A recent report by Reveal News alleges that Tesla’s in-house medical clinic has been minimizing employee injuries to help block workers’ compensation claims against the company.
“It’s Supposed to Be Patients First”
Reveal News interviewed former Tesla employees who were injured on the job as well as former employees of Access Omnicare, Tesla’s onsite clinic at its factory in Fremont, CA. The interviewees said Access Omnicare deliberately minimized the severity of work injuries to shield Tesla from paying workers’ compensation benefits.
The report describes cases in which employees suffered broken bones, electrocution, and mold-related rashes while working at the Tesla factory, only to have the clinic deny that these injuries required time off of work. One employee, Stephon Nelson, suffered a crushing injury when the hatchback of a Model X fell on his back. Even though he could barely walk, Access Omnicare kept sending him back to work full duty.
Former employees allege that the need to reduce costs for the barely-profitable automaker heavily influenced these medical decisions. Because Tesla uses a form of self-insurance, Reveal claims the company itself could be responsible for as much as $750,000.00 in medical payments for each workers’ compensation claim.
According to former Access Omnicare operations manager Yvette Bonnet, Tesla’s workers’ compensation manager would pressure the clinic’s top physician, Dr. Basil Besh, to make sure that the company was not financially responsible for certain injured workers. Whenever Tesla flagged a case, Dr. Besh would allegedly order his staff to reverse course and change diagnoses and job restrictions or even take action himself to appease the company.
“He would say, ‘I’m not losing the contract over this – get this case closed,’” Bonnet told Reveal. “Besh wanted to make certain that we were doing what Tesla wanted so badly. He got the priorities messed up. It’s supposed to be patients first.”
Tesla Ignored Requests for Workers’ Compensation Paperwork
In addition to downplaying the severity of employees’ injuries, Reveal News alleges that Tesla also seeks to keep workers’ compensation costs down by avoiding having claims in the first place. Multiple former employees claim that the company repeatedly ignored injured workers’ requests for the paperwork needed to file a workers’ compensation claim.
Stephon Nelson, who was routinely ordered back to full duty despite a crushing back injury that left him barely able to walk, was ultimately diagnosed with intractable back pain and contusions. Though he asked for a workers’ compensation claim form from his supervisor, the factory clinic, and the Tesla human resources department, Nelson said nobody would give him one.
“I just knew after the third or fourth time that they weren’t going to do anything about it,” Nelson said. “I was very frustrated. I was upset.’”
Nelson eventually quit Tesla. He now owes more than a thousand dollars for work-related hospital visits.
California law requires employers to provide the official workers’ compensation claim form, called a DWC 1, within one day of learning of an injury. To help get around this requirement, one physician assistant at the factory clinic said the clinic did not allow them to give injured workers medical treatment or job restrictions in most cases, even when they obviously needed it.
Because California does not require employers to provide a claim form for injuries that require only first aid, the physician assistant said she was told that “Everybody leaves this clinic as first aid.”
Troubling Pattern of Behavior
The actions highlighted in Reveal’s most recent report do not represent the first time Tesla has been accused of mishandling worker injuries at its plant. Last year, Reveal News reported that the automaker routinely mislabeled work-related injuries as “personal medical cases.” Under this designation, these incidents would not be included in legally-mandated reports to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration about work-related injuries that result in days missed from work, medical treatment beyond first aid, and job restrictions.
Despite this seemingly troubling pattern of behavior, Tesla continues to insist that its employee safety and workers’ compensation compliance practices are more than adequate. In fact, at the company’s 2018 Third Quarter Earnings Call, both Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Laurie Shelby, the company’s Vice President of Safety, praised Access Omnicare.
Musk even announced plans to extend Access Omnicare to other Tesla plants, “so that we have really immediate first-class healthcare available right on the spot when people need it.”