Staff Frustrated with Workers’ Comp System Fail to Report Injuries

A number of staff members frustrated with the workers’ compensation system at Pomona College have not been reporting injuries obtained on the job. Rather than deal with managers and limitations within the system, some staffers are paying out of their pockets or not treating their injuries.Ana, a worker whose name has been changed to protect her identity, was injured several times while working in the dining halls. She fell off a broken chair while swiping students’ cards, fell on a wet floor, and injured herself with kitchen equipment.The first time she was hurt at work, Pomona sent her to Casa Colina Centers for Rehabilitation. She said the doctors only gave her pills. Because she prefers a hospital Pomona does not authorize, she personally paid to visit the other hospital. Now, she no longer bothers going to any hospital.The doctors “don’t do anything,” she said in Spanish. “What’s the point” in going?She said she does not report her injuries to the school any more.When staff members receive life-threatening injuries at work, they are immediately sent to receive medical attention. However, if the injuries are not life-threatening, staffers are typically sent to a local medical clinic for treatment, according to Assistant Vice President of Human Resources Brenda Rushforth. There, doctors determine if the staffer can continue working and under what conditions.“If they can come back to work with certain restrictions then we get in contact with the supervisor and say, ‘This person can’t lift over ten pounds, can’t walk, [or] must be sedentary; can the job accommodate that?’” Rushforth said. “And then the supervisor looks at the job and determines whether or not we can accommodate their work restrictions and if we can, then we return them to work with restrictions, and if we can’t, we don’t return them to work.”Workers who have not pre-designated their personal physicians must be treated for the first 30 days by First Care Industrial Center. If the injury prevents them from working, they may be eligible for Temporary Disability benefits, but their disability must be substantiated by an authorized physician, according to the Workers’ Comp section of the Human Resources webpage for Pomona (www.pomona.edu/hr/benefits). Following the accident, workers must complete an “Employee’s Report of Accident” and a “Supervisor’s Report of Accident.”There were ten reportable Workers’ Comp cases from an average of 1675 employees in 2007.Because staffers on Workers’ Comp put a strain on managers, some are afraid of approaching their supervisors to tell them about injuries. Although many have been injured on the job, they have not all had bad experiences trying to receive workers’ compensation. Ana said the dining hall managers are selective in how they treat staffers, and those who are not treated as well have more difficulty receiving treatment for injuries.“There are a lot of people here who are hurt,” Ana said. “Some have problems [with the managers] and others don’t.”Elizabeth, who asked that her name be changed, did not have problems with the managers after she fell in the dining hall. The school paid for all of her medical treatment, which included an ambulance, doctors, acupuncturists, and chiropractors. She said that when she fell, the managers were not upset but told her they wanted her to get better as soon as possible. According to Elizabeth, there is nothing wrong with how the managers treat workers when they are injured.Both students and workers have criticized Pomona’s workers’ compensation system. Last spring, housekeeper Rosa Rodriguez began receiving compensation after being injured at work, according to a letter to The Student Life from Nick Gerber PO ‘10.When a doctor declared her permanently disabled, Rodriguez sought a second opinion, in which the doctor cleared her of all work restrictions. Because she received the second opinion shortly after the one-year deadline, Rodriguez was unable to get her job back. She contacted the Workers’ Support Committee.“After hearing her story and meeting with multiple administrators, we [in the WSC] determined that there was a lack of effective communication between the CUC Disability Office, the College, and injured workers,” Gerber wrote. “Admittedly, the College is caught in a thicket of legal regulations in this situation, but it must be more proactive about working with injured staff persons to navigate this complex system.”Despite efforts by the WSC, Rodriguez still did not get her job back.“It is the opinion of Workers’ Support Committee that Rosa has been neglected by an overly complex bureaucracy at the college and other levels,” Gerber said. “Her case illustrates what are systemic problems of communicationwith and visibility of workers on campus.”

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