A "climate of fear" among employees within the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and the Ohio Industrial Commission may be affecting their ability to process workers’ compensation and make decisions on whether injured workers are entitled to benefits, contributing to a backlog of cases.
A recent audit, as well as a series of investigative articles by the Columbus Dispatch revealed that the backlog of workers’ compensation cases awaiting decision grew as employees of the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation grew increasingly unhappy and fearful about their own working conditions.
In a story published in February, The Dispatch found that a backlog of injured-worker cases grew last year as employees filed dozens of union grievances on workplace issues. Many of the 111 union grievances filed in 2007 alleged retaliation and unequal application of policies such as timekeeping, pregnancy leave and outside employment.
An audit of the agency by the Ohio Department of Administrative Services, revealed some shocking information:
- More than 90 percent of employees of the Ohio Industrial Commission complained about retaliation and other management issues.
Half of those interviewed said they had experienced some type of discrimination.
- Two of the Industrial Commission employees were "visibly shaking and trembling" when interviewed, the report said. Another cried. Seven were "very hesitant to speak."
- The report was strongly critical of the management of the 500-employee agency, which hears appeals of Bureau of Workers' Compensation decisions and all cases involving compensation for permanent disabilities.
- The report dealt specifically with the Industrial Commission's handling of Equal Employment Opportunity complaints, but it also noted a climate of fear and retaliation. Employees were "frantic" as soon as the Department of Administrative Services launched its inquiry, fearing retaliation if they participated in the process, the report noted.
- The Ohio inspector general's office, which investigates reports of wrongdoing and other problems in state government, also is probing the commission. That report is expected today.
The commission's chairman, Gary DiCeglio, a former union official whom Gov. Ted Strickland appointed in July, said he can't identify the source of alleged retaliation.
- "There's never been one person who's said, 'It's happened to me,' " DiCeglio said. "I've asked where, but I've never come up with a showing in this instance. Please tell me who's doing the retaliation and where."
- DiCeglio said the commission has nearly worked through the backlog, while labor-management issues have improved. DiCeglio and other Industrial Commission officials met in mid-February with leaders of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association to try to iron out the disputes.