7 Ways Supervisors Mismanage Employee Injuries

Supervisors play a key role in the management of injuries, return to work accommodations and reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Supervisors play a key role in the management of injuries, return to work accommodations and reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While supervisors may be well trained in the functional aspects of maintaining a safe workplace, reporting injuries, investigating injuries and return to work programs, many fall short in their interaction with injured employees, and their well-meaning actions can be costly to employers and even lead to litigation. Here are seven unnecessary blunders often made by supervisors:

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. 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.

Sending the 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. 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.
 
Not recognizing nor communicating when a claim is going wrong. If an injured employee is dissatisfied with the time it takes to get their checks, prescription reimbursements, or medical appointments or feels the medical care is inadequate, the supervisor should convey this to the responsible parties and request intervention. Supervisors need to be alert to any patterns or trends that can cause a delay in the return to work program or may suggest fraud.
 
Mismanaging the return to work process. A return to work policy 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.
 
Using 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. Prompt action to document poor performance followed by termination is the best practice. While a workers’ compensation claim is not a shield for sub par performance, it complicates the problem considerably. 
 
Underestimating the importance of job descriptions. 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. 
 
Muddying the waters with the HR department. Employees inevitably will pose questions to their supervisors. Some supervisors want to be helpful and will discuss the issues with employees. If not properly trained, supervisors can inadvertently say something that leads to litigation, violates confidentiality or has adverse company-wide 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 and be trained on their role relative to HR to handle all legal and personnel issues appropriately.