Research Notes

Here are some of the subtle ways the U. S. Department of Labor (USDOL) puts roadblocks in front of injured workers

Here are some of the subtle ways the U. S. Department of Labor (USDOL) puts roadblocks in front of injured workers who file claims under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA).

In this supposedly non-adversarial system of workers' compensation, how would you describe these tactics used by USDOL's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP)? Do they seem adversarial to you?

  1. Selecting referee doctors, whose opinions have extra evidentiary weight in these cases, from a secret list OWCP refuses to make public even in the face of litigation under the Freedom of Information Act.
  2. Failing to tell second opinion doctors, chosen by OWCP to clarify medical issues, about the liberal legal standard for proving causation in FECA claims (any contribution, no matter how small, makes the claim compensable).
  3. Failing to resolve disagreements among medical examiners, instead simply choosing the unfavorable opinion over the favorable one, despite its obligation to resolve medical conflicts.
  4. Excluding from case files the medical reports of doctors it has chosen - as if they had never seen the patient - if their reports are favorable to the claim.
  5. Refusing to assist injured workers in finding doctors who are willing to treat them at government expense, despite knowing that very few doctors will do so due to the paperwork demands imposed by OWCP.
  6. Requiring doctors who wish to treat injured federal workers at government expense to obtain a "provider number" by going through a time-consuming registration process that few doctors are willing to bother with.
  7. Maintaining a website OWCP points to as a place to locate possible treating doctors, but not identifying the specialties of those doctors to facilitate a choice.
  8. Failing to send copies of correspondence to the lawyers of injured workers, in spite of the right of those workers to legal representation.
  9. Making claims decisions based on documents or information that was not provided to the injured worker or his/her lawyer in advance.
  10. Making claims decisions without considering medical or other evidence filed, claiming never to have received it (despite proof to the contrary) or failing to simply ask for another copy.
  11. Allowing employers to communicate with OWCP via email but not allowing the same easy communication access to injured workers or their attorneys.
  12. Allowing employers electronic access to OWCP claim files but not allowing the same instant access to injured workers or their attorneys.
  13. Letting their very limited online access to summary information about claim files fall into inoperable status since August 2015 (and continuing), preventing injured workers and their attorneys from getting even basic information.
  14. Ignoring their 3-day time limit to respond to phone messages by re-setting the three days each time someone calls due to their previous non-response.
  15. Ignoring their 30-day time limit to respond to letters by re-setting the thirty days each time someone sends another letter due to their prior nonresponse.

Does this look like a non-adversarial system of workers' compensation?

NOTE: OWCP has not yet responded to the Public Citizen petition filed in June requesting that the AMA Guides 6th Edition no longer be used to determine permanent impairment ratings.

Posted in Blog, FECA, OWCP