Boo! It’s October!

What’s lurking in your L&I Account?

October is the month we start looking for ghosts and goblins to jump out and shout Boo! You might have another scare this month, as you look at your proposed L&I rates for 2021. Rates can go up by 25 percent in a single year — a very scary surprise in today’s uncertain times!

In fact, Ghosts have many similarities and differences with L&I rate increases:

Ghosts 👻

L&I Rate Increases 📈



Can affect your home for years

Can affect your company for years

Appear in the dark

Appear when claims are left in the dark

Sometimes friendly

Never friendly

Not actually real

All too real

Not preventable

Very preventable

Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters

Who you gonna call? Your Approach Retro Coordinator – before it’s too late!

How L&I rate increases happen

A final difference is how these things come to be. Some people think ghosts are created when a spirit has been disturbed. But L&I rate increases are the opposite – they tend to occur when claims have been ignored – left open to build up their expenses over years and years.

That’s because claims costs are mostly invisible if you aren’t paying attention. If an injured employee is certified off-work by their provider, L&I will gladly pay time-loss, plus costs for specialized treatment, possible employee vocational retraining, and more. You won’t get a bill for these costs, but every dollar is charged to your workers’ comp account. Just like with any insurance, the higher the claims costs, the higher your rates are going to be in the future.

The best way to avoid these costs is to prevention by having a strong and effective safety program in your workplace. You’ll see your rates go down and can even qualify for the Claim-Free Discount to earn the lowest possible rates.

Staying on top of the claim

If a claim does happen, then it’s time to get to work. If you’re an Approach client, your retro coordinator will be with you through the entire process. Every employer in Washington should be sure you open and read every piece of mail from L&I immediately. Whatever it is, it won’t be as scary as what happens when claims are ignored.

Open and read every piece of mail from L&I immediately. Whatever it is, it won’t be as scary as what happens when claims are ignored.

The best thing you can do as an employer is to help your injured employee return to productive work as soon as the Activity Prescription Form (APF) from the provider indicates any form of release to work. Often, there will be restrictions on the type and/or amount of work that the employee can perform during recovery, so you will need to offer a light-duty position within these restrictions.

Light-duty work speeds the recovery process and keeps expensive claim costs from racking up. Plus, Washington State offers reimbursements for half of the injured employees base wages while performing approved light-duty work, for up to 66 days or $10,000 reimbursed, whichever occurs first. Expenses for training fees, materials, tools and/or clothing can also be reimbursed.

At Approach, we have a full-time Stay-at-Work Specialist dedicated to helping our clients file for these reimbursements with the Dept. of Labor & Industries (L&I). We’ve helped clients to claim millions in reimbursements since the program began in 2011. They’ve saved even more with lower rates by staying in control of their claims.

What if I don’t have light-duty?

Many companies, especially smaller employers, may feel that they simply “don’t have light-duty work” outside of what their staff normally perform. Washington state created the Stay-at-Work incentives because it does take time and effort to bring employees back to light-duty work, but the long-term benefits to the employee, employer, and L&I are too great to ignore. It’s important to offer light-duty work right away whenever possible.

Stay-at-Work – savings example

The following example is based on actual claim in which the employee was off work and received time-loss payments for 23 days. However, the employee could have been brought back to light-duty work after just two days.

$6,000 of extra cost in 23 days

In just 23 days, the claim racked up enough expenses to cost this employer $3,939 in rate increases over three future years.

The employer also lost out on $1,238 in Retro refunds and missed the opportunity to earn $924 in reimbursements through the Stay-at-Work program.

In short, 23 days of inaction cost this employer more than $6,000. Very scary!

Or, $4,000 in savings

On the other hand, here’s how the employer could have saved by bringing the employee back to light-duty work for day 3 through day 23:

Days 1 and 2: No work allowed. Employer pays KOS wages $176
Days 3-23:  Light-duty work allowed. Employer pays regular wages $1,848
Total expenditures      $2,024
Reduced premium over three future years by providing KOS & light-duty $3,939
Increased refund resulting from lower overall claims costs $1,238
Stay-at-Work refund (50% of regular wages paid while on light-duty) $924
Total savings             $6,101
Net savings           $4,077

Don’t let claims hide away! For just $2,024 in expenses, this employer could have had their employee back on the job, while saving more than $4,000 in workers’ comp. costs.

Remember, you won’t see these costs right away. Instead, they’ll be lurking in the background, waiting to impact your business when you least expect it. Once your rates start to rise, they can increase for 3 years in a row, just from a single claim.

The best way to control claim costs is to prevent injuries from happening in the first place. However, once an injury or occupational disease does occur, a quick, safe return-to-work in an approved light-duty position is always the best possible outcome. You don’t need a Ghostbuster, just your Approach Retro Coordinator, to keep things from getting spooky.

Coming October 16: The COVID-19 pandemic may make this more difficult, but Approach employers have been successful in creating light-duty positions even during the stay-at-home order. We’ll take a look at these in next week’s Ask Approach.