The Center for Investigative Reporting, previously claimed that Tesla systemically kept worker injuries off the books, artificially improving its safety record and violating the law on recording workplace injuries.
In a new Reveal report, the journalists have followed up with an article on how “Tesla and its doctor made sure injured employees didn’t get workers’ comp.“
Reveal says that interviews with former clinic employees and internal clinic communications show how Tesla and Dr. Basil Besh coordinated behind the scenes in an arrangement that financially benefited both the carmaker and the doctor, to the detriment of the injured.
Neither Tesla nor Besh responded to questions for this story.
Inside a medical clinic not far from Tesla’s electric car factory, Yvette Bonnet started noting a troubling pattern. The automaker’s workers’ compensation manager would pressure her boss, Dr. Basil Besh, to make sure Tesla wasn’t on the hook for certain injured workers.
And in her observation, Besh did whatever he could to not jeopardize his chance to run Tesla’s on-site factory clinic. “He would say, ‘I’m not losing the contract over this – get this case closed,’” said Bonnet, who was operations manager for Besh’s Access Omnicare clinic in Fremont, California, for about a year.
Besh’s clinic had been struggling to make money, according to former employees. They say business dropped off when Tesla, previously Access Omnicare’s top client, opened an on-site factory clinic managed by another company in 2016.
But as Tesla took heat for how often its factory workers were getting injured, Access Omnicare got a chance to win back Tesla’s business, to take over its on-site clinic. In December 2017,
Tesla sent a patient, Bill Casillas, to Besh as part of a trial run of sorts. Much of the investigation relates the details of the Casillas case.
An internal Tesla incident report documented a work injury due to “shock from an electrical forklift.” Kaiser Permanente doctors who examined him the day after the incident diagnosed him with an industrial “electrocution.” A doctor at Besh’s clinic agreed that it was a work-related electrical injury, prescribing him limited job duties, physical therapy and additional tests.
But Tesla didn’t like the diagnosis, Bonnet said. She got an email from Tesla’s workers’ compensation manager, Amir Sharifi. He argued that there wasn’t a work injury at all – just a case of minor static electricity.
Bonnet relayed the message to Besh, who angrily confronted the physician treating Casillas, He reportedlh complained the tests cost too much and told the doctor to discharge Casillas, Bonnet said.
Besh, a prominent hand surgeon who also runs a surgery center and hosts political fundraisers at his home, used the Casillas case in negotiations with Tesla, Bonnet said. She recalled him telling Tesla that if he was in charge of the factory clinic, Casillas’ case wouldn’t have gotten as far as it did.
Anna Watson, a physician assistant who worked in the Tesla factory clinic in August, said she wasn’t allowed to give injured workers medical treatment or job restrictions, even when they clearly needed it. “Everybody leaves this clinic as first aid,” Watson said she was told. Employers don’t need to provide a claim form for injuries that require only first aid.
Laurie Shelby, Tesla’s vice president for environment, health and safety, recently told state officials, “We set up a process to ensure that our employees receive the proper paperwork and care.” But according to the Reveal report, this too, is contradicted by the accounts of former employees.