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Implementation of Workers’ Compensation Policies and Procedures

The escalation of workers’ compensation claims and, by correlation, premiums, makes it vital that employers create and implement policies and procedures to effectively address disability management and comply with state and federal law. These policies and procedures should be reduced to writing for reference and to ensure their consistent application.

Prevention should be the foundation for the disability management program. By addressing safety issues, many injuries or illnesses that could result in workers’ compensation claims may be avoided. For example, the employer should establish programs to train employees on the safety aspects of their jobs and implement protocols for safety procedures that each employee must follow. Additionally, the workplace itself should be designed and maintained to foster a healthful environment.

The employer’s policies and procedures must be consistent with federal laws prohibiting disability discrimination. The receipt of workers’ compensation benefits does not, in itself, demonstrate that the employee is “disabled.” Protection against discrimination based on a disability requires that the employee suffer from a substantial impairment that limits his major life activities or be regarded as suffering from such a condition. Also, the employee must be able to perform the major functions of his position with or without reasonable accommodation by the employer.

As part of its policies and procedures, employers should implement return to work programs to assist injured employees. Recovering employees may be allowed to engage in modified work that is less physically demanding. Another avenue for modified work is for the employee to perform his usual job but with reduced production. Employers cannot prohibit an employee from returning to work, even though the employee has not fully recovered, unless 1) the employee cannot perform his essential job duties, with or without accommodation or 2) the employee creates a substantial risk of harm.

Employers should exercise caution when making medical queries and should generally limit such questions only to those that are job-related. Once an employee has returned to work, the employee’s ability to do his job can only be evaluated based on his performance in doing so. In the event that an evaluation of the individual’s work performance demonstrates a lack of ability to perform the necessary functions of the position, an employer may then make disability queries that are job-related.

With limited exceptions, an employee’s medical information must be maintained in the strictest confidence. Only those having a need to know, such as supervisors in charge of accommodating the employee or safety personnel who must dispense treatment in an emergency, should be given access.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.