Did a worker admit something to you?

It's a tough situation to be in

Who knew what when? At times, you can be put in a tough position because of what a worker tells you. "We are not safety and we can't discipline, so employees tend to tell us more than they would tell others," says Susan L. Zarzycki, RN,COHN,CM, an occupational health manager at Finch Paper LLC in Glens Falls, NY. Here are some common scenarios and how to deal with each:

1. An employee's story changes.

An employee may tell you he was horse playing with his buddy and slipped and injured his ankle, but tells somebody else that he tripped on a floor drain. "The truth is eventually going to come out," says Zarzycki. "First and foremost, I tell them, 'Let's get you treated and we'll figure out the rest later.'"

Zarzycki usually repeats what she is told, and advises the employee of what she will be passing on to safety and management.

2. An employee comes to you with a cut finger, and reports they were wearing their gloves, but you notice they are the wrong ones.

It's not part of your role to challenge the employee. "However, the information stated or observed gets passed along to safety. They will do a more thorough investigation," says Zarzycki. Their findings will then be reported to the manager and human resources.

3. An employee tells you he or she has a substance abuse problem.

A distraught employee admitted he had a problem to Zarzycki. The first thing she did was to facilitate his getting help at a facility, but he then wanted to return to work before his treatment was completed.

"He worked in a dangerous area, and I had to tell him that knowing the dangers of his job, I couldn't allow him to come back to work," she says. 'I told him, 'It's not only for your protection, it's for your coworkers. We don't want anyone at risk.'"

4. An employee tells you medical information that suggests an injury may not be 100% work-related.

A worker may tell you that his right arm was broken in a car accident years ago and he has had problems ever since, but later claim that it's only hurting now because of his job.

This puts you in a sticky situation with documentation. "When given this kind of information, we can't tell anybody what the other issues are. All we can say is that the patient has other contributing medical issues," says Zarzycki. "We have to separate personal private information with the actual injury and work-related information. We are always juggling, and some days, it's a tough balance."