(1)(a) In order to effect the self-executing features of the Workers' Compensation Law, this chapter shall be construed to permit injured employees and employers or the employer's carrier to resolve disagreements without undue expense, costly litigation, or delay in the provisions of benefits. It is the duty of all who participate in the workers' compensation system, including, but not limited to, carriers, service providers, health care providers, attorneys, employers, managed care arrangements, and employees, to attempt to resolve disagreements in good faith and to cooperate with the department's efforts to resolve disagreements between the parties. The department may by rule prescribe definitions that are necessary for the effective administration of this section.
(b) An Employee Assistance and Ombudsman Office is created within the department to inform and assist injured workers, employers, carriers, health care providers, and managed care arrangements in fulfilling their responsibilities under this chapter. The department may by rule specify forms and procedures for administering this section.
(c) The Employee Assistance and Ombudsman Office shall be a resource available to all employees who participate in the workers' compensation system and shall take all steps necessary to educate and disseminate information to employees and employers. Upon receiving a notice of injury or death, the Employee Assistance and Ombudsman Office may initiate contact with the injured employee or employee's representative to discuss rights and responsibilities of the employee under this chapter and the services available through the Employee Assistance and Ombudsman Office.
(2)(a) If at any time the employer or its carrier fails to provide benefits to which the employee believes she or he is entitled, the employee shall contact the office to request assistance in resolving the dispute. The office may review a petition for benefits filed under s. 440.192 and may attempt to facilitate an agreement between the employee and the employer or carrier. The employee, the employer, and the carrier shall cooperate with the office and shall timely provide the office with any documents or other information that it may require in connection with its efforts under this section.
(b) The office may compel parties to attend conferences in person or by telephone in an attempt to resolve disputes quickly and in the most efficient manner possible. Settlement agreements resulting from such conferences must be submitted to the Office of the Judges of Compensation Claims for approval.
(c) The Employee Assistance and Ombudsman Office may assign an ombudsman to assist the employee in resolving the dispute. The ombudsman may, at the employee's request, assist the employee in drafting a petition for benefits and explain the procedures for filing petitions. The Employee Assistance and Ombudsman Office may not represent employees before the judges of compensation claims. An employer or carrier may not pay any attorneys' fees on behalf of the employee for services rendered or costs incurred in connection with this section, unless expressly authorized elsewhere in this chapter.
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