Pacific Sunwear prides itself on its laid-back California style when it comes to its clothing and products, but CLM Fellow Veda Mabry is anything but when it comes to making sure her injured employees are looked after and treated the right way before and during their return to work.
Q. How did risk management become your career?
A. After graduating with my MBA, I really wanted to get into human resources. After temping for a bit, a friend told me about an opening at Pacific Sunwear. I started as an HR coordinator, and was promptly given the task of cleaning up our workers’ compensation claims. At the time, the payroll department was handing workers’ compensation claims, and that meant there were few processes in place to ensure the health of our injured employees. I received my certification in workers’ compensation and started to work on cleaning up all of our open claims and figuring out why so many associates were continuing to treat but staying on modified duty. Eventually, I was able to take our 100 ongoing claims down to 20 or so. On an annual basis, I’d say we handle around 150 workers’ compensation and general liability claims.
Q. How do the holidays affect your workers’ compensation exposure?
A. We operate over 600 stores in addition to our headquarters and distribution center. At any given time, we have approximately 10,000 associates. During the holidays, however, that number goes up to over 15,000. Some of our holiday hires will be in the store for only a few weeks at the most—some might work only on Black Friday. That means safety training becomes very important, not only for the holiday hires, but also for all associates, especially when it comes to things like working on a ladder, lifting/pushing/pulling/carrying techniques, and how to safely use a box cutter. Additionally, we distribute monthly safety topics that can be accessed in each store at any time, and we constantly remind our associates of things to be mindful of to avoid injuries.
Q. What is your risk management philosophy?
A. The majority of my injured workers are millennials, so my philosophy is probably best described as “TLC”—tender loving care. At the onset of an injury, I’m the one who will be assisting them with their medical needs and explaining the workers’ compensation process. A lot of them don’t have medical insurance or are used to having medical issues handled by a parent, so they don’t know that things work differently in the world of workers’ compensation. For instance, we have to explain to them that they cannot go to their primary care physicians because they don’t handle workers’ compensation claims.
For me, I have found that claims spiral out of control when an injured worker feels that no one is checking up on them or following up after their appointments. It’s important to me that our associates feel that I’m there for them and care about their recoveries.
Q. Can you discuss an interesting claims experience?
A. Years ago, before social media had the presence it does today, we had an associate who injured his back after falling from a ladder. He just wasn’t getting better, and doctors said he wasn’t well enough to return. MySpace was around, though, and a quick search showed that his “debilitating injury” that kept him from work didn’t seem to affect his night job, which was working as a well-known DJ who was famous for his breakdancing routines. We settled that claim quickly, needlessly to say.
Q. Have you taken a risk and turned it into an opportunity?
A. We noticed that each month the accidents were especially high when there was a floor set move. The accidents ranged from falls from ladders, lifting boxes of merchandise, and power tool injuries to the hands. The cost to treat was big, so we decided to take a proactive instead of reactive approach to injuries. Now, I partner with our Visual Department to walk through every detail of what the associates will be doing before any documentation is sent to the stores. We put together a “safety first” page for the associates to read before they execute the floor set. It gives them clear directions on operating a drill, how to use cutting materials, and how to utilize personal protective equipment. The biggest change we just made came in the form of a request: “Please don’t bring your power tools from home.” These strategies have significantly cut down our injuries.