- Employee rights and employer responsibilities regarding workplace injuries are based on legislation in state workers’ compensation programs, the OSH Act, FMLA, and ADAAA.
- Employers who familiarize themselves with these laws can effectively address workplace injuries while mitigating their risk for future accidents.
Despite employers’ best efforts to protect their employees from workplace injuries, it’s impossible to prepare for every scenario that might put a worker at risk. Accidents can happen to anyone at any time, and there are numerous ways an employer may be liable, even if the injury doesn’t happen on company property. When preventative measures fail and an employee is injured on the job, employers must understand their responsibilities and take swift action.
Check out our HR Software Guide for solutions that help maintain compliance with workplace safety requirements.
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Workplace Injury Laws to Know
Workplace injuries involve the intersection of several federal laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), along with state-run workers’ compensation (WC) programs. High-risk industries, such as construction, maritime, agriculture, and manufacturing, must also contend with industry-specific federal and local laws. However, these laws provide a framework by which companies can begin to address workplace injuries.
Workers’ compensation started in the 1910s and is considered the first example of social insurance in the U.S. At the time, social programs were primarily the purview of the states to enact and implement. As a result, WC programs today are individualized, state-run programs.
Workers’ compensation employer obligations
Generally, employers are expected to cover medical, disability, vocational, and death benefits for workers who are injured, fall ill, or lose their lives on the job. In addition, employers must cover the entire cost of the worker’s medical treatment. If their doctor determines the worker to be temporarily or totally disabled, employers must also pay the employee a percentage of their pre-injury wages following a waiting period.
State plans, insurance carriers, and self-insurance
Some U.S. jurisdictions, like California, New York, and Illinois, require employers to purchase WC insurance through an insurance carrier. Others, such as North Dakota, Ohio, Washington, and Wyoming, require it through a state fund. Still, other jurisdictions may allow employers to choose between enrolling in private insurance, state funds, or self-insurance.
Employers who choose to be self-insured take on the financial burden of providing full WC benefits to their employees in the event of an illness or injury, including medical and any necessary lost time wages; their state, however, must grant the employer approval before they can be self-insured.
Regardless of the options available in each jurisdiction, employers must consider the programs that provide the most cost savings while meeting or exceeding minimum regulatory benefit requirements for their workers. Employers with few minor injuries might benefit from WC insurance through private carriers. WC premium costs are competitive and significantly lower for sedentary businesses. Private insurance carriers also assist in injury management, investigations, lost wage benefit payments, medical bill payments, and settlements.
In contrast, larger enterprises, with the capital and resources to maintain their own safety and injury management standards, could benefit from a self-insurance program. In addition, employers are more directly involved in the injured or ill worker’s recovery and could save on state-fund or private insurance premium payments if they have few injuries.
Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act)
Known at the time as the “safety bill of rights,” the OSH Act of 1970 was enacted to ensure safe and healthful working conditions. To do this, the act created three agencies, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA, and its state-run equivalents, are the main watchdogs of workplace safety and training among private sector employers in America; Washington, D.C.; and other U.S. jurisdictions like Puerto Rico.
OSHA employer obligations
The primary employer responsibilities under OSHA involve creating and maintaining a safe workplace. Although some of the duties are industry-based, below is a short list of key responsibilities:
- Make sure workplace conditions conform to OSHA standards.
- Ensure workers use safe tools and equipment.
- Conduct appropriate safety training programs for employees regularly.
- Post in a conspicuous location the OSHA poster and any state equivalents.
- Use labels and posters to warn of hazards.
- Keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses, and post OSHA 300A logs from Feb. 1 through April 30 every year.
- Report any work-related inpatient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye within 24 hours and any fatality within eight hours to OSHA.
Employers must make sure their safety plans are, at minimum, following their jurisdiction’s guidelines and OSHA standards. More often than not, OSHA conducts inspections without notice, and employers could face a fine of up to $15,625 for each “serious” violation.
OSHA also follows up on whistleblower complaints about dangerous workplace conditions or from workers claiming retaliation following their workplace injury or illness. Frequent evaluation of OSHA standards within the business protects a business financially from potential fines or lawsuits and maintains a safe work environment that protects employees’ livelihoods.
Family and Medical Leave Act
Because there is a potential for employees to be off work for long periods while they recover from serious workplace illnesses or injuries, there is a tendency for WC benefits to overlap with the FMLA and other employer leave of absence policies.
FMLA employer obligations
Under the FMLA, if an employee needs leave for a “serious health condition,” they are entitled to a minimum of 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave, during which their company-sponsored medical benefits remain intact.
Injured employees should be placed on FMLA leave that runs concurrently with the time they are off work. Even if an employee is not eligible for FMLA, the company may still have other leaves of absence, like sick or personal, that may apply. Leave policies should be consistently upheld among all employees in similar situations, with leave of absence or FMLA documents distributed appropriately to the injured or ill worker.
Upon exhaustion of FMLA leave, employers should refrain from terminating an injured or ill worker. Employers are still obligated to provide WC benefits to such employees, and premature terminations could result in claims of WC retaliation.
Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act
Under the ADAAA, employees with disabilities have the right to reasonable accommodations. However, there are some cases where an employee’s workplace injury or illness seriously limits a major life activity, and they cannot work at pre-injury or -illness levels. While WC benefits could help these employees financially, the ADAAA requires employers to maintain certain standards when hiring and retaining employees with disabilities.
ADAAA employer obligations
Employers should engage in a meaningful dialogue with the employee whose workplace injury or illness results in a permanent disability and make a good-faith effort to provide reasonable accommodations to the employee. Depending on the employee’s injury, conversations with the employee, and recommendations from their doctor, this could take the form of providing extra breaks, opportunities to sit and rest, or even job transfer.
Therefore, even if an employee reaches the point at which they cannot get any better following their workplace injury or illness, the employer’s responsibility to an employee under the ADAAA does not end. Establishing policies regarding reasonable accommodations for workers and other individuals with disabilities ahead of time can mitigate the time and money lost in the event of an ADAAA lawsuit.
Preparing for workplace injuries is key
Considering 2 to 3 out of 100 U.S. workers experience nonfatal workplace injuries or illnesses, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is likely a company will experience at least one workplace injury in its lifetime—even in a mainly sedentary business. Therefore, failing to follow the minimum standards set forth by state WC, OSH Act, FMLA, and ADAAA regulations could significantly impact the business’s financial health in the form of fines or lawsuits.
Additionally, employer workplace safety negligence adversely affects the livelihoods of injured or ill workers while eroding employees’ confidence in company safety protocols. Even worse, it could result in preventable fatalities.
Although large businesses may have the resources to implement safety programs in their organizations, small businesses may not have that luxury. OSHA has consultation programs to evaluate safety standards on the work site and resources for developing safety programs, training, and voluntary risk assessments specifically geared toward small businesses.
Enterprises or other businesses in high-risk industries, such as construction, maritime, or logging, may want to invest in software solutions with injury-tracking modules or safety and reporting templates to simplify workplace injury management. Namely, for example, includes compliance features such as OSHA case creation, injury logs, and reporting.
Meanwhile, leave management tools can help reconcile employer-paid time off policies with the requirements of WC or FMLA, so employees can receive the necessary time off to recover from their injuries while employers remain in compliance.
However, if none of these suggestions sound quite right, check out our HRIS Software Guide to browse for solutions that meet your particular needs.