Janet Kus, President and Co-founder of MTI America
When an injured worker doesn’t understand the workers’ compensation process, they are uncertain, fearful and anxious. This leads to missed appointments, deviation from treatment plans, or lack of motivation to get better.
Employers play a critical role here. By showing compassion and helping injured workers fully understand their situation, employers can reduce or eliminate psychological barriers when an injury occurs.
When your employees speak a different language, however, it can be difficult to communicate with them and things can get off track quickly.
Building trust starts with being able to speak a person’s language. Without trust it’s impossible to genuinely show compassion. Showing compassion for injured workers leads to improved outcomes.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “…in 2018, there were 28.2 million foreign-born persons in the U.S. labor force, comprising 17.4 percent of the total.”
Non-English-speaking foreign-born workers are prevalent in 3D jobs — Dirty, Dangerous and Demanding. These are jobs that native-born workers don’t really want, but they are essential to some of our most critical industries: agriculture, construction, transportation, food /service, textile, and automotive manufacturing.
It should be no surprise that foreign-born workers are 15 percent more likely to be fatally injured on the job compared to native-born workers. Language barriers are one of the biggest reasons for increased risk and exposure. Yet it is easy for employers to eliminate those barriers, improve safety, and promote a speedy recovery by selecting the right company to provide translation services.
Worker Wellbeing is Compromised When Language Barriers Exist
Language barriers increase the likelihood of misunderstandings. When a worker does not understand safety training materials or is not able to communicate effectively with their supervisors and co-workers, increased risks are exponential. In industries like construction and agriculture where heavy machinery is prevalent, miscommunication can easily lead to fatalities.
If a construction worker does not understand how to properly operate machinery, the chances of injury increase tenfold.
When an injury occurs, foreign-born workers in the U.S. illegally are likely NOT to report their injuries or seek medical care for fear of being detained and/or lack of understanding of the workers’ compensation system. Language barriers also lead to more fear and anxiety when interacting with doctors and other healthcare professionals. Not only does this mean delayed recovery, it also increases the chances of re-injury.
Even when injuries are reported and the worker does see a doctor, they may not fully understand information about their prescribed medications or other steps they should take to rehabilitate themselves.
Language barriers can also prevent an injured worker from understanding the medical terminology used to explain their diagnosis, test results, prescriptions and treatment plans. A significant portion of our opioid problem in the U.S. comes from people not fully understanding the label instructions.
Every aspect of the process becomes more complex or doesn’t work. It makes compliance more difficult and less successful.
Since these cases are predisposed to errors that ultimately disadvantage the injured worker, they frequently attract attorneys who do speak workers’ native language. More often than not, workers’ comp claims that involve non-English-speaking workers end up in court. This adds time and cost to claims while doing very little to positively impact recovery.
While it’s true that the ability to speak the worker’s language won’t eliminate all the issues mentioned above, it does go a long way to solving many of the unique problems language barriers present in claims involving foreign-born workers. About 21 percent of injured workers need translation services in order to successfully recover and get back to work.
Professional Translation Services and Their Value
Employers of foreign-born workers often pass up professional interpretation services if they have bilingual employees on staff who can act as stand-in translators.
However, just because someone speaks the same language as the injured employee, it does not mean they are a qualified interpreter or translator.
Professional translators and interpreters are trained and experienced in bi-cultural competence. They convey essential meaning and context to conversations, and they translate for the employee at a level they can comprehend, with terminology, and language style that the employee understands, and which best fits the employer’s message. Competent interpreters perform skillfully and follow the highest ethical rules and confidentiality requirements.
Professional interpreters are trained to be a neutral party and an “invisible” mediator, but they also know when to step in to articulate important details. On the other hand, a bilingual employee is more likely to take sides, or unwittingly misinterpret something important. Particularly in conversations about medical care, a bilingual employee who is not familiar with the medical terminology may add or omit words rendering the conversation inaccurate, which can cause more harm than good.
Additionally, while they make speak the same language, an injured worker and their bilingual coworker may not speak the same dialect, which leaves ample room for misinterpretation.
Words have different meanings depending on the specific dialect. It is essential to rely on professionals, preferably those certified as medical interpreters, to act as a bridge of communication between the injured employee and medical staff.
Professional interpretation companies should have a network of certified translators who speak a variety of languages and dialects, so there is a better opportunity to find the right fit for any given situation.
Language and cultural understanding provided by skilled translation services helps injured workers understand why, when and how treatment is ordered. This applies beyond the population of immigrant workers who don’t speak English as a first language. Skilled translation services also aid elderly and under-educated workers who cannot read or have vision and hearing impairments.
Focus on Compassion to Find the Right Interpreter
Finding an experienced, reliable translator should be taken seriously. The interpreter you choose acts as an extension of your company, showing empathy and compassion towards the injured worker — not just translating written and spoken word. They help you build trust and diminish the fears of injured workers.
Most foreign-born workers don’t trust their employers for a number of reasons. When you can speak to them in their own language, it builds trust, and we’ve seen successes with that approach over the past three decades. Quite simply, better outcomes are achieved by showing compassion to the injured employee. However, it’s also why translators do what they do. They are helpers.
Look for a company who provides translation services in all major metropolitan areas — both within the U.S. and globally — and that can do so within two hours. For employers who are doing business in remote areas, translators can now reach them through a video platform.
We work with telehealth partners to offer telemedicine solutions to employers with workers in remote areas so that we can keep the lines of communication open, drive down costs and improve efficiencies.
When employers and employees communicate clearly and openly with each other, it lays the foundation for trust. A work environment built on trust leads to a significant improvement in morale, less turnover, a culture of teamwork and workers who take pride in what they do. All of this means a safer working environment, prevention of injuries in the first place, and a lot less litigation on claims when they do occur.
About Janet Kus
Janet Kus is president and co-founder of MTI America, initially incorporated as Medi-Trans Inc. in 1992. Janet began her career in the workers’ compensation industry as a catastrophic nurse case manager at Liberty Mutual. She received her nursing degree at Erlanger Nursing School / Chattanooga Medical College, now the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. As president of MTI, Janet ensures that the company stays true to its original commitment: to provide exceptional customer service and compassionate care to injured employees while taking work off the desks of case managers and adjusters with best-in-class ancillary solutions designed specifically for the workers compensation industry.
About MTI America
MTI America delivers ancillary healthcare solutions to workers’ compensation patients, adjusters and case managers. MTI’s translators collectively speak more than 250 languages, and many are certified in medical or legal communications and are therefore better qualified to guide injured workers through their healthcare experience and educate them about the workers’ compensation system. Seventy-five percent of MTI employees are bi-lingual, so they bring an inherent cultural competence to the table as well. Headquartered in Pompano Beach, Florida. To learn more about MTI America’s professional language and other services, please visit https://www.mtiamerica.com/.