adapted from SFM Companion
Nearly one of every four workers’ compensation lost-time claims involves problem employees.
These typically are employees with histories of attendance problems, productivity issues, quality issues and difficulty relating to others. Left unmanaged, these issues can have a significant and costly impact when employees claim they have been injured on the job.
Employers typically make two mistakes relative to poor performers. They:
1. Fail to address employees’ performance issues early.
2. Terminate them after they file workers’ compensation claims.
Work injury can distract from underlying performance issues
Oftentimes, when a poor performer is injured and taken off work, both the employee and his or her supervisor are fine with the situation. It means that neither party has to deal with the underlying performance issues they face. Or so they think…
Under state law, employees who are injured on the job are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The law allows those benefits to continue until they are medically able to return to work. If you fire these employees, they will continue drawing workers’ compensation benefits under your policy, even though they are no longer your employees. These wage-replacement benefits get expensive fast, ultimately impacting your workers’ compensation premium.
Firing an injured employee
In addition, it is not uncommon for an injured employee who is fired to sue an employer for retaliatory discharge.
By law, an employee cannot be fired for claiming a work injury, for absenteeism prescribed by a doctor to recuperate from a work injury or for a medical disability.
Retaliatory discharge is now the most frequent charge against employers, exceeding charges of sex, race, disability and age discrimination.
What employers can do to prevent problems with poor performers
1. Deal with performance issues early.
This is the first and most important step you can take. The situation you want to avoid is an employee who has both ongoing performance problems and a workers’ compensation injury. The workers’ compensation claim undoubtedly will complicate your ability to manage this employee. Work with your supervisors to address performance situations. If termination is necessary, take care of it before it becomes entwined in the legalities of a workers’ compensation case.
2. Follow written policies and procedures.
Have a written and well-documented performance management plan that includes disciplinary steps to be taken in cases of misconduct. Follow your policy to the letter.
3. Document everything.
It can save you from expensive litigation. For example, document contacts with the employee, employee performance issues and remedial actions taken.
4. Think before you fire, especially when workers’ comp is involved.
You are faced with a situation fueled by frustrating circumstances, but an impulsive decision could make the problem drag out longer and become more costly in the end. Discuss your options with your claims representative and your employment law attorney for assistance making the best business decision possible.