Monday, April 19, 2004

Should Employers Fire Injured Employees?

The answer to this question seems rather obvious. Even asking the question strikes me as offensive. Nevertheless, as we know, this seems to be a "dilemma" facing many employers. Workers Comp Insider tackles this question (Their answer is no, you shouldn't fire a worker on comp). Read the article. It has some interesting things to say, especially about employers who may use workers comp as an excuse to fire someone for performance problems that management was afraid to deal with:
We recommend that employers treat the employee in question the same way they would any other injured employee - providing excellent medical care, staying in communication through the recovery period, and helping the worker to recuperate and return to work as soon as feasible. When back on the job, the employer can address the performance issues.

All too often in these cases, the performance issues had not been adequately addressed in the past, and workers comp is seen as a way to sweep everything under the rug. Managers should deal with performance issues as they occur, and except in gross violations of company policy that dictate immediate dismissal, should use a progressive disciplinary process that allows the employee to understand and address problem areas. This is both the most fair and the most effective way to handle problems.
There's also an article on dealing with "bad blood between employers and employees over workers comp," primarily around the "fraud" issue:
In our experience, when employers address the human event of a work injury, and do so fairly, consistently, and with a focus on the employee's recovery and return to work, a better financial outcome ensues than when focusing on the money.

That's why we don't encourage employers to build their workers comp system around fraud. Indeed, there are some fraudulent employees -- it would be naive to think otherwise. (And let's not forget that there are fraudulent employers and providers, too). But building a management system around the bad egg results in a punitive system that punishes the majority for the sins of the few. People generally live up to expectations, so expectations are better set to high rather than low standards.

When we meet with an employer who identifies fraud as one of their primary workers comp issues, that is often a sign that we are dealing with an employer that has more problems than just a high workers comp bill. With some exceptions - as in states like California where the issues are systemic - a serious workers comp problem is often the he tip of an iceberg representing a host of festering employer-employee issues and problems; it is the symptom rather than the disease.