Is This How Our Government Treats Its Employees?

Sandra Reed was a DC government worker in law enforcement for over ten years when she was injured on the job. While working in a jail, Ms. Reed was charged by a group of inmates who wanted to get their meal-tickets from her. In an effort to avoid being charged, Ms. Reed stepped backwards and tripped over a chair, hitting her head against a brick wall and sustaining a neck and back injury. Now Ms. Reed is struggling to pay for her monthly rent and groceries and is terrified of becoming homeless again as a result of losing her workers’ compensation benefits.

Ms. Reed, like so many injured DC government workers, is a formerly middle-class worker who has been pushed into poverty as a result of her workplace injury. Due to a decade of poor administration and noncompliance, the Public Sector Workers’ Compensation Program has been cutting off benefits for injured DC government workers, leaving them without income or health insurance.

In 2002, Ms. Reed, seeking to change the unjust practices of the program, joined a group of injured government workers who advocate for fairer workers’ compensation policies called the Injured Worker Advocates (IWA). IWA, along with its allies at the D.C. Employment Justice Center and D.C. Jobs with Justice, has succeeded in passing several pieces of legislation that provide greater protections to injured workers.

Despite these successes, unfortunately, the system remains heavily stacked against injured workers. IWA members advocate to improve the system through legislative  reforms like the “Protecting Injured Workers Reform Act.” If added to this year’s budget support act, this legislation would protect workers who are still injured from being arbitrarily cut-off by government-appointed “medical evaluators,” known as “IMEs,” whose focus is on denying claims to save money rather than fairly administering benefits for injured workers who need them. Instead of relying primarily on these evaluations, if this legislation passes, the opinions of the physicians who actually take the time to treat workers for their injuries would once again be given greater weight, as they were up until 2011 budget cuts.

Ms. Reed describes the deleterious impact of these evaluations on injured workers: “The IMEs have hurt a lot of us injured workers. They always tell us there is nothing wrong with us. I lost my home and was put out on the street because of a false IME report. I was hurt financially and medically because I was not able to get the care I needed. It isn’t right. I thought the DC government would take care of me and that’s not what happened.”

Click here to email Councilmember McDuffie, who oversees the Public Sector Workers’ Compensation Program, and Council Chair Mendelson to tell them we want this year’s budget to protect injured workers, not push them into poverty!

cross posted at