SEVEN WAYS SUPERVISORS CAN THROW A BUSINESS UNDER THE BUS . . . AND NOT EVEN KNOW IT
By Kevin Ring
4. Mismanaging the return to work process
Even well developed, written return-to-work programs with meaningful work assignments, time lines and clear criteria can be challenges for supervisors. The dynamics of transitional duty can create scheduling headaches and irritated employees, particularly if the injured employees are not well liked. There can be harassment and teasing when employees can’t perform the job and this attitude will discourage the injured employees’ commitment to the program.
Supervisors also are responsible for ensuring that injured employees work within the job restrictions and don’t get reinjured, as well as maintain confidentiality about medical conditions. The way supervisors respond to these conflicting pressures is key to a successful outcome. Return-to-work is an evenhanded policy that benefits all employees, significantly reduces Workers’ Compensation costs and improves the chances of a full recovery. Supervisors need to be positive about the program and clearly explain the rationale and benefits to all employees, while encouraging and supporting injured employees to be productive members of the team by assuring that work restrictions are respected and that the transitional duties are working.
5. Use an injury to deal with performance issues
After a “problem” employee is injured, supervisors can become frustrated and attempt to use the injury as a way to terminate the employee. When Workers’ Comp is used to deal with performance issues, it is a prescription for disaster. In many states, there is a presumption that the termination is in retaliation for filing the claim. Often there is inadequate documentation of poor performance prior to the injury and once the employee is injured termination will usually result in a messy legal battle.
Prompt action to document poor performance followed by termination is the best practice. While a Workers’ Comp claim is not a shield for sub par performance, it complicates the problem considerably. Supervisors need to recognize that marginal employees are costly to the company in many ways, including an increased probability of a Workers’ Compensation claim and address the issue in a timely manner before injuries occur.
6. Underestimate the importance of job descriptions
While a supervisor’s role in the development of a job description varies among organizations, at a minimum, they are usually asked for input and to agree on the responsibilities, physical requirements and scope of the position. For Workers’ Compensation, job descriptions of the actual and transitional job are a valuable tool for treating physicians to evaluate return-to-work timetables. Moreover, with the likelihood of increased litigation under the ADA, job descriptions are one factor that can support an employer’s position that a function is essential. Supervisors need to recognize the importance of ensuring that job descriptions accurately and completely describe the work responsibilities, the physical requirements of the job and are kept up to date.
7. Muddy the waters with the HR Department
Even if an employer has a clear policy requesting that employees consult the HR Department about return-to-work or reasonable accommodations under the ADA, employees inevitably will pose questions to their supervisors. Some supervisors, particularly those who came up through the ranks, want to be helpful and will discuss the issues with employees. These dialogues can be dicey and if not properly trained, supervisors can inadvertently say something that leads to litigation, violates confidentiality or has adverse companywide consequences.
Meeting the needs of the business, while being an advocate for employees is a delicate balancing act. Supervisors need to respect the role of HR, carefully convey it to employees and be trained on their role relative to HR to handle all legal and personnel issues appropriately.
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About the Author: Kevin Ring is the Lead Workers’ Compensation Analyst for the Institute of WorkComp Professionals, which trains insurance agents to help employers reduce Workers’ Compensation expenses. A licensed property and casualty insurance agent, he is the co-developer of a new Workers’ Comp software suite that will help insurance professionals in working with employers. He can be contacted at 828-274-0959 or firstname.lastname@example.org.