Whenever an injury happens in the workplace, one of the underlying fears many Safety Managers have is, “Will result in a workers comp lawsuit.” You may think it is inevitable if the injury is more than a minor strained back or cut finger.
But, there are practices you can put in place way before an accident happens. You can take steps to reduce the risk of a workers comp lawsuit.
Before we begin, understand that you cannot prevent all lawsuits. Even the best programs will result in a workers’ comp lawsuit at some point. That’s the nature of our insurance and legal system in the United States. Until there’s reform in both the healthcare and tort systems, lawsuits will happen.
WHY WOULD A WORKERS COMP LAWSUIT HAPPEN?
They can happen for several reasons. We can’t control other people’s reactions to an injury. Nor can we control any influence they are experiencing outside of work.
But for the most part, there are usually a handful of reasons. These create the highest risk for a workers comp lawsuit.
1. A poor relationship between the employer and the employee.
Let’s say you have an injured worker who has a negative feeling towards their employer. When injured, they are more likely to file a lawsuit.
There is no downside for them in doing so. They don’t care about the employer. They don’t care about the job. They can move on to another company afterward.
2. Distrust or uncertainty in the workers’ compensation system.
They may have had a bad experience with an injury before. Or they know someone who had a bad experience, this would drive them to get help to protect their rights.
This could be their first experience in the insurance system. They may not understand how it works. Every commercial on TV is telling them they need a lawyer, so they listen.
Family members are a strong influence as well. They could be telling them to hire legal counsel because that’s what they did. Especially if they got a significant settlement in their claims.
3. Resentment for the employer’s negligence.
Like the first point, but intensified. They feel the employer wronged them by not protecting them from an injury. This is a great reason why a strong safety program needs to be in place at all companies.
4. Disagreement with their medical care.
If they are unhappy with the medical provider you are sending them too, this can be a catalyst for a lawsuit. You could also be heading for a lawsuit if the insurance company is not responding to questions. As well as it is taking way too long for approvals and appointments.
This last reason is the only valid reason to hire legal counsel. A bad claims adjuster at the insurance carrier can be the cause. Filing legal action is the only way to get them the treatment they need.
Although this is a good reason for them to get help, there are still steps you can do. You can proactively stop this reason before it leads to a lawsuit.
6 STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TO AVOID WORKERS COMP LAWSUITS
This is, in no way, a full and extensive list, but it will give you a good start.
#1 – Supervisors and Managers Need to Build Positive Relationships with Their Employees
This is number 1 because it is the most crucial deterrent to workers’ comp lawsuits. When you are seeing a large number of lawsuits, it is a sign that you have a culture issue with your management team. This also goes for a large number of fraudulent claims.
Friends don’t sue friends – plain and simple.
All they have to do is chat with that person regularly. They should know about their family and what their hobbies are. And show they are interested in their well being. When the unfortunate happens, they will be less likely to turn on you.
#2 – Increase Employee Engagement
Check out this article for ideas to increase your employee engagement.
The idea behind this step is the same as #1. What it boils down to the fact that if they like where you work, they are less likely to file a lawsuit. Because engaged workers commit to the company goals. They want to stay working at the company.
Engaged employees won’t risk ruining the job they actually like working at.
#3 – Enforce your policies consistently
This means don’t write people up if they get into an accident. Write people up for the policy violation regardless of the outcome – Some who got injured and some who didn’t. You write up the behavior, not the result.
Inconsistent policy enforcement will create a sense of unfairness. This will lead to negative feelings about the company and a desire to get back at them.
It can lead to some legal issues of discrimination when an employee does hire legal counsel. They will look at every angle they can to increase the negligence of the company.
If you need help with understanding accountability, check out this podcast.
#4 – Build a relationship with your Occupational Health Care Provider
One of the reasons for a workers comp lawsuit is dissatisfaction with their treatment. You can combat that by partnering with your provider.
Develop a friendly relationship with your medical provider. Your company will become a valued customer. Your employees will be more welcomed. And when problems arise, you can address them quickly because you are familiar with the office
#5 – Follow Up with Your Employee Following Every Doctor’s Visit
Have a conversation with your employee when you know they had a recent follow up at the doctor. Make sure that they’re happy with their treatment plan.
Show that you care and are there to help if there are any problems. If they have a referral to a specialist or need a diagnostic test, you will know about it right away. You can expedite the process with your insurance carrier and healthcare provider.
It is common for employees to wait for weeks for approvals. Anything you can do to shorten their wait will pay off. You will keep them happy with their treatment, and they’ll recover faster.
#6 – Have their supervisor and manager check in on them regularly
This goes for if they are working light duty or are stuck at home on a no-work status. Every few days to a week, your management team needs to check in on their injured workers.
This is a friendly call or conversation to keep them connected to their work. They need to know that they are cared about and wanted back to full duty.
This might sound like an obvious thing to do. Yet, after the first few days of an injured worker being out of work, most teams go back to business. They forget to show this kindness. They get busy.
These check-ins must come from their front line supervisor and department managers. It doesn’t mean as much when it comes from safety.
They can send cards, emails, text messages, but they also need to speak to them too. And not about the injury. They can give the latest gossip at work, ask about their family, and offer to help with any chores. Like you would do for a friend.
Think about it – how would you feel if you were out of work, injured, and in pain, and the only person you heard from was HR. Your boss doesn’t ever call or check-in. You would feel abandoned.
Feeling abandoned starts to dissolve the relationship. The very thing that was preventing the employee from a workers comp lawsuit in the first place.
RELATIONSHIPS ARE IMPORTANT TO PREVENT A WORKERS COMP LAWSUIT
As you can see, 5 out of 6 had to do with the company’s relationship with the employee. Maintaining positive relationships is essential. The goal is a strong relationship between the management team and the employees. A strong positive one will prevent a workers’ comp lawsuit. This also makes managing your safety program easier.
I TEND TO THINK THAT IT IS THE CORNERSTONE OF A SAFETY CULTURE.
These steps can’t happen overnight. So for now, pick one and start working on getting it in place. When done, pick a 2nd one off the list. And so on.
By doing these steps, you will see the number of legal filings on your workers’ comp claims drop.
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN
What do you do to proactively prevent a workers comp lawsuit? Comment below and let me know. Let’s get the conversation going.
Hi, I'm Brye (rhymes with sky)! I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience. Specializing in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture, I have trained and coached many safety managers, just like you, on how to effectively manage workplace safety in the real world. I would love to help you too.