Employers Should Ensure Workers Promptly Report Job-Related Injuries

By Toni Vranjes October 27, 2017

If an employee trips and falls at the workplace or is otherwise injured on the job, some supervisors are inclined to try to conceal the incident. But that's a bad move. Prompt reporting of workplace injuries is not only the right thing to do, it can also save employers money down the line.

"There are some employers that have fostered an atmosphere of discouraging supervisors from reporting workplace injuries," said John Langevin, a workers' compensation defense attorney with Floyd, Skeren and Kelly in Oakland, Calif. Employees might also hesitate to report an accident for fear of what their supervisors might think.

However, creating an atmosphere where supervisors and workers are encouraged to report incidents can lift morale and drive down costs, attorneys say.

A study by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) found that delayed reporting can lead to a 51 percent jump in workers' compensation costs. The study's findings suggest that claims with reporting delays tend to be more complex to settle, take longer to close and involve a longer period before the injured worker can return to work. The later the injury is reported, the more likely it is to reach the litigation stage, Langevin said.

Why the Reluctance?

Supervisors are often reluctant to report injuries for a couple of reasons. One reason is "so they don't muck up the statistics for the department," said Zachary Sacks, a workers' compensation defense attorney with Sacks & Zolonz in Culver City, Calif. 

Sometimes, supervisors will try to avoid documenting an injury, Langevin said. For example, he knows of a case in which a construction foreman bought pain patches for an employee's back rather than report the back injury.

Another reason: A supervisor might simply believe that the injury doesn't seem serious and might choose to wait a while to see if the worker gets better, according to Sacks.

Workers also have their own reasons for not reporting. "They're afraid they'll be fired because they loused up the safety record," he said.

Know the Procedures

Supervisors should know what steps to take in the event of a workplace injury, attorneys say. Workers also should be educated about this process.

At the first sign of an injury or a potential injury employers should:

  • Provide the worker with a workers' compensation claim form.
  • Get statements from the employee and co-workers—ideally in writing—on what happened, when, where and how.
  • Provide a medical referral to a doctor.

In certain circumstances, photographs would also be useful. For instance, if an employee says that she injured her back after lifting a 50-pound box, get a picture of the exterior and interior of the box. Also, weighing the box would be helpful, Langevin added.

"Documentation is critical," he emphasized.

These procedures should be followed whether the injury is clear-cut or not, according to Sacks. An example of a clear-cut injury: an employee laying on the ground, bleeding from the head, next to a tipped-over forklift.

Other cases aren't so explicit. For instance, an employee might say that his back is bothering him after pulling boxes off a palette. Although the supervisor might believe it's a "fleeting, transient incident," reporting and medical referral procedures should still be followed, Sacks said.

Also, it's important after an injury to stay in touch with the employee and maintain a good relationship with that person, according to Langevin.

For example, he knows of a case in which a nurse had a knee injury and then experienced complications following surgery. The supervisor stayed in touch with the worker, even sending her flowers. Later, the nurses' union tried to get the nurse to sue, but she refused, saying that the employer had taken good care of her.

By contrast, if a supervisor appears to be upset with an employee for getting hurt at the workplace, that's often the driving force behind a worker's lawsuit, Langevin said.

"Don't become the employee's enemy because they dared to get injured at work," he advised.

Toni Vranjes is a freelance business writer in San Pedro, Calif.


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