little page on the State’s website:

At a glance, it’s a nice picture – give businesses a financial incentive to create light duty work while employees recover from injuries suffered on the job. What this cute little portrait leaves out is the built-in incentive for employers to discriminate against injured workers and force them to quit in order to get the claim off of their books.

But wait! – you say, if the doctor has to approve, how can this be bad? It’s pretty clever, actually. The employer creates an overly simple job they don’t need, knowing it won’t last. The doctor will approve because the light duty job is too good to be true. The injured worker goes back to work and is given tasks like doing book reports on how to be safer in the workplace, or organizing files on a computer only to watch the whole system be purged because it is too old. Just think of Milton working in the basement in the movie Office Space.

1 milton

I’ve had clients who were 20-year construction workers with no office or clerical skills be offered administrative work. I’ve had lead servers be told they can be prep cooks, without any experience, even though they had to remain seated in ergonomic chairs, and couldn’t use their wrists for repetitive tasks (one employer made a worker take their breaks sitting in that chair, in front of customers).

What happens to that construction-worker-turned-receptionist? They become the laughing stock of the workplace. I’ve seen injured workers with extensive injuries and whose doctors are requesting extensive surgeries be shamed into quitting after being called lazy fakers and liars. Perhaps worse, a worker can be given a joke job where they receive absolutely no training and then be fired, only to be denied vocational services by the State because they now have “new transferable skills.”

The bottom line: this program is a bribe for employers to bring back injured workers before they’ve had a chance to recover with fairytale jobs that any doctor will approve, so the state can save money on time loss. Once these workers are brought back and told to stare at the wall all day, or do things they have no experience doing, they get ridiculed, shamed, and ultimately quit, leaving them jobless and still suffering from their injuries and unable to perform in the competitive workplace. But hey, if it saves employers and the State money on time loss and treatment (the benefits guaranteed to injured workers under the Industrial Insurance Act) it’s gotta be good, right?

Don’t get shoved out of treatment by the system you’ve been paying into your entire working career. If you feel like you’ve been forced back to work in a sham temporary, transitional or light duty job, don’t quit (the state can cut you off immediately)! Call for help.

I just want to talk to my claim manager – You’re clearly asking too much.

You got an unexpected or confusing letter from your claim manager. Luckily, their name and number are at the bottom. You call but you get Mr. Movietone who says, “you have reached the desk of your claims manager…” You press “0” because on other systems that gets you to a live person, but instead, you get…

“Your claim manager is assisting other customers at this time… you are now being routed to a support associate who can help you, for English press one.” You press one and then wait. 6 to 14 minutes later you get a person who leaves a quasi-detailed (and likely slanted) message for your claim manager, and then you wait.

And wait…

And wait.

At 7:30am, or when you’re in the bathroom, or taking out the trash, your claim manager calls you back and leaves a message like this: “this is Sam Smith, I am returning your call, my number is (360) 902-xxxx, thank you.”

You’re right back where you started, but the claim manager has satisfied their duty to call you back within 48 hours. ACK!

This is the new, “friendlier,” Department of Labor and Industries.

It only gets worse, as you may get an assistant that calls you back. They are very nice and happy to you that they understand why you called, but that’s probably it. When you ask for the answer, let alone another question, they say to you with their most optimistic voice: “I can leave a message for the claim manager to have them answer that.” Nifty. So starts the process again.

If you’re not making any headway in your claim, give us a call to help break through the cycle.

Permanent Partial Disability is often called a “settlement,” but you’ll almost inevitably feel anything but settled.

A settlement is an official agreement intended to resolve a dispute or conflict. Often this means you do not get everything you are entitled to, but get it sooner. On the other hand, Permanent Partial Disability is the amount you are entitled to because you were injured on the job and you are not able to do what you once could with that body part. The amount you will receive, if any, is calculated by a rating exam, referenced against a table of values, which varies depending on the year you were injured.

It is unfortunate, but often an injured worker has to fight to receive their Permanent Partial Disability. Often they are sent out to an Independent Medical Examiner (IME) where the doctor sees you for only a few minutes, but doesn’t see the entire picture.

Some attending physicians refuse to do rating exams; however, those that do often have a better understanding of an injured worker’s medical situation, and may therefore be able to give you a more thorough exam. When your doctor determines that your injury or condition has reached maximum improvement, they may be willing to do your rating exam.

If you have a claim and you’re not getting treatment or other benefits, or you’re about to file a claim and would like a free consultation with a dedicated worker’s compensation attorney, contact Carlisle & Byers for a time to meet.

*The foregoing does not constitute legal advice, nor does it form a lawyer-client relationship between the reader and Carlisle & Byers, PLLC.