When You're Injured at Work: A Union Perspective

  1. You have the right to immediate on-duty emergency care. You are not required to limp through the rest of your shift, to finish processing an arrest or even to complete reports before seeking medical attention. We rely on your professionalism to do what you can to tie up loose ends, but let someone know you’re injured. No one wants you to injure yourself further by delaying medical treatment unnecessarily. Your fellow officers will take care of you just the way you would take care of them. Report the injury to your supervisor as soon as possible. You and your supervisor will complete the form that triggers Workers Comp coverage (titled “Accident Form.”)
  2. Forget about your HMO. You have the right to excellent care and Workers Compensation will be your insurer for all of the assessments and subsequent treatments related to an on-duty injury. You are not required to limit your medical options to hospitals, medical facilities or physicians/chiropractors within your regular insurance plan. If, for example, you carry Dean Care at work, normally you and yours would go to St. Mary’s ER in an emergency. With an on-duty injury, you can opt to go to Meriter or UW if you prefer. Workers Comp will cover the bills. If you choose to go to St. Mary’s that’s fine too, but Workers Comp, not Dean Care, will be covering your expenses for injuries you sustained at work. If you wish to seek care from an open clinic, it’s not necessary to use an ER to be covered by Workers Comp. You can go to your own physician or chiropractor or to any urgent care clinic.
  3. If you cannot finish your shift due to an on-duty injury, you must first inform a supervisor of the injury and begin the paperwork that triggers Workers Comp coverage. You may then request to go home prior to or in lieu of seeking emergency medical treatment. The hours not worked will NOT come out of your sick leave or COA balances. You will be paid as though you were still working. For a minor injury, you may feel it is sufficient to go home and rest (you know, RICE, rest, ice, compression, elevation) or you may elect to get medical care or chiropractic care the next day. We encourage you to get medical or chiropractic documentation of any injury that might continue to bother you.
  4. If you cannot return to duty for your next shift, you must seek medical or chiropractic documentation of the injury and the expected recovery period and follow-up care required. Your doctor or chiropractor will need to fill out the “City of Madison Medical Status Report.” This is the multiple page form that lets your treatment provider say whether or not you may return to work full time, part time and/or with restrictions. All Workers Comp forms are in the OIC’s office and should be in all districts. Most Sergeants carry these forms. Depending on the injury, you may need some time off work completely or you may return in some limited capacity such as Restricted Duty (ie, light duty.) Make sure you and your doctor or chiropractor fully understand what it means to come back to full duty and/or restricted duty in terms of the work you are expected to perform. Communicate very clearly with these people. They sometimes misunderstand the mechanics of the work we do. The Medical Status Report must be returned to your supervisor or the OIC as soon as possible so that your work schedule can be modified and your shifts can be covered. If it is too hard for you to get the form in immediately, call the OIC and make sure he or she understands the situation and takes care of getting you off the schedule.
  5. Remember, emergency room personnel are responsible for keeping people alive. Let me put this tactfully: the care and opinions you receive in an emergency setting are not always in accord with the care and opinions you may get from your own doctor or specialist the next day. Part of this is our fault. Cops minimize. We are “fine.” We blame ourselves for not seeing an obstacle or for falling wrong. We’re supposed to be strong and we are uncomfortable in that moment of realization where we know we have been injured. Police officers also run on adrenaline during critical incidents and this can mask significant injuries that may not be apparent until the adrenaline wears off. More than once, we have had officers leave emergency rooms with undiagnosed broken bones! Personally, I left an emergency room once after a head wound was stitched up and both my eyes were swollen shut. The note in my hand said I could return to duty. If you know you need more care or you feel you cannot safely and effectively perform the duties of your job, seek follow up care. Do not let the stress of an on-duty injury and your need to get “back in the saddle” cloud your judgment. We need you back well and strong. Take your health seriously. The rest of us count on you.
  6. If you cannot return to work for an extended period of time, your first five days off will be covered by the City. Effectively, this means you should see no difference in your overall amount of pay. After your first five days off due to an on-duty injury, your paycheck will look somewhat different, but in a good way. It is at this point that Workers Comp officially kicks in on the books and you will receive the legally mandated Basic Workers Comp plus the negotiated contractual provision of Workers Comp Supplemental. The Basic Workers Comp is not subject to taxes. Only the Supplement is taxed. You should notice NO reduction in your regular take-home pay; in fact, you may notice a slight increase in your regular pay. Of course, this does not take into account the loss of overtime or Special Duty pay. The wages you earn while you are out on Workers Comp, however, are guaranteed by contract to be “in no event less than the employee’s pre-injury net rate of regular pay.”
  7. Your seniority, your vacation, and your sick leave must continue to accrue normally while you are out injured. Furthermore, you should also be credited with the appropriate COA hours for any holidays that fall on your RDOs and you should continue to receive your normal shift differential pay. Unfortunately you will be ordered off for any holidays falling on your regular work days, so you will not get the “extra” 8 hours. Keep close track of your paychecks and contact a Union rep if you notice any problems. Errors sometimes creep in where systems are so complex.
  8. You have the right to time off to heal and to work on your recovery. This is controlled entirely by your doctor or chiropractor. If you and your care providers feel you need to be off work to heal, to receive treatment, to participate in therapy or exercise, take the time you need. Workers Comp can even provide for paid health club memberships, massage or referrals to other facilities as your doctor or chiropractor prescribes.
  9. Your mileage to and from appointments is reimbursed by Workers Comp. You must document your mileage from home to the appointments and back and then submit a claim to Workers Comp. This can be done currently to Jennifer Ott at WMMIC via an email attachment (jott@wmmic.com) or by mail. Wisconsin Municipal Mutual Insurance Company, WMMIC, can be reached at 4785 Hayes Road, Madison, WI 53704; telephone (608) 245-6891 or FAX (877) 285-6918. Reimbursement is usually paid at current IRS rates. Currently the rate is .485 cents per mile. You can submit these claims periodically as you see fit.
  10. When you are ready to return to work, you may do so in one of two ways:
    1. If you have medical clearance, you may return to full duty when your provider gives you the green light. The best thing to do is have your doctor or chiropractor fill out the Medical Status Report indicating you are good to go as of a certain date, though the city will accept other paperwork from your provider indicating you are fully recovered or able to return to full duty.
    2. Your other option is to return to work on restricted duty status, ie, light duty, under restrictions outlined on the same Medical Status Report form by your doctor or chiropractor. Once you have the completed form, contact your command staff to discuss your options. Currently, the Captain of Personnel and Training is responsible for longer term Restricted Duty assignments. Shorter light duty assignments will probably be handled by your district command staff (or sometimes by your night shift OIC.)

