Guest Post: Worker’s Compensation – 5 Tips for Employers
Work injuries can affect employee productivity, your insurance premiums, and important relationships within your company. Thankfully, workplace injuries and costs can be minimized by keeping a few simple things in mind.
#5. Have Worker’s Compensation Insurance or a Good (Legal) Reason for Not Carrying it.
With rare exceptions, carrying worker’s compensation insurance is a business necessity in Wisconsin. Employers who operate without it face severe penalties including a daily monetary penalty. The normal penalty is twice the amount of premium not paid during the uninsured period. The Department of Workforce Development can also order the business to cease operations. Worst of all, if an injury occurs while an employer is uninsured, the Uninsured Employers Fund (UEF) will make benefit payments and the uninsured employer may be personally liable for reimbursing the Fund.
If your business does not carry worker’s compensation insurance or have the Department’s permission to operate as a self-insured employer, documenting the particular exception your business fits is essential. The Department has a helpful information sheet on exceptional situations and its worker’s compensation specialists are quite helpful over the phone. When in doubt, call and ask.
#4. Make Reporting Injuries Easy.
Contested claims often result when injuries are not reported immediately. On occasion, an injury will be reported for the first time following an employee’s termination (red flag!) And periodically, confusion regarding who to report to and what forms must be completed delay reporting an injury. To ensure appropriate reporting, designate a person to receive reports of injury and train that person to complete the Department’s form WKC-12. Use an employee handbook, workplace signs and posters, and workplace meetings to advise employees to report injuries immediately. Non-native English speakers also need to receive this information and providing it in other languages common to your organization supports prompt reporting.
Reporting work injuries does more than meet an obligation for your insurance carrier, it’s smart practice. Employers who encourage immediate reporting of injuries benefit from the ability to conduct a prompt investigation, including drug testing. In Wisconsin, if intoxication or use of controlled substances causes an injury, the amount of indemnity benefits owed can decrease by 15%, up to $15,000. Immediate investigation may also reveal safety issues requiring timely attention. Addressing workplace hazards makes business sense as it can prevent future injuries.
#3. Monitor Work Restrictions.
According to the Washington Business Group on Health, employers can expect to realize a return for every dollar invested in return to work programs — $8 to $10 of return for every $1 invested.
An early return to work program also supports the physical recovery of injured employees and enhances productivity. Successful return-to-work programs are a win-win for employers and employees. Options for bringing a healing employee back to work include offering modified, alternative, or transitional jobs. Another solution is to keep a list of optional projects that can further the organization’s goals while utilizing a healing employee’s skills.
Most importantly, tailor the tasks to fit within the employee’s work restrictions. Employers should require documentation, usually in the form of a doctor’s note, indicating the employee’s work restrictions. If the listed work restrictions are unclear or if the job has special physical requirements (climbing ladders, fine manipulation of tools etc.), request clarification before assigning work. Avoiding re-injury is a central concern in returning injured employees to work. Early return to work has proven benefits but only when it is managed to mitigate the risk of additional injury.
#2. Carefully Consider Employment Decisions When an Employee is Healing from a Work Injury.
If an employer decides not to return an employee to work after a work injury, the employer bears the burden of showing the reasonability of that decision. What is “reasonable” is determined on a case-by-case basis. As a practical matter, greater suspicion is cast on permanent employment decisions (i.e. termination decisions) made while temporary work restrictions are in place.
Commonly, an injured employee cannot return to work because temporary work restrictions prevent the employee from functioning in a former job. Think of a NFL player who cannot return to the field while he recovers from a knee injury. When the player is no longer healing, his doctor will evaluate whether permanent restrictions are necessary (for example, “no sprinting!”) Even if the coach knew that the injury was career-ending when it occurred, no employment decision should be made until the player completes temporary disability leave and receives permanent work restrictions.
Waiting for confirmation of permanent restrictions helps employers avoid claims that they unreasonably made an employment decision due to the effects of a temporary work injury.
#1. Certain Claims Cannot Be Defended By Your Worker’s Compensation Insurance Company or its Attorney.
Your worker’s compensation insurance does not cover everything. Certain penalties, such as safety violation claims, cannot be insured. The law is written so that the employer is solely responsible for this penalty. If a worker’s compensation attorney is retained by your insurer, that attorney represents your insurer and your company with respect to the worker’s compensation claim. However, the attorney does not defend uninsured claims. How will you know if an uninsured claim has been made against you? Typically, the worker’s compensation insurance company will let you know and the Department of Workforce Development will send you a GL-33 letter explaining what claims are uninsured.
Get a handle on uninsured claims as quickly as possible because neglect is costly. The Department can issue default orders when an employer fails to defend uninsured claims. A default order means your company is found “guilty” by default and must pay the entire penalty assessed. The chief reason for default orders is simply failing to appear at a scheduled hearing. If you receive a GL-33 letter giving notice of an uninsured claim, talk with a knowledgeable employment attorney who can answer the claim and defend your company.