an ongoing series of profiles on people
who made a difference in the workers’
compensation system, Peggy Sugarman
talks about her passion for workers’
compensation and her various roles in the
system over 30+ years. She began her career in 1977 as a vocational
rehabilitation counselor and coordinator for catastrophic injuries
insurance industry. In 1986 she joined the California Department of
Relations’ Division of Workers’ Compensation. By 1990,
she was the head of
the statewide vocational rehabilitation unit until she was appointed
executive management team. From 1992-2000 she served as the DWC Chief
Deputy Administrative Director. From 2000-2006 she was a consultant
various stakeholders (including California Applicants’ Attorneys
and Voters Injured at Work). She is currently the Training Director
for the Law
Offices of Grancell, Lebovitz, Stander, Reubens and Thomas, a workers’
compensation defense firm in California.
Ms. Sugarman received her B.A. in psychology from the University of
at Davis and her M.S. in counseling from California State University
in Sacramento. She is currently working on her doctorate in Organizational
Psychology at the Marshall Goldsmith School of Management.
|I am honored
to be considered as someone who has made a difference in the
California workers’ compensation system. My career decisions
and opportunities have allowed me to view the system from many
different perspectives. My former position as Chief Deputy Administrative
Director provided a unique opportunity for me to experience
and learn in a very challenging management
|and policy environment,
after which my consulting work took me into the world of politics
Through these experiences, I have learned some critical things
about myself. First, I have a seemingly insatiable interest
in all aspects of the system. I also love teaching and writing.
So, as the Training Director for the Law Offices of Grancell,
Lebovitz, Stander, Reubens and Thomas, I have a unique opportunity
to do the things I love to do while also helping clients to
improve their understanding of the system.
The system has changed dramatically since I began what was supposed
to be a temporary job almost 32 years ago, requiring participants
to put aside their daily tasks while navigating through cloudy
statutory language, keeping abreast of appellate decisions that
altered decades of common practices, read and understand reams
of new regulations, and more recently to cope with entirely
new filing practices based on the long-awaited Electronic Adjudication
Management System [EAMS] at the DWC. Many, if not all, of these
changes require new work processes and new ways of thinking.
These challenges would be easier if the work didn’t pile
up while you are busy trying to figure out what to do, which
is as true for DWC employees as it is for claims professionals
In my role as a trainer, I always try to provide an historical
context to any rule or change so that the participants have
a broader understanding of how various issues have evolved.
Many of them make more sense when viewed through the broad lenses
of basic public policy and decades of festering appellate arguments.
For example, the pre-SB 899 arguments embedded in the appellate
law on §5814 penalties were windows into the employer’s
feelings on the matter, which translated directly into how the
laws were amended once the opportunity arose for employers to
implement such a change. Likewise, when I was the Deputy Director
for the DWC, employers were flooding the division with recommendations
in 1992 to adopt the AMA Guides as the new method for determining
permanent disability. Where there are strong feelings, you can
be sure to eventually see some proposed legislation to deal
I also try to help clients see changes from different perspectives.
As I looked into the back rooms of the DWC as they implement
the new EAMS system, I was struck by the number of steps that
are required to get an OCR filing “into” EAMS. By
sharing these steps with claims personnel, it helps them to
understand why certain things are required and to have patience
while DWC works to get this ambitious program up and running.
I am grateful to division staff members who have spent precious
time allowing me to view their internal processes so that I
can assist our clients with the proper information. Talk about
One thing continues to be a challenge to all system participants:
how to do the best job possible given the myriad of changes.
This includes more than understanding the history and the newest
rules that govern your business, or changing your business processes
to accommodate such changes. It involves a reexamination of
personal goals. How do you fit into this new workers’
compensation world? How are you coping with the changes and
what are you doing to adapt to them?
Personally, I decided to return to school to obtain my Ph.D.
in organizational psychology. As a “returning student”,
which is a kind way of saying that I’m probably the oldest
student in the program, it has been the path to complete transformation
despite the grueling schedule of working during the day, attending
classes at night. I am now able to better recognize and understand
the issues, both policy and management, that confront those
of us who are committed to a career in California’s workers’
compensation. Already, this experience is like a gift that keeps
giving: I can continually apply the knowledge to my work.
As knowledge seems to be the key to a better understanding of
the world, training is the key to an improved benefit delivery
system. All of our clients want to deliver benefits properly,
timely and fairly. No claims administrator wants to be caught
in an audit penalty or a §5814.6 assessment. To the extent
that training helps claims administrators to deliver benefits
according to the law, disputes are minimized, penalties are
avoided, and costs are reduced. I hope that my training efforts
have contributed to these goals.
Thanks again for honoring me as one who has contributed to the
system in a positive way, and I hope to continue to do so for
many years to come!