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Understanding responses to ‘unfair’ treatment could help workers’ comp systems: study

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Waterloo, Ontario — Understanding the emotions injured workers experience – and the actions they take – when going through injury and claims processes they believe are unfair can be helpful to everyone involved in the workers’ compensation system, results of a recent study by Canadian researchers suggest.

“When unfair treatment takes place, it has adverse repercussions on workers, affecting their mental health, quality of life and future success,” study co-author Ellen MacEachen, director of Waterloo University’s School of Public Health Sciences, said in a press release. “By identifying unfairness and its behavioral and emotional effects, we can better understand the implication for workers’ compensation systems.”

The researchers interviewed 36 injured workers who were in “precarious” employment – defined as jobs with low or inconsistent pay. The types of “unfair” treatment experienced included being laid off during the claims process, receiving inadequate medical attention or modified work, employer claim suppression, and lack of response from claim adjudicators.

The researchers identified five stages (and common emotions) that injured workers may experience, in no particular order:

  • Passivity (feeling confused)
  • Fighting back (feeling angry, motivated)
  • Quitting pursuit of the claim (feeling unsupported)
  • Quitting a job as a result of extreme pain and/or frustration (feeling disappointed)
  • Winning or greater involvement in fighting for rights (feeling determined, wary)
 

Of the injured workers, 23 said they had experienced at least two of these stages.

“This research leads to other questions to be studied: How pervasive is it for workers to quit their jobs after experiencing a work injury and procedural unfairness? What is the relationship between education about workers’ compensation and emotional and behavioral reactions of workers to perceived unfair claims processes?” MacEachen said. “Precarious workers are at risk of unfair treatment due to power and knowledge differentials between employers and workers, and there is still a lot left to be addressed.”

The study was published online in the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation.

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