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Procedural fairness, disputes and return to work

At a glance:
The study found procedural fairness is important to workers and the following factors made the greatest difference:
  • The quality of the interaction
  • The opportunity to influence the outcome
  • Consistency
  • The accuracy of information given
If a worker sees the process of a dispute about their workers compensation claim as fair, they are more likely to returning to work following injury
This study indicates that it is important for an injured employee to see the process of their workers compensation claim as fair. If you feel that you have been dealt with fairly, you will be more likely to respond in kind and develop positive relationships which can help your recovery and speed your return to work.

Encourage discussion, present your views openly, and say that you are keen to see a fair process. The outcome may not be as you wish, but if the process is felt to be fair, you will be left more satisfied.
Actions such as listening, taking a helpful approach and developing trust are important in creating a sense of overall fairness in the process of a workers compensation claim. In turn this helps the employee feel valued, and they are more likely to remain with the organisation.

This does not mean claims cannot not be disputed, however if a dispute arises it is important that the worker feels they are dealt with appropriately. This can be achieved through good levels of communication, providing information, and allowing the worker to participate in the process.
Treating practitioners often sit on the sidelines, discouraged by the difficulties of trying to assist a patient who is involved in a claim dispute. This study shows that emphasising procedural fairness helps return to work, and this message is worthwhile to convey to all parties.
A disputed claim can be a difficult situation that is challenging to manage. However the long-term results are improved when the process leaves the employee feeling they have been dealt with fairly. Good communication produces a better outcome. A sense of fairness improves the likelihood of return to work.
Original Article, Authors & Publication Details:
K. Roberts 1and W. Young 1(1997).

1 School of Labor and Industrial Relations, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824.

Procedural fairness, return to work, and the decision to dispute in workers compensation. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal; 10(3):193-212.
Background, Study Objectives, How It Was Done:
The workers compensation process was initially designed to be straightforward, and not to cause disagreement. However, disputes regarding workers compensation claims occur in systems around the world. The authors looked at the state of Michigan, North America, and found that over 20% of claims were disputed. Contested cases are more costly, they last longer, involve lawyers, are more likely to result in lump-sum payments and generally sour the employment relationship.

Whilst the cost of disputes is a recognised concern, the authors note insurers and employers do not clearly understand the implications of contesting or disputing a claim.

Perceptions of fairness about the decision-making process effect an individual's reaction to the decision. The objective of this research paper was to examine the claims process from the perspective of the worker and determine whether how they felt about the process affected their longer term outcomes.

Two questions explored by the researchers were:
  1. When people describe the workers compensation claims process as fair, what do they mean?
  2. How do fairness perceptions affect the likelihood that an injured worker will return to work?
Cases were drawn from the claims files kept by the Michigan Bureau of Workers Disability
A condition or function that leaves a person unable to do tasks that most other people can do.
 Compensation.750 files were randomly selected and questionnaires were mailed to the employees who made the claims. Several years had passed since the date of the injury, and 125 letters were returned as the address was no longer valid.
Study Findings:
182 people completed the questionnaire, which was a 29% of the total number of surveys sent. Two thirds of the sample was male. One third was employed in manufacturing, one quarter was in the service industry and more than half were in blue-collar occupations. Most were long-standing employees with their employer before the injury occurred.

The above questions were analysed by the participants' responses to a broad set of questions. The results were as follows:

1.When people described the workers compensation claims process as fair, what do they mean?

The workers indicated the aspects of procedural fairness that were important to them were:
  • The quality of the interpersonal interaction (this was by far the most important thing determining the impression of overall fairness)
  • The opportunity to present their case (this was the next most important aspect)
  • Consistency of treatment
  • The accuracy of the information given
2. How do fairness perceptions affect the likelihood that an injured worker will return to work?

The results of this study show that the fairer the claims process was felt to be by the employee, the more likely they were to be successful in returning to work.
The findings of this study suggest that good quality of interaction between the employee, the employer, the claims manager and the dispute resolution system is important in giving the injured employee a sense of procedural fairness. The ability to listen to, develop trust with, and support an injured worker increases their perception of fairness.

Fair claims proceedings should foster goodwill of the employee towards their organisation, and improve the employer-employee partnership for managing return to work which, as this study demonstrates, affects the return to work outcome for an injured worker.
No PubMed abstract is available
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