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Tue, November 21, 2006
Workers' Compensation decisions skewed by incentives,
deadlines, critics say
A bonus system that rewards case managers for saving money
and clearing cases by deadlines has skewed the decisions of the Workers'
Compensation Board against injured workers, say both their advocates and former
But the board says its internal "goal-sharing" program
merely leads to claimants getting back to work more quickly.
Internal WCB documents obtained by the Sun show staff teams
being praised for clearing away specific ongoing injured workers' files by
Its critics argue this introduces an artificial time
constraint, leading to claims being rejected or workers being returned to the
"If a team meets its objectives, however those are
statistically defined, it receives its bonus," said a former staff member, one
of several who requested anonymity for fear of repercussions.
"And they weren't telling you that you had to shut down a
file. They were just saying they wanted a certain number gone by a certain
time, and if that happened, the team would get a bonus.''
Said another former staff member: "The system requires you
to look at a person, look at a claim and try to resolve it fairly, without
being adversarial. But when you're always working against the clock and
following statistical targets, that's hard to do. So it wasn't encouraged. In
fact, if anything it was probably discouraged."
Anyone who questioned such practices usually lost their job
shortly thereafter, said the former staffer.
The board confirmed it has internal bonuses but the intent
is to get workers back on the job as quickly as possible, thus reducing the
chance of a temporary disability becoming permanent, said spokesman Jacqueline
Varga. "We do not reward case managers for inappropriately closing claims,''
"The Journal of Workers' Compensation confirms that the
longer a worker is off the job, the tougher it is for him to return
"We believe that, and work hard to help injured workers
regain their independence. Our goal-sharing program reflects this commitment."
Local workers' advocate Theresa Roper couldn't understand
why some of her clients had been forced to go back to work despite obviously
debilitating injuries, until she found out about the "goal-sharing" program.
"Sometimes the only way a team can meet its targets is to
close a file or find the individual fit to go back to work," she says.
"But that's a lot of pressure to put on someone: either you
solve these difficult cases, or you cause your co-workers to be put out as
well. So their reason for ending a file ends up being pretty much any reason
they can find to end it, and as quickly as possible."