The Hawaii Workers’ Compensation Law is unambiguous in its intent: On-the-job safety and well-being of employees.

If illnesses and accidents arise from work, the law explains, employees are covered with medical care, replacement of wages and disability benefits as long as necessary, and even death benefits for dependents.

The law has been on the books since 1915, long before Hawaii became a state.

But the Hawaii Department of Education’s workers’ comp unit, as a Civil Beat investigation found, acts as if its mission is to make it as hard as possible for injured workers and survivors to get the benefits state law guarantees.

A screen shot of the state’s “Employer’s Report of Industrial Injury” (or WC-1) form.

Hawaii DLIR

In case after documented case, the DOE has fallen woefully short of properly processing claims and helping workers get back on the job.

“They make it like it’s your fault,” says the widow of a school custodian who died on the job last year. “They’re not very caring about people.”

Civil Beat’s report reveals a disturbing pattern at the DOE: denial of claims that later proved valid, failure to pay medical providers, late payments that only add to taxpayer costs, unnecessary scheduling of claimant hearings, and lack of specialists in the workers’ comp offices.

The DOE says new positions are now funded and that it is working to improve how it handles claims. But little has changed since a 2015 internal audit discovered inadequate record-keeping, managers overwhelmed by workloads and an inefficient approach to processing claims.

We hope that DOE leaders, the Board of Education and Gov. David Ige care enough about state employees needing workers’ compensation that they will give their immediate attention to the problems in the department.

With the Legislature set to convene in a matter of weeks, lawmakers on committees dealing with labor, higher education and government operations should hold hearings on the workers’ comp debacle.

That way the people responsible for this lame system will have to answer in public for it.

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