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May 12, 2016
Do you know what to do if one of your employees gets injured on the job? Does it feel like the decisions from Labor & Industries always work in the favor of the injured employee?
The workers’ compensation process in Washington can be confusing and difficult. Having an employee injure them self at work and potentially miss time creates a stressful situation for all parties.
Rather than allow the state insurance system (Labor & Industries) run the claim, take back control with three simple keys.
1. Incident reporting
Prompt incident reporting in workers’ compensation claims can be one of the most effective tools to manage a claim, as well as prevent future claims. Many employees do not want to report an incident for fear that they’ll be disciplined for not following proper safety procedures. The truth is employees should be encouraged to complete incident reports if something happens, as the process and information can benefit everyone. Below are a few reasons reporting incidents is critical in workers’ compensation.
• Incident reporting can act as a “heads-up” to management that helps identify potential problem areas that need to be fixed.
• Prompt reporting provides management with a record of the facts when the incident occurs. As time passes facts become clouded and recollection of details fades.
• Key evidence in a workers’ compensation claim is documented right away, allowing for a plan of action to be enacted immediately that will help all parties manage the claim, as well as prevent future claims.
• By quickly reporting incidents, time-loss payments can be avoided. Light-duty can be provided right away, allowing the injured employee to return to work in a capacity that meets their restrictions.
Employers can see a huge cost savings by requiring prompt incident reporting as well. Studies across the nation have shown that claims reported within two weeks were 18 percent more expensive than claims reported within a week. Furthermore, claims reported more than five weeks from the date of injury were 45 percent more expensive, showing that prompt incident reporting actually saves money.
Employees who have been injured often don’t know what to do. Even the prospect of finding a doctor that treats occupational injuries can be confusing. Employers can help make the process smoother by communicating with the injured employee right away.
Rather than ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away, employers can actively engage and maintain contact with an injured worker which will accomplish the following:
• Be a part of the decisions in the workers’ compensation process with the injured worker.
• Create a team atmosphere with the injured workers, keeping them on your side.
• Maintain control of the claim. The worker is now keeping you up to date on their progress.
• When it’s time to offer return-to-work, expectations are clear because of continued communication.
• Keeping in contact can prevent the injured worker from obtaining legal counsel.
• Shows the entire staff that you care about their well-being.
Nothing is worse than getting injured and then being ignored by your employer. After an injury, an employee may not know where they stand in the company, or if they even have a job to return to. Communicating with injured workers can pay big dividends, not only with the employee, but with the rest of the staff. Taking time to be involved in a claim can help you stay in control of the claim.
3. Return to work
Often employers offer light duty haphazardly, however this can cause a lot of headaches and bad feelings on both sides. Done correctly, an employer should have light-duty job descriptions ready to send to the doctor when a worker is injured. These job descriptions should explain the type of work being performed as well as the physical abilities necessary to complete the work.
Once the injured employee’s physician has reviewed and approved a job description, a job offer letter must be either given or sent (via certified mail) to the employee with some very specific information.
The job offer must include:
• Job title
• The supervisor the employee reports to
• Location where the work is being performed
• The start date (allow seven to 10 days if mailed)
• Wages, hours and schedule
• A copy of the doctor-approved job description
All of these elements must be in the letter for it to be valid.
National statistics show that once an injured employee is out due to a workers’ compensation injury for more than six months, he or she has only a 50 percent probability of ever returning to work. If that individual is off work for a year due to a workplace injury that number drops to 2 percent.
Keeping people in their normal routine is key. It’s easy for a disability conviction to settle in with an individual who is resting at home, until suddenly being at home becomes their routine.
Once the employee returns to work in a light-duty capacity, he or she must abide by all the same policies and rules that have been set forth for all other employees. If your employee violates any of these policies, you as the employer should apply your disciplinary measures just the same as you would with any other staff member. A workers’ compensation claim does not give your employee any special rights at the workplace.
Workplace injuries can cause turmoil for both the employer and the employee. Relying on Labor & Industries to help can easily result in the claim being lost within the system. By taking the time to complete incident reports, communicate with your injured employees, and offer return-to-work options, you can take back control of your workers’ compensation claims.
Greg Kabacy is president of Aspire Consulting, and has been providing employers with expertise in the workers’ compensation field in Washington for over 21 years. He holds an MBA from Pacific Lutheran University and is a Certified Disability Management Specialist.