October 25, 2017
Time to Revisit the ‘Grand Bargain’
by Bob Wilson
Workers' comp is founded on the "grand bargain," yet few seem to remember what it is or why it was made. That's a big problem.
I honestly did not know what to expect, yet I was somewhat shocked by the results. And it is making me rethink much about our current educational strategies.
I’ve had the tremendous fortune over the last few years to present at numerous conferences and seminars about various areas of workers’ compensation. Many of those presentations mentioned the “grand bargain,” yet, it wasn’t until last week that the thought ever came to me. We spend a great deal of time talking about the tenets of the grand bargain, or the “great compromise”; but how many workers’ compensation professionals even know what it is?
I spoke at the Texas DWC Educational Conference in Dallas recently. My scheduled topic was titled “Opting Out of Opting In – The Cost of Non-Subscription.” I did not simply wish to focus on the accounting aspects of employer liability within the Texas non-subscriber world. I wanted to talk about the real cost to the employer, worker and society of not protecting our most valuable assets – our human workforce. Part of this presentation mentioned the basic doctrines of workers’ compensation, both the grand bargain and exclusive remedy. Shortly before the presentation began, however, I had a thought. I wondered, how many people, embedded in the day-to-day minutiae of workers’ comp, even know what the grand bargain is? I decided to ask, for the first time ever, that question of this audience.
See also: Taking a New Look at the ‘Grand Bargain’
My session was the last one of the conference, the mightily feared “closing session.” A number of attendees had already departed, so I would estimate that there were only about 100 people in the room. As I began my presentation, I told them that I would like to ask what was likely a stupid question. I said, “By a show of hands, how many of you have ever heard of the grand bargain?”
Probably just a dozen or so hands went up. I claimed at the time that I was not too surprised by that, but I was truly taken aback. The grand bargain, the covenant that created basic protections for injured workers in exchange for limited liability protections for their employer, is the underlying foundation that created and has guided our industry for more than 100 years; yet 90% of the workers’ compensation professionals in the room had never heard of it.
How could we let that happen?
It is often said that, to understand where you are going, you must have a clear vision of where you have been. People working in workers’ compensation today may have a clear understanding of process, but they may be fuzzy on why we exist in the first place. I’ve often said that one of the problems of the workers’ comp industry is that it has been essentially commoditized over the last 100 years. It is not clearly understood by the people it serves, and those who experienced the confusion and tumult that brought the industry to life have long since departed this earth. Today, workers’ comp is viewed by many employers as a pain-in-the-butt mandatory expense that they would be better off without. They do not appreciate the benefits and protections that workers’ comp can provide them. They don’t know about the grand bargain.
And, apparently, many in our industry are not prepared to educate them. That must change.
This shouldn’t be difficult. The grand bargain can literally be explained in minutes. It should be required curriculum at all conferences and within workers’ compensation training programs. People must understand the “why” in addition to the “what” and the “how.” In fact, the “why” is probably the most important part, as it can motivate and guide the way our processes and procedures are performed.
See also: ‘Opt Out’ Will Return; Pay Attention
This was not the fault of the people in that room in Texas. It is the failure of an industry to embrace and understand its heritage. It is the result of a relentless focus on process versus one of purpose and recovery.
We need to teach our professionals about the grand bargain. It is part of understanding our history; and, as we all know, a failure to understand history means we may be doomed to repeat it.