You may be asked to ride with another officer until you are brought up to speed if you have been gone a while. You may also request this option if it would make you feel more comfortable. Remember if you will be returning to work on light duty this means that you will receive your regular wages (but not Workers Comp) and all of your wages will be taxed accordingly. Prepare for a slight reduction in pay if you are returning to light duty after being on Workers Comp for a period of time.

  1. Remember, Workers Comp Supplemental is only paid for six months. If you must be off for a long period of time due to a serious injury, you really need to meet with a Union rep to get briefed on the situation you are facing. Paperwork and communication can smooth the waters.
  2. What if? What if the City or your doctor or chiropractor wants you evaluated for a Permanent Partial Disability? What if you can’t come back to work? What if you have to think about a duty disability retirement? What if there are problems or disagreements? Talk to someone on the MPPOA Board. Talk to officers who have been through these experiences themselves. Ask questions. Listen to the advice you get. These are complicated issues that can have ramifications for the rest of your life.

We protect and serve in a high-risk profession. We are out there twenty four hours a day in all kinds of weather, diving for cover in traffic, keeping our heads down on perimeters, wading through sewage, crawling through broken glass in conditions so despicable that animal rights activists would be rioting if these things were happening to a dog. Whether it’s the cuts and bruises and exposures we all suffer in the course of arresting nasty, dangerous people, injuries born of adrenaline crazed nobility and amazing acts of courage or the more embarrassing injuries suffered in falls over your buddy’s weekly supply of beef jerky, slips on the ice or bashing head first into immovable objects in the dark, on-duty injuries are a fact of life. Be as careful as you can be while still getting this crazy job done and remember, you do have the absolute right to excellent care and a full recovery while you’re on the job.

Submitted by Sue Armagost
July 24, 2008