Pennsylvania: Blood on the Forms?

October 12th, 2007 by

The good people governing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have a major concern. They want to make sure that each and every worker injured in the course of employment knows his/her rights and benefits under the comp statute. Most states accomplish this by requiring a posting by the employer, detailing the name and address of the insurance carrier. Employers usually include workers comp benefits in the employee handbook. It’s an employer “best practice” to fully inform employees of the need to work safely, report hazards and report injuries immediately. Most states have websites where injured workers can view the statutory benefits and the mandated procedures under comp. For the most part, injured workers seem to be able to find the comp system without too much trouble.
Well, a system that is mostly working is just not good enough for Pennsylvania. They want proof, they want documentation, and they want signatures. So they have come up with a process that requires employers to provide a form to all new employees and to injured workers at the time of the injury. The one pager, entitled “Workers’ Compensation Information,” (sort of) explains the basics of comp.
The form includes the following statement: “You (injured employee) should report immediately any injury or work-related illness to your employer.”
Department of Duh: While this language is fine when the form is provided during orientation, the same form is also given to the employee after the injury has been reported. Do you really need to tell the employee who has reported an injury to report an injury?
The one pager goes on to say that “if your claim is denied by your employer, you have the right to request a hearing before a workers’ comp judge.” Gee, aren’t we getting a little ahead of ourselves here? (And by the way, unless the employer is self-insured, the carrier – not the employer – denies the claim.)
At the bottom, the employee signs the following statement:

I, _____________, employee of ____________ (employer), certify that I received, read, and understood the above information on _____________ (date of work-related injury or disease).

Form Two
If the employer participates in a Preferred Provider Network, the employee must be given another one pager, explaining in detail the rules and procedures for the PPN. This form contains 11 bullet points in relatively small print. At the bottom of this form, the employee signs the following statement:

My signature indicates that I have been informed and understand my rights and duties pertaining to medical treatmant for work-related injuries.

With two required forms, that’s a whole lot of “understanding” under less than ideal circumstances. After all, these forms are signed at the time an employee reports an injury to the supervisor. Often enough, the employee will be suffering some pain and discomfort as a result of the injury. I’m sure the attorneys who pushed for adoption of these requirements revel in the enormous loophole contained in the concept of “understanding” the requirements. Yes, my client signed the form (under duress, while waiting for the ambulance), but he didn’t really understand what he was signing. So the employer failed in his duty…Just what we need: another opportunity for attorneys to play “Gotcha!”
When I called the PA Comp Bureau for clarification, they confirmed that two separate forms and signatures are required. I said that I hoped the injury did not involve a cut on the injured employee’s dominant hand: that might result in blood on the forms. The bureau contact laughed, albeit nervously.
Free Advice for PA
Here’s a bit of advice for the bureaucrats in the Keystone State: Chill, baby. You have a comp system that is working reasonably well. Requiring two signatures at the time of injury will not increase employee awareness of rights under the comp statute. People will sign (if their injuries permit) because they have to, but they won’t understand much of what they’re signing. Following an injury, people are mostly concerned about getting medical treatment and getting back to their jobs.
Requiring employers to retain copies of the signed documents is a random and extremely ineffective means of ensuring compliance. As my mother-in-law used to say, “Don’t borrow trouble.” With these burdensome requirements, Pennsylvania has borrowed trouble and accomplished very little in the process. There is a reason why no other state requires this type of documentation. It’s pretty darn useless – and it interrupts the natural flow of caring for an injured worker. Pennsylvania should just do away with the bloody forms.