Employers and managers have a lot of incentive to hide workplace injuries. Often, bonuses are tied to a job site's safety record, or the manager can be subject to disciplinary action if accidents happen on the job. Owners often worry that reporting an accident will increase their insurance premiums. Worse yet, accidents that are reported to regulatory authorities such as OSHA can have dramatic impacts on the operation of a business.
All of these things can sometimes cause employers and managers to put a tremendous amount of pressure on an injured worker to cooperate in "hiding" their workplace injury. Over the last few years, I've had a chance to visit with a lot of injured workers in and around Abilene, Texas, where I practice law. Here are some of the most common things that tend to happen:
The Supervisor Ignores or Downplays a Report. When the injured worker attempts to report an injury to a supervisor, the supervisor will tell the worker to wait a day or two to see if it gets better or sometimes just ignore the report and tell the worker to get back out on the job. Often, when the subject is brought up later, the supervisor doesn't even "remember" that anything was said before, and treats the injured worker as if he or she is being deceitful.
Seeing and Paying Doctors Under the Table. Instead of reporting the injury to a workers' compensation carrier as they should, the employer tells the employee that they need to see a specific doctor if they want to have their treatment paid for. Often, these are hand-picked doctors that are known to have biases against injured workers. These doctors usually fail to take the injured worker seriously and usually send them back to work.
Trying to Pressure the Doctor to Release the Worker. Employers will sometimes go to doctor appointments with an injured employee and try to pressure the doctor into giving the employee a release to return to work, promising to keep their work duties restricted. Often, however, once the appointment is done, the employer will change their tune and expect the injured worker to return to full duty.
After Time Passes, Denying Any Report or Injury. Almost inevitably, if the employee later presses the issue and insists that something be done when several weeks have passed since the original incident, the supervisors and other people involved will begin to deny that any report was ever made in the first place. When the claim gets turned in, they tell the insurance company that the injury must have been made up, because they were never told anything about it.
There is often tremendous pressure to "play along" backed up by the not-so-subtle suggestion that the employee could lose their job if they don't cooperate. At later stages, this never looks good. The insurance company will instead use your failure to report the injury as evidence that you never had a job injury to begin with.
Of course, not every employer acts this way. Some employers do the right thing. They take the injury seriously, report it immediately to their insurance company, and support the employee until they are able to return to work. Sadly, however, there are also a lot of bad apples out there, and you may be in a situation where you work for one of them.
Regardless, there are some basic steps that you should always take when you have a job injury to ensure that your workers' compensation claim is not covered up, but is instead reported in a timely manner:
1. Tell your supervisor immediately that you have an injury and that you would like medical treatment.
2. When you get a chance, follow up on this by reiterating the report in writing. If you have company email, or can text a message to your supervisor, that is sufficient. In the communication, be explicit. You should say something like "As I told you earlier today, I injured myself today when I ______. I need medical attention for this. When can I expect to hear from our workers' compensation carrier?"
3. Save the evidence. Make a screen shot of a text message and print out your email, in case you lose access to it later. It may become critical at a later stage.
4. Do the same thing when you miss a day of work. Missing a day of work due to an injury triggers a mandatory duty to report to the workers' compensation carrier. Create an email that reads something like this: "As we discussed, I missed work today because of my injury last Tuesday, which is preventing me from being able to ____________. When can I expect to hear from our workers' compensation company?"
5. If you still aren't getting anywhere after a week or two, contact a workers' compensation attorney for assistance. We can help get your claim reported and make sure that your employer has received proper notice.
You should never wait more than a week or so to get everything reported in writing. Legally, you can wait up to 30 days (and sometimes more, if there are extinuating circumstances), but you shouldn't base your decisions on that deadline. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to successfully pursue your claim. They key is always to act as quickly as possible.