Q&A: Can we discipline for failure to promptly report an injury?
Q&ASafety and HealthWorkers’ Comp
Question: Today an employee said she hurt her back at work three days ago. Our policy requires immediate reporting of work-related injuries. Can we write up the employee for failing to promptly report her injury?
Answer: Ask the employee why she didn’t report the injury when it happened. Your ability to discipline will depend on when she became aware of the injury, and whether any barriers prevented her from reporting. For example, if she admits that she felt a sharp pain when picking up a heavy load, then she knew she had been injured and should have reported it right away. As a starting point, this puts you in a good position to be able to impose discipline, but watch out; if she gives a reasonable explanation for her delay, then discipline is risky. For example, if she says she put off her report because she didn’t want to lose a safety bonus, then as we previously reported, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will say that your work-related accident and injury-reporting policy is unlawful and that you cannot impose discipline.
Another possibility is that there was a delay between the incident and the employee’s awareness of the injury. In that case, discipline isn’t appropriate. For example, if the employee works in a physically demanding job, and some initial stiffness gradually turned into pain over the course of three days, then the employee wasn’t really aware of an injury until now. Recently U.S. Steel signed a settlement agreement with OSHA, agreeing to rescind the company’s “immediate reporting” requirement. Instead, U.S. Steel will require workers to report work-related injuries as soon as reasonably possible, but no later than eight hours after becoming aware of an injury. In light of OSHA’s new anti-retaliation regulations, it's important to have your Vigilant employment attorney review your injury-reporting policy. Learn more about our policy review and employer counsel services, and check out our other blogs related to workplace safety and injury-reporting policies.