Workers’ Compensation Insurance was designed to ensure adequate employee reimbursement if an employee is injured on the job and to minimize lawsuits between employers and employees in the workplace. This mandatory insurance provides for employees who suffer job-related injuries and illnesses. In general, any employee with a job-related injury or illness can receive Workers’ Compensation benefits, regardless of who was at fault. When working properly, this system prevents an employee for further suing an employer for work related injury. However, there are some circumstances when the employer can still be sued for damages of injuries, and that is when the employer caused the injury or illness through a reckless or intentional act. To avoid injury or illness to yourself or an employee, it is important to follow OSHA regulations as well as to understand what a reckless or intentional act is. Let’s look at two scenarios to find out:
Scenario number 1:
While an employee is working under a vehicle, some metal particles fall in their eye. Although the manager had performed a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) assessment, and provided safety glasses, the employee wasn’t wearing them. Despite precautions by management, the employee was still injured. This is the perfect example of where the Workers’ Compensation system is effective; the manager had made a solid effort to comply with the regulations and to protect the employee. A PPE Assessment and training were conducted, and appropriate safety equipment to prevent injury had been provided. In this case the employer was not reckless and did not intentionally cause injury to the employee and the employer should not be held liable for the employee’s injury – other than to rely upon their Workers’ Compensation Insurance to fairly compensate the employee for their injury.
Scenario number 2:
While an employee is working in the service area, he is regularly exposed to a 55 gallon drum of solvent. After some use of this chemical, the employee approaches his manager and complains about shortness of breath and states that he would prefer to use a different solvent. The manager explains that this is the most economical solvent and that using it is “Part of the job and that everyone else uses it.” Over time the employee develops sensitization to the chemical, and complains of numbness and pain. The employee ends up taking Workers’ Compensation leave, and after three weeks, returns to work. The employer still does not remediate the hazard – even worse the drum of solvent is re-located to the employees work area where his exposure is increased. The employee begins to experience additional symptoms just working around the solvent. He approaches the manager again, but is once again ignored. The employee eventually ends up taking Workers’ Compensation leave, but this time, the doctor says he has permanent nerve damage and the employee calls a lawyer. The lawyer initially notes that this case is a Workers’ Compensation claim, but when the employee states that he reported the solvent repeatedly, asking for an alternative chemical to use or some other form of accommodation, his manager denied him. In this particular scenario, because the manager had been informed of the illness occurring, but chose to ignore it, the dealership may be exposed to additional liability. The manager’s decision to ignore the employee’s complaints and continue to place the employee in harm’s way, may allow a lawyer to get around the Workers’ Compensation system, which means that the dealership could wind up in court, negating the benefits of the Workers’ Compensation system.
As you can see from the above scenarios, Workers’ Compensation is in place to protect employers, while still rewarding injured or ill employees. However, it is not a fool-proof system, and can be circumvented in the event of employer neglect. Do you have further questions about Workers’ Compensation? Contact your KPA Risk Management Consultant or email firstname.lastname@example.org.