Emphasis on injury reporting can preempt ‘Monday morning surprises’

The “Monday morning surprise” -- when an employee approaches you on Monday morning to report an injury he or she sustained at work on Friday -- can be a dreaded situation with potential pitfalls for an employer.

Nearly all organizations face this at some point, said Eric Glass, an environmental health and safety advisor at UL, a provider of workplace health and safety software solutions and expertise.

The Monday morning injury report comes with several questions, Glass told SHRM Online:

Is the injury truly work-related? Could it be a case of cumulative effects? Was this an injury sustained over the weekend, on the employee’s personal time? Do you have evidence to prove it?

The injury could be legitimate (especially if it involves the musculoskeletal system) or due to cumulative exposure, said Glass, but employers should be wary of instances where an employee clocks out of a shift on Friday with no reported injury and returns on Monday with an injury.

“These Monday morning injuries are red flags for workers’ comp fraud,” he cautioned. 

What not to do

The best way to manage this situation has been hotly debated at seminars and professional association meetings and in corporate conference rooms all over the United States, Glass said. And some really bad suggestions have emerged, including:

Spying on employees. If the employer plays investigator and creates a Big Brother atmosphere of spying on workers, especially when they’re injured, a huge divide in trust is created between employees and managers, said Glass. When a supervisor functions as a spy, employees are quick to notice and feel devalued. “This method is counterproductive and makes efforts to improve organizational culture futile.”

Having employees sign a no-injury pledge. It’s “ludicrous” for employees to sign something saying they will not get injured, said Glass. “Now you’ve got some who’ll make a career out of workers’ comp and injury fraud, but a majority of the working population does not intend to get hurt while they’re at work.”

While the intent may be positive -- to eliminate work-related injuries and illnesses -- such an agreement discourages early reporting and could deter a worker from reporting an actual injury that gets worse over time.

Restricting employees’ personal activities. The range of activities outside of work that could be deemed too risky for employees is impossible to define and not legally defensible. “When you’re at work you’re at work; your personal life is your personal life,” Glass noted. An employer who tries to dictate employees’ personal lives will end up with disgruntled workers. “Who’s to say whether it’s dangerous for parents to play with their children, home gardeners to trim the hedge or skiers to visit the slopes?”

Hiring only employees who meet certain age and physical requirements. “I’ve heard some employers say they will do this, and it’s downright discriminatory and illegal,” Glass insisted. “You can’t do that.”

What you can do

Organizations that act only when a problem occurs typically are the ones with the most fraudulent claims, Glass said, because there aren’t any barriers set up to prevent fraud.

“Nearly all reasoning in such cases circles back to the employee and studiously avoids references to anything the organization may have done to contribute to the situation, starting with the hiring process,” Glass said. Managers need to know their employees, he emphasized.

Southwest Plaster & Drywall, based in Albany, Ga., found one way to handle the Monday morning injury reports, Glass said.

The business was plagued by a recurring problem of employees filing claims on Monday for injuries they suffered the previous Friday. To address this trend, it developed the End-of Week Employee Injury Statement.

Management realized that trying to disprove fraudulent claims was impossible, Glass said. “This was really more about fostering a culture of reporting -- emphasizing that if you are injured, you need to report it right away.”

The company’s accounting department attaches the following statement to each employee’s paycheck. I have not received or witnessed any injury during the course of this week’s work with Southwest Plaster & Drywall Co. Inc. of Georgia.

Employees are required to complete the form, sign it and return it to their supervisor.

According to Glass, the benefits that a reporting program could yield include:           

• Employees reporting injuries in a timely manner.

• Improved communication between management and labor.

• Strengthened accident prevention and employee safety.

• The ability to reconcile injuries that have occurred and to alert supervisors and management of hazardous conditions and unreported injuries.

• The identification of witnesses who should be interviewed during accident investigations.

It should be noted, however, that in a workers’ comp court, the use of an end-of-week statement would not be defensible against a claim for benefits, Glass said. “But it could be used to establish the present condition of the employee leading up to the injury.”

Lastly, Glass recommends that employers establish a strong relationship with their insurance provider. “The more they know about your day-to-day business and understand the exposure you have on the job, the more knowledgeable they’ll be when potential fraud arises,” he said.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.

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