CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- A workshop addressing Tennessee's workers' compensation laws -- which may be headed for some changes -- attracted more than 30 safety and human resources professionals to the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.
The symposium's goal was to offer guidelines on best practices for employers when handling workers' compensation issues and to discuss possible changes in state compensation law.
While minimizing liabilities and insurance premiums are key fiscal matters for businesses, positively addressing workers' compensation issues have an impact beyond a company's bottom line, said Joe Lynch, a Knoxville attorney who addressed the assembly.
"Be informed and help your employee get through this difficult process of having to go through workers' compensation and ease the transition," Lynch said.
He encouraged businesses to have a "return to work" plan in place to help get injured employees back on the job. Such programs need to offer light-duty tasks in case an employee is not able to resume full responsibilities immediately upon returning to the job, Lynch said.
Getting an employee back on the job, even on a recuperative basis, is a winning situation for all parties, he said.
A core issue affecting compensation claims is the state's traditional view that compensation law is a "remedial" mechanism biased toward employees, Lynch said.
Another issue, he said, is that the state has a "hybrid system" that starts the compensation process under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Labor. The claim process, however, can wind up under the court system.
A consultant report submitted to the governor's office recommends streamlining compensation processes and keeping them under the jurisdiction of the state labor administration.
The changes are intended to reduce compensation insurance costs. However, the compensation system will need to be measured by other factors as well, including "worker satisfaction, ease of claims administration, and compliance costs," the report states.
The state's current compensation system, according to the report, leaves Tennessee comparing unfavorably with surrounding states when it comes to compensation insurance for businesses.
"The governor is in the process of working on his legislative agenda for next year," Haslam spokesman David Smith said in an email Tuesday. "Workers' compensation reform will very likely be part of that, but it is too early to say what that legislation might look like."
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.