Follow best practices to minimize potential liability from workers’ compensation cases.
• Tailor your strategies to your organization.
• Assign clear roles following accidents.
• Stay in touch with recovering employees.
The healthcare industry is improving how it handles workers’ compensation cases and the related liability, but many organizations could improve, says William Brian London, JD, an attorney with the law firm of Fisher Phillips in New Orleans.
He handles workers’ comp cases in healthcare and other industries, and offers these best practices:
• Workers’ compensation management strategies must be tailored to your own organization’s particular needs rather than trying to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach.
“Particularly in the healthcare industry, it is important for employers to tailor their safety response and incident response programs to their organization,” London says. “Each workplace is a little different, and the workers’ comp program will have to be tailored to what your employees need.”
• Healthcare organizations also must make sure workers’ comp incidents are reported as quickly as possible and documented thoroughly, he says. The longer the delay between the accident and the time it is reported, the more expensive the claim becomes, London says.
“You run into all kinds of problems if it is not reported right away. There can be medical disputes about the injury and it’s an evidentiary problem because evidence gets less reliable over time,” he says.
• Clearly define roles before an injury occurs, so people know how to respond. “Everyone needs to know from the start what their jobs are. Who is taking the employee to receive the appropriate medical care? That person probably should be someone different from the person responsible for documenting and investigating the accident,” he says. “You want both of those things to happen right away, so you can’t delegate both to the same person.”
London says he has seen healthcare organizations with response policies as simple as “Contact Human Resources after an accident.” Such simple approaches lead to improvisation after an injury or overlooking important tasks, like documenting the circumstances of the accident, until it is too late, he says.
• Safety training should include information on how to respond after a workplace injury, including who to report to and what steps will follow.
“Mandatory safety training and education on the workers’ comp process that follows sends the signal to employees that these are things that really matter to the company,” he says. “It can reinforce the everyday practices that can help avoid these injuries in the first place.”
• Once an employee is injured and off the job, make sure the workers’ comp process includes frequent contact with the employee during the recovery process. It is easy for an injured employee to lose touch with co-workers and feel no longer a part of the team — which is bad for the recovery process, London notes. Isolation also can fuel attempts to maximize workers’ comp benefits.
“Have someone call regularly to check in, see how they’re doing, remind them that they are still a valued part of your team, and you want them back on the job as soon as possible,” he says. “That kind of contact can have a powerful effect.”
• Remember that the “experience mod” factored into insurance rates can significantly affect workers’ comp premiums, so intervention by risk managers can affect the bottom line.
“If you aren’t taking this seriously, you’re losing out on the best available rates and your competitors are getting an edge,” he says. “I think there has been more attention to safety and workers’ comp in the healthcare industry than there has been in the past, but there is still room for improvement at a lot of organizations.”
• William Brian London, JD, Fisher Phillips, New Orleans. Phone: (505) 592-3888. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.