|Understanding Workers Compensation: The Role of Frontline Management|
|by William Wahoff, Scott, Scriven & Wahoff, LLP|
|Management Fall 2011|
In today’s workforce, it is now more critical than ever to educate and train your company’s frontline supervision in understanding workers’ compensation and how to minimize company losses as a result of workers’ compensation injuries. This article will address how educating your frontline management can reduce work- related injuries, promote a safe workplace for your company’s associates and avoid litigation.
Immediately and Thoroughly Investigate Incidents
Supervisors/management must emphasize to associates the importance of timely reporting for any injuries and/or incidents. Emphasize that it does not matter how minor the injury and/or incident may have been – it always is important to report the injury and/or incident in a timely manner.
Once an incident and/or injury has been reported, an incident investigation must be commenced immediately. This is necessary because memories can fade fast. It is important to get an accurate picture of how the incident and/or injury occurred, exactly what was happening at that time and who was involved in the incident and/or injury before memories fade and records are destroyed. Supervisors must be trained in detail about why prompt incident investigation is essential.
A prompt investigation is necessary because if it is a work-related injury, then the investigation will help determine if the claim is valid. It also is important because a specific process may need to be re-evaluated and improved to prevent further incidents and/or injuries or to take any disciplinary action.
There also is a possibility that a current or former employee may sue his/her supervisor after an incident and/or injury if your state allows such suits. If a prompt and proper investigation takes place, then there is a better ability to properly defend the supervisor in the lawsuit. If no investigation takes place, then it will be difficult to determine what was done at the time of the incident and/or injury as there may be little or no documentation that exists about the incident and/or injury.
Supervisors should have standard witness questions. When there is an explanation of the incident, make sure it is explained so that a third party could understand it (i.e., if the floor was dry, take a picture).
It is sometimes difficult to predict what course legal claims will take, so training frontline supervision in potential legal liabilities, particularly their own potential liability or the possibility of a criminal case against them, will make it more likely they will be diligent in their investigation.
Enforcement of Safety Rules
Frontline management must be educated about the OSHA General Duty Clause, which states each employer “shall furnish…a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.” Within the last year, OSHA has increased its enforcement of the General Duty Clause. If OSHA can find proof of your or your supervisors’ knowledge of a condition that is recognized as a hazard, OSHA believes it can issue a citation under the General Duty Clause for almost any safety hazard.
Strictly Observe Medical Restrictions
Evaluation Points for Frontline Management
Therefore, supervisors must be trained to use calendars, notepads, ledger books or specific forms to make it convenient to document events and enforce the rules. The limits of frontline discretion must be clear. At times, safety rule enforcement can result in suspension or termination. Management should ensure that terminations are reviewed by a legally knowledgeable and responsible person in the company. At times, there is a failure to investigate or to discover sufficient facts internally to make an informed employment decision. Review by an uninvolved management official can assist in completing the record.
Training supervisors to enforce policies on the immediate reporting of injuries can greatly reduce workers’ compensation abuse. First, make sure there is a policy requiring immediate reporting of injuries (i.e., within the same shift or part of shift). Then, with that policy posted everywhere in the workplace, give written warnings to those who do not comply. Continue to follow up with progressive discipline for multiple offenders.
In conjunction with the employee’s failure to immediately report injuries is the failure of the supervisor to immediately investigate and document reported alleged injuries. If a policy is in place requiring the immediate reporting of injuries, but your supervision delays the investigation of incidents, then the policy and enforcement will not have credibility. It is vital that supervisors and managers understand that when an employee comes to them with an incident, they are to obtain the employee’s statement immediately and conduct an investigation. Again, this should be an evaluation point.
Employees Training Employees
Managers and supervisors must be educated in the OSHA requirements. Supervisors should have at minimum the OSHA 10-hour course. Lock Out/Tagout (i.e., control of energized circuits), machine guarding, personal protective equipment, evacuation plans, occupational noise exposure and recordkeeping are some of the areas most cited by OSHA in this industry. Specifically with machine guarding, it is essential to double-check that all machines are guarded in accordance with OSHA standards.
In some states, companies/management possibly can be presumed to have committed an intentional tort, allowing an employee to sue, if a guard has been “deliberately removed.” In any case in which a guard that has been present is absent, the company is exposed to citations by OSHA and possibly lawsuits that will need to be defended in the event of an injury.
Termination of Injured and/or Disabled Employees
William J. Wahoff, Esq. is a partner in the law firm of Scott, Scriven & Wahoff, LLP. The firm represents public and private sector employers in labor and employment law, specializing in workers’ compensation, OSHA and intentional tort defense. Wahoff can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 614.827.6404. The firm’s website can be accessed at www.sswlaw.com.