The Do’s and Don’ts of Investigating Accidents in the Workplace
Workplace accidents continue to plague employers either with the injured worker’s modified duty requests, is out for extended periods of time, is not complying with company policies, or is not attending therapy sessions. More importantly, the rise in premiums are becoming so ridiculous some employers are letting policies lapse and taking this chances (not a valid option!).
In an effort to curtail the impact of the claim, employers will initiate an investigation to determine exactly what happen but do not always understand the pitfalls of doing so. They can be hap hazard, non-beneficial, and even be counter-productive because the individuals conducting the investigation do not understand certain parameters. Here are some “do’s and don’ts.”
1. Witnesses-When conducting interviews always have a witness available. Sound simple? It can be overlooked in haste and others not being available when you need them. Wait, there’s no immediate rush. Furthermore, keep in mind, later, if you did not use a witness, the other person may “recall” what you said, not what you “actually” said. Sometimes it is even better to use professionals who know what they are doing especially for major accidents.
2. Objective v. Personal opinion as to the cause of the accident-The vast majority of the time employers want to argue that the claim, in their opinion, is fraudulent. The various Workers Compensation Appeals Boards could care less about your opinion. Their perspective is going to be what you can prove. You have to be objective in your approach not subjective. Approach all accidents with the understanding that all documentation gathered will be put under the microscope. Jump out of your role as an embittered employer and look back into the matter as if you were on the other side. It’s like playing chess and you turn the board around so that the other player’s pieces are now in front of you and you are looking back across at yours. It’s a whole different perspective.
3. Do not rush an accident or incident report-Mistakes get made when things are rushed. If the injured worker is being cared for you can calmly sit down with the necessary parties who will be investigating the matter and strategically plan your next moves. For major accidents you will more than likely get a call from an agency. Resist the pressure enough to procedure in an orderly manner. Do not panic and rush because all of the documentation gathered needs to be as accurate as possible. Remember, after the dust settles, it will no longer be about the accident, it will be about loss mitigation. Take your time and get it as close to right as possible.
4. Avoid immediately telling the main witness to sit down “right now” and write what happened-These witnesses are not professionals. Having them sit right down and putting pen and paper in their hand could make them extremely nervous aside from what they may have witnessed. Give them a moment to relax so they can calmly recall what they may have seen. If you rush them into writing something and they make a mistake that same documentation can be used against you. In addition, don’t stand behind them looking over their shoulder. When the time is right, give them a quiet place so they can collect their thoughts. Furthermore, hold back your safety committee (if you have one) from immediately springing into action. As stated above, huddle up first to make sure the effort will be a productive one.
Finally, I realize that you, as an employer may feel that a claim is fraudulent. It may well be. Hiring professionals to try to go out and catch these individuals partying over the weekend may be extremely costly with no end result. I am not stating that it has never worked but I want to remind you that law is designed to benefit the injured worker and leans hard in that direction. It is a shame, to say the least, but that is the hand employers are dealt when they hire employees.
Note: Remember, it is always good to talk with counsel if you are unsure of the proper way to procedure and especially if an agency has contacted you.