Five common blunders supervisors can avoid

Supervisors play a key role in the management of injuries, return to work and reasonable accommodations under ADA. UNICO Group is very active with supervisory training for our clients.

Here are five unnecessary blunders:

1. Not reporting an injury at an employee’s request When hard working employees are injured on the job they may ask the supervisor not to report the injury, indicating that the injury is not bad and they can work through the pain. Sometimes employees hesitate to file a Workers’ Comp claim because of pride, fear of appearing disloyal or worry about losing income. Delays in reporting can compromise an employee’s rights as well as mushroom into costly claims. Supervisors should treat all injuries consistently, not attempt to evaluate the severity of the injury, and help employees understand the importance of receiving appropriate treatment early.

2. Sends wrong message during recuperation Since the supervisor is the person who works closest with employees, the supervisor’s role should involve contacting injured workers during recuperation. While the appropriate approach may seem obvious it often goes wrong. When the supervisor doesn’t convey compassion and concern or doesn’t communicate often enough, the injured employee is left feeling alone and begins to worry that no one cares. When that happens, a longer than necessary recovery may occur, not to mention the possibility of a lawsuit.

In other cases, supervisors may unwittingly reproach injured employees, making them feel guilty about the stress they have added to co-workers. Or, if the injury is suspicious or incurred by a troublesome employee, supervisors may goad, demanding to know when the injured employee will return to work, implying that the injury is not legitimate or suggesting the possibility of termination. An insensitive supervisor can easily provoke a disgruntled employee to seek an attorney.
Supervisors need to be empathetic, expressing concern and communicating the message that the employer cares and wants the injured employee back on the job as soon as possible. Their manner sets the tone for the entire claim.

3. Not recognizing nor communicating when a claim is going bad Supervisors are often in the best position to understand the circumstances surrounding an individual’s response to an injury and to notice a problem at an early stage. Supervisors need to be alert to any patterns or trends that can cause a delay in return to work or may suggest fraud.

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.

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. 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 work comp, 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.

Carl Zeutzius has 20 years of experience helping businesses address their risk management needs.  He’s a Certified Work Comp Advisor and UNICO is the only agency in the State with that Designation.

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