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August 29, 2003

Equity in Major Push to Raise Awareness of Members' Rights Under Workers Comp

Spurred by increasing numbers of job-related injuries and skyrocketing costs for health insurance, Equity has been beefing up its efforts to increase members' awareness of Workers' Compensation-what it is and when and how to use it.

Workers' Compensation is insurance that provides cash benefits and/or medical care to workers who are injured or become ill as a result of their employment.

"If your injury occurs while rehearsing or performing on an Equity contract, all of your medical bills are covered by Workers' Compensation. This includes doctors' bills, hospitalization, surgery, medicines, special aids such as crutches and braces, and cab fare to the doctor's office if you are unable to get there by other means. Do not use your Equity-League health insurance for these costs," stresses Valerie La Varco, Equity's Business Representative for Workers' Compensation and Unemployment Insurance.

Workers' Compensation regulations vary widely from state to state so there will be differences in maximum benefits and waiting periods.

Equity provides a supplemental insurance policy through the Equity-League Health Trust Fund, an additional coverage that can both protect you until Workers' Comp takes effect and supplement any payments you eventually receive.

But you must file the proper claims to receive both of these forms of insurance. Nothing is automatic.

Committee Focuses Exclusively on Workers' Compensation and Safety Issues

In January 2002, the Eastern Regional Board (ERB) created an Ad Hoc Committee for Workers' Compensation and Workplace Safety, with Councillor David Wasson as Chair. Mr. Wasson had been injured on the job several years earlier, had undergone four surgeries, was still unable to work and was deeply concerned about the problems confronting Equity members when they are injured on the job. "It is at this time, when our members are in pain and out of work, that we need to have a specific program and know what we can and cannot do to help them. Insurers are reluctant to pay, courts are overcrowded and the laws have been skewed to favor the big companies. We owe it to our members to investigate every aspect of this situation and come up with a firm, clear policy that will not only assist our members after they are injured, but help prevent those injuries at the outset."

The committee went into action immediately, inviting a leading orthopedic surgeon and a Workers' Comp attorney to address one of its meetings. The surgeon noted that he had seen a rise in injuries to Equity members over the past five years, citing more demanding choreography, unstable dance surfaces, raked stages, long weekend schedules and heavy costume and prop pieces as reasons for the increase. He also expressed concern about low payments and the time it takes to receive them. The attorney echoed these comments about the cumbersome, often unfair and exceedingly complicated system.

A seminar, or open mic session, was later scheduled in conjunction with the Membership Education Committee, so that members' problems and questions could be aired.

The committee also identified several areas and priorities needing immediate attention.

At a meeting of the Eastern Regional Board on April 8, 2003, Mr. Waason gave a status report on significant changes that the committee and appropriate staff had instituted in the way Equity approaches and deals with Workers' Comp issues and injured members. Here are some of the initiatives that have been developed.

  • Working with The Actors' Fund, the committee established a support group for injured workers.
  • The committee acted on a request by a member to look into a possibly serious situation concerning a specific kind of dance shoe. The matter was referred to the Advisory Committee on Chorus Affairs (ACCA) and a joint subcommittee was formed to investigate and monitor shows that use these shoes.
  • The committee sponsored a New York State AFL-CIO Navigator seminar about Workers' Comp for relevant staff and committee members. Invitations were also extended to all Broadway stage managers, the League of American Theatres and Producers, company managers and members of the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers (ATPAM). The Navigator Program was held over a two day period in late April, 2003 and attended by about 30 people. The Committee is hoping to sponsor another session this fall.
  • Following interviews with three law firms, Fine, Olin and Anderman in New York was selected to assist members specifically with Workers' Comp issues.
  • The committee is working with Equity's outside Business Reps to formulate a uniform presentation when speaking at first rehearsal meetings so that members will know early on about the correct procedures for reporting job-related injuries.

In addition to these major breakthroughs, the committee is working on creating an in-house injury database and coordinating a lobbying effort to change offending Workers' Comp laws, especially raising the maximum rate.

At the April 8 meeting, too, the ERB voted to make the Committee on Workers' Comp/Workplace Safety a standing committee of the Board.

How and When to File a Workers' Comp Claim

If you suffer a work-related injury, you must immediately establish a Workers' Compensation claim. The first step is to report the accident to your employer-either orally or in writing. Make sure that the employer files an Employer's First Report Of Injury and that you get a copy. The name and address of the employer's insurance carrier should also be obtained. Reporting the injury or occupational illness to your employer establishes the fact that you were injured at work.

Next, see a doctor. This is essential since the doctor who treats you must also file a copy of his/her report with the Workers' Comp insurance carrier in order to be paid. Once medical treatment is given, a claim must be opened and a case number assigned. In New York State, this is initiated by the injured worker filing a C-3 form with the State Workers' Compensation Board. When an employer report of injury, called a C-2 in New York State, is filed and no corresponding medical documentation is received within a few months, the report is destroyed. Therefore, it is important to remember that even if the injury seems minor at the time, have your employer file an injury report, see a doctor and file whatever forms are necessary for the state in which you are injured.

Once your employer files the First Report of Injury with the insurance carrier and your doctor sends in a medical report with an accompanying bill, the claims examiner matches up the two documents and a file is set up. The examiner then assigns a claim number to your case and also files this information with the Workers' Compensation Board. The Board then matches that up with the form you've filed and opens a case file with a case number.

"Equity is dedicated to helping protect the health and safety of our members. We are also committed to seeking cost containment measures for our health plan. The Committee on Workers' Comp/Workplace Safety has made an excellent start, but there remains much more to be done," says Eastern Regional Director Carol Waaser.

If you have any question about Workers' Comp, contact Valerie La Varco at the National office, 212-8698530.

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