A recent WorkCompCentral article caught my attention: "Fed Up With Rude Behavior to Staff, Chairman Orders One-Day Delay in File Processing."
Essentially, the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission has been providing "same-day document processing ... throughout the COVID-19 shutdown." The Illinois commission is not paperless, though it has expressed an intention to be so in 2021. That is somewhat hard to wrap one's brain around, but the plan for this evolution is a promising sign.
The article notes that similarly, the commission in Illinois has not traditionally been engaged in remote hearing. That, too, has begun to evolve, however, with the announcement in "late April that arbitration proceedings could be done via teleconference."
This is noteworthy, as Plato explained that "necessity is the mother of invention." Each day it seems, COVID-19 demonstrates some necessity, and I am impressed with how the workers' compensation community has invented, augmented and responded.
Back to Illinois: The lack or e-filing means documents have to be transmitted to an office for filing. The commission chairman noted in a memo to the public that "the impact of COVID-19 upon the commission has proven most difficult." The impact has apparently affected function, as the "commission has closed its offices to the public since mid-March but has allowed documents to be dropped off at the Chicago headquarters."
There, a small group has endeavored to keep up with processing the paper and making items available for pickup.
That is a story that is a recurring theme in this COVID-19 drama. Small teams, volunteers, innovators, are all stepping up, meeting needs and getting the job done. They are absolutely praiseworthy and deserving of our thanks whether they are at government, adjusting physician, attorney, case management or other offices. These folks are coming to work every day, at personal risk, and thus facilitating the function of so many that are telecommuting.
Don't get me wrong: The telecommuters have challenges, also.
So, the chair noted that the commission "employees are stressed" — perhaps an understatement. That has been exacerbated by "certain members of the bar" and their agents who "have been abusive to commission employees." As a result of one "bout of verbal abuse toward commission staff members," the chair decided to decrease the stress on these employees by slowing the pace a bit: "the commission will no longer provide same-day document processing."
It is easy to engage in emotional considerations of the COVID-19 effects. They are widespread. The Kaiser Family Foundation recently published a work regarding the mental health of Americans in the wake of COVID-19. There is stress, isolation, fear and more.
Whether you see it in someone's behavior, hear it in their words, or not, the fact is you have no idea what people are dealing with or going through. That is always true. But, the chances that someone is having a rough time is enhanced in this era.
It is unfortunate that Illinois does not have e-filing. It is unfortunate that hearings there are just getting back on track. But, without any personal Illinois experience, I can tell you unequivocally that the people handling the mail are not responsible for any systemic shortcomings. Human beings are who make any system work. Their intellect, their camaraderie, their dedication is critical to any organization's success.
This time, of COVID-19, is not a time to look for or find fault. This is a time for the workers' compensation community to pull together for the betterment of the people who are affected. This is the time for innovation and contribution (such as that skeleton crew that is still in an office, facility or plant). We owe to them, our community and our fellows civility, charity and compassion.
Again, I get that telecommuting has its challenges. Could the folks still in the office handle the whole load alone? No. Those working from home are also shouldering a load, perhaps differently but effectively nonetheless.
Before you reach for the anger, take a minute to breathe. Before you say something you will regret, strive to remember that others may face challenges you neither perceive nor necessarily understand. If you do find anger, know that it may be unavoidable due to your stress or emotional state.
That said, if you find anger, deal with it as soon as practical and always provide an apology (even when you know you're right).
This virus seems large and unassailable. But, the fact is we will get through this time. We will suffer pain and perhaps loss, but we will get through.
You don't need a memo from the chair to tell you that rudeness and abuse are wrong. You well know it. And, if you really want to make someone's day, how about lobbing a compliment or two around in the work setting? Nothing makes someone's day more profoundly.
If someone is making your day better, say so. Our humanity and emotions may be a great challenge, but they are our greatest strength.
In that vein, this is a shoutout to the rock stars who make up the Office of Judges of Compensation Claims information technology team. They are literally the wind beneath our wings, and we don't say it often enough: Thank you for making us all capable of production in this new world.
Be well, and stay safe.
David Langham is deputy chief judge of the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims. This column is reprinted, with his permission, from his Florida Workers' Comp Adjudication blog.
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