Are the Florida Workers’ Comp Statutes Low Trust?

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Toms Oct 2016 Florida Statues Low Trust Article

Our company, UniMed Direct, has had an initiative for 2016 based upon Stephen M.R. Covey’s bestselling book The Speed of Trust. Our team experienced FranklinCovey training, which we highly recommend. But back to the book. If you have not read it, and you are in any type of business management, I suggest you get it and read it. One of the key “nuggets” from the book is the idea that when you extend trust to individuals, they generally respond better than if trust is withheld.

Mr. Covey digs into this concept in his chapter, A Propensity to Trust. One story in the book really hit home with me. The book described how in a Covey training pre-work exercise, trainers gave employees cards with pictures of various company managers on them. They were then asked, “In whom do you trust the most?” The cards were then placed on the table in accordance to their ranking of the level of trust. In nearly every instance, the more trusted managers happened to be those managers who extend trust to the employees. It was the one common denominator.

This makes good sense. When we are treated in a suspicious manner, our defenses tend to go up. Our own level of trust declines. We then become suspicious and look for the worst in the individual who is withholding the trust. We certainly don’t trust that person.

Skip ahead to the 2016 Workers’ Compensation Institute (WCI) 360 Conference in Orlando. One of the breakout sessions I attended was “The Grand Bargain or The Grand Illusion.” This was an excellent session featuring several prominent Florida workers’ comp attorneys – on both the claimant and defense side. The session featured many interesting topics and was a great learning experience overall.

But at one point Paul Anderson held up a 1975 version of the Florida workers’ compensation statues. At first, many in the audience wondered what he was doing. The first thing that struck me was how thin the 1975 version was. It was maybe an inch thick. It looked more like a John Grisham novel than a code book. He went on to describe how thick the latest version is… so thick it looks like the white pages and yellow pages put together. Then he said something that really stuck me. He said, “The newer versions of the statue may as well have a preface that says: If you are reading this, know that we don’t trust you.”

Everyone in the audience laughed. But made me think about something. I looked at the newer Florida statutes through this prism, and indeed, instead of explaining the benefits for injured workers and procedures to obtain those benefits, it has long, disjointed sections that amount to threats, warnings and penalties. For example, if you quickly peruse the chapters you will see warnings for employees who refuse to use safety equipment, extensive drug testing requirements, sections on what constitutes insurance fraud, provider penalties for various violations, and sections on enforcement for carriers or businesses that fail to provide workers’ comp coverage.

It brought me back to Stephen M.R. Covey’s book. I thought, “If system participants were given ‘cards’ to rate the level of trust they had in the system, I’d bet, based on the tone set by the statute, that the level of trust would be low.” So I thought further, why couldn’t the Florida statutes have an appendix at the back where it listed threats, warnings, and penalties for violating the Florida statutes? In other words, the way the Florida statues have been constructed helps to create an environment of distrust in the system.

So what’s my remedy for the Florida statutes? I recommend taking a step back and looking at the statutes from a high level through the trust prism. Florida could then implement a program to reform or reorganize the various sections. This is not something that needs to be done all at once. But here’s my theme: When addressing benefits to injured workers and how to obtain those benefits, put that information at the beginning of the statutes. Place information about warnings, threats and penalties near the end of the statutes – to be referenced as needed. These updates could be done as the statutes need revision in the years to come. Otherwise, we can expect more conferences where more snarky (but true) comments are made, such as“If you are reading this, know that we don’t trust you.”

Tom Swiatek

Tom Swiatek

As Assistant Vice President of Regulatory Services, General Counsel, and Editor in Chief of UR Nation, Tom Swiatek draws on his experience as an insurance attorney on both the general liability side, as well as on workers’ compensation matters. As a California Workers’ Compensation Section Member, Tom is leading the discussion with respect to the regulatory challenges and opportunities facing the workers’ compensation system.