Q. I have employees who are literally accidents waiting to happen because they never seem to think before they take action. We have way too many Workers’ Comp claims. However, our foremen and supervisors don’t seem to be able to solve this problem. Can we discipline — or even terminate — employees for “no brainer” injuries?
A. The answer to your question is “Yes” and “No.”
We’ll explain what we mean and elaborate on some points which may be helpful to you.
Disciplinary action should not result from an employee filing a Workers’ Comp claim or reporting a possible safety hazard. But disciplinary action typically may result when an employee knowingly and repeatedly ignores or violates a known company policy. The key word here is “known.”
How can you prove (if necessary) that your employee “knew” the policy, rule or procedure? Put your company policies and procedures in writing and have your employees sign an acknowledgment form that they received and read them.
If you take these steps, your reasons for disciplining will be backed with factual documentation.
Here are more suggestions for you and your managers and supervisors to consider that may help diminish the number of costly injuries your company is experiencing:
1. Implement a safety program. It’s a must for creating safety awareness among employees. A safety program is a carefully thought-out plan of action which promotes safe work behavior and a safe environment in your workplace. Include everything from safety posters to hard hats.
2. Hold regularly scheduled safety meetings. These meetings should be held at least once a month with mandatory attendance. And just to keep your safety meetings from becoming a time for everybody to doze off, rotate the meeting leader each time. A 15-to-30-minute, hard-hitting meeting is good.
3. Write down safety rules, regulations and procedures. For example, employees need to know:
- Who is qualified to operate specific pieces of equipment.
- What safety procedures are involved in the operations of a piece of equipment.
- What kind of protective safety gear is needed to operate a piece of equipment.
4. Train. Take time to train employees on proper safety procedures which are involved in all aspects of your operation. Don’t expect your employees to take an operation manual home with them to read and study on their own time. Make training time an “on-the-clock” part of your commitment to safety.
Back to answering the question:
Be cautious about disciplining employees for safety violations. If you feel you must discipline, be certain you are not giving an employee reason to believe they are being illegally targeted. Before taking action, check with an attorney to consider if the employee will have grounds to claim the action is discriminatory.
An example of a risky disciplinary action is to single out one employee for discipline to “make an example” for other employees. The danger is the targeted employee could be a member of a protected class and the action gives the appearance the employee was disciplined because he or she is a member of a population protected from illegal discrimination.
Guides to Safety
Does your safety program rely only on rewarding employees after they’ve worked for, say, six months without a lost-time injury? Such a program encourages employees to under-report accidents. Instead, your safety program should emphasize:
- A continual process to ferret out safety hazards.
- Work procedures designed to abate hazards.
- Frequent walk-though surveys to monitor adoption of work procedures.
- An analysis of data from surveys, accident-and-loss reports and first-aid logs.
- The use of data analysis to identify goals for improved safety.
Also, rely heavily on employee participation. A safety program designed and put in place by employees has more credibility than one pushed on employees by management.