News | Aug. 28, 2016

Workplace Injuries — Now What?

By Dianne Ryder

Most employees don’t expect to be injured on the job – but the Defense Logistics Agency processed a total of 498 claims in calendar year 2015, accounting for 2.1 percent of the agencywide workforce. Such occurrences can test an individual’s and an organization’s resiliency.

Donna Estep, director of the DLA Human Resource Services Injury Compensation Office, has been involved with DLA’s workers’ compensation program since its formal establishment in 2002.

“We put some good processes in place, and we started managing the cases from beginning to end,” she said. “And the result of that has been really positive. We’ve been able to go from what was heading toward $40 million in compensation and medical costs per year down to right around $20 million this year.”

So what should an employee do if he or she is injured while on duty? Estep advises employees to first notify their supervisor and seek any needed medical care. Next, the employee and supervisor complete one of two claim forms. The Federal Employee’s Notice of Traumatic Injury and Claim for Continuation of Pay/Compensation, or CA-1 form, is for an acute injury from a specific, one-time incident. For workplace injuries accrued over time, the form to use is CA-2, Notice of Occupational Disease and Claim for Compensation. 

The injured employee’s supervisor is responsible for submitting the form to the Injury Compensation Office. If there is missing information, a specialist will contact the injured worker or the supervisor, Estep said.

“The claim form is then transmitted to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs electronically for assignment of a claim number,” she said. “The claim number is used for all matters associated with the claim, including billing by medical providers.”

Estep reminds managers it’s important to submit injury claims as soon as possible but no later than seven days after receiving a claim from the worker. This helps the employee receive prompt benefit entitlements and helps the agency meet timeliness goals set by the Protecting our Workers and Ensuring Reemployment program. 

Even if an employee experiences a slip, trip or fall and reports it but doesn’t initially seek treatment, Estep always encourages employees to report on-the-job injuries.

“Once a claim is received by the Injury Compensation Office, we’re going to have that claim number for you within hours,” she said. “It used to take days, but because we file the claims to the DOL-OWCP electronically, we’ve see claim numbers come through in less than 20 minutes.”

To be considered timely, employees have up to three years from the date of injury to file a claim, but Estep recommends employees immediately file their claim, while the circumstances of the incident are still fresh, since a delay in reporting can lead to an inability to recall all the facts surrounding the accident. 

Although DOL makes the final decision on approval of claims, Estep said she and her staff are available to answer questions about billing, appeals or to simply act as liaisons between the employee and DOL-OWCP.

“We’re the squeaky wheel,” she said. “We get in the middle of it — calling providers, DOL-OWCP — we’re going to do what we can to help resolve the issue.”

The Injury Compensation Program is just one example of HR programs that help fortify workforce resiliency, which is an objective in the People and Culture goal area of the DLA Strategic Plan.

“Top-notch support of people who are injured on the job and our administration of many other programs allow DLA Human Resources to help meet the director’s goal of supporting our entire workforce in their efforts to become more effective in their professional and personal lives,” Bunn said.

In 2005, The Department of Defense established the Pipeline Funding Program, a special authority that allows for funding and up to one year of over-hire authority, when the agency is able to return an injured employee to work in an alternate position that accommodates the work-related medical restrictions.

DLA has used the program to great advantage, Estep said. To date, 102 agency employees have been returned to work via the program. The lifetime time cost avoidance associated with the return to work effort is quickly approaching $99 million.

If managers are hesitant to take advantage of the program, Estep said she informs them that one of the program’s benefits is the authorization for that organization to hire another full-time equivalent if they agree to continued employment of the injured person.

“Our goal is to make sure we take care of our injured workers and ensure they receive the benefits they are entitled to under this program, while being good stewards of the agency’s money,” she said.

Estep used Joe Lehman’s case as an example of successfully returning an employee to the workplace, because he is currently working in a different capacity from his original position. Estep said she and her staff, working with management and DLA Human Resources, seek out meaningful work for the injured employee. 

“It’s actually a win-win situation; the injured worker is able to continue to contribute to the mission, the while the agency also continues to benefit from the employee’s knowledge, skills and abilities,” she said.

Estep said she feels fortunate to have a team of people who enjoy working in the injury-compensation field.

“The work can be difficult, it’s something different every day –  making sure employees are receiving support and guidance needed, making sure they are getting paid properly, making sure every ‘i’ is dotted and ‘t’ is crossed,” she said. “My team is all in. We have made significant accomplishments in the management of the program; however, there is always more to be done. We want to continue to make a difference while ensuring that our injured workers obtain the benefits afforded to them under the program.”