Growing up in the Midwest, I always felt secure and never thought about horrible things that could go wrong outside of my home. I began my career in insurance working for Wausau Insurance Companies and was a multiple line claims adjuster in the areas of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and northern Wisconsin. I never thought twice about the remote places I visited because they were such idyllic areas, not only in beauty, but in safety.
My job involved hand delivering new workers compensation policies to businesses in that area. I also met with injured workers at their homes in isolated areas. In one instance, I went to a man’s home for a statement and he was cleaning his deer rifle at the kitchen table! (My dad and brother were hunters, so, luckily, I was not alarmed about the rifle.) When the law changed, I also had to explain to injured workers that their weekly benefits would decrease if they were also receiving Social Security disability. Those were very hard words to deliver and many times I was asked to leave the premise.
When I arrived to work in our Madison, WI office, life soon changed for me. I was in the 'big city' now and the accounts were very sophisticated. We insured a large pump manufacturer who employed several hundred people. One of their employees had injured his back and was off work, collecting benefits. His local physician had written him an excuse to be off of work. I had been to this man’s home for a statement and to explain the benefits he was entitled to under workers compensation.
It just so happened that the following weekend, I was with friends enjoying the weather outside. Near where we were visiting, there was a lively game of basketball going on. It was one of my friends who said, “Hey, there is Andy Grabel (fictitious name) playing basketball! He used to be a very good college basketball player.” I looked over and there was the claimant who I had just met at his home, the one that was limited in his work activities. He certainly was not limited in his basketball moves! I thought, if he was doing this, he could work.
The next Monday, I called my contact at the insured and explained what I saw. I also sent the claimant’s doctor a letter advising him of the situation. The doctor ended up releasing the employee to return to work and the employer laid him off. Andy then filed an unemployment claim for benefits. The insured denied this claim and a hearing was scheduled for all parties to appear and state their case.
The insured’s Human Resources Manager, their Corporate Counsel, my friend that recognized him, and I all showed up to the hearing. Andy showed up as well and he was very upset. My friend and I both had to testify what we saw the day of the basketball game. As the hearing continued, Andy became more and more upset and voiced his anger. He eventually left the room and the hearing was stopped. As we left, he was standing outside the room brandishing a very long switchblade. We each tried to exit the room, but Andy made it very difficult by blocking the doorway and flaunting the switchblade.
We were all scared and did not know what to do. Luckily, someone at the hearing had called the police who took Andy away in cuffs before he could do any harm. He had been on probation for another matter and this violated his probation. He ended up in jail. Even though no one was hurt, my sense of safety was seriously violated. I learned to stop being naïve and to think more about my surroundings.
As the world evolves, we each have to think about how we could be put in harm’s way while doing our job. Whether we work in a school, office, church, manufacturing plant, or on a construction work site, we need to think of the safety of our employees and co-workers.
Have you talked to your employees about this? Do you have a plan if something should occur? Sadly, we need to be prepared. In future blogs, I will address ways to prepare and react to these situations.