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How Employers Should Respond to Workplace Injuries in Massachusetts
COVID-19 has probably and rightly been center stage the last 18 months as far as employers are concerned. Much of the initial worry revolved around whether it was possible to keep the business running and who in the workforce was going to get sick next. As vaccinations ramped up in Massachusetts early this year and restrictions eased the worries were more about whether employees were getting vaccinated and if not, whether an infected employee could infect other workers. Even fully vaccinated people can transmit the virus, so employers have had to think how to make their workplace COVID safe.
Like most other states, employers in Massachusetts are expected to have workers’ compensation liability insurance. This is to cover both the employer and the employee if the employee becomes sick or is injured at work. By taking out liability insurance, it makes it much harder, although not impossible, for an injured employee to sue the employer if injured while at work. At the same time, if the employee successfully claims workers’ compensation he or she is able to obtain 60% of their normal pay as well as the cost of medical treatment. It’s worth revising just how workers’ comp. works so that employers know how to deal with a workplace injury or illness promptly if and when it happens. COVID is by no means the only sickness that might result from the workplace environment and there are all the other usual possible workplace injuries that could happen as well.
Who needs workers’ compensation insurance in Massachusetts?
All employers, almost without exception, must have workers’ compensation liability insurance with a certified carrier for their employees. This is a legal requirement however many employees your business employs and however many hours they work for you. The DIA can issue fines ($100 a day penalty) for non-compliance.
Keeping your workplace safe helps to avoid workplace injuries
Although workers’ compensation insurance is available if an employee is injured at work, and it is a no-fault type of insurance, a safe working environment will cut down on the number of potential injuries or at least reduce their severity. The best advice is to follow the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) safety recommendations for your type of workplace and know what to do if an employee is injured. By maintaining high safety standards and promptly responding to any injury when it happens, you as an employer are less likely to be subject to a lawsuit.
Four ways you can help deal with a workplace accident
Plan and prepare
You need to prepare a risk analysis for your business and work environment. This should identify the most likely accident types. Risk analysis should include how you can minimize the risk e.g. by:
- training employees in risk avoidance, including a response plan for when an accident takes place,
- ensuring you have safety gear where relevant and that employees know how to use it,
- having appropriate first aid and medical supplies in the event of an accident,
- keeping an up to date emergency contact list for your employees.
Deal swiftly with injuries if they occur
You are advised to have a safety officer or someone employed to respond to injuries as and when they occur. Not all accidents require emergency treatment and many can be dealt with by first aid even if the employee is advised to seek medical advice or treatment later.
If the accident is serious and could affect other employees because of a specific danger, they should be moved well away from risk while the injured employee(s) is attended to. If emergency treatment is needed, 111 should be called as soon as possible with concise details of the location and nature of the injuries.
Make sure that all necessary paperwork is dealt with
Whether the accident was serious or not, there is a requirement by the state’s Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA) to file a Form 101 – Employer’s First Report of Injury/ Fatality within 7 days (excluding Sundays and public holidays) of the employee having been injured for 5days or more in any calendar year. Form 101 must now be filed electronically.
The injured employee will file a workers’ comp. claim with your insurance carrier with which you have liability insurance. The employee is expected to provide documentation to support their claim. The insurer will notify you that the employee has filed the claim (Form 110) with them as well as the DIA. The DIA checks to verify whether the information provided by the employee matches the information which you as the employer provided in Form 101. A workers’ comp. claim can be contested by you if you think the claim cannot be justified. There are some circumstances which might disqualify an employee from obtaining compensation, e.g. if they knowingly refused to use safety equipment, were intoxicated when the accident happened or if you have reason to believe that the injury did not happen at work.
You may need legal assistance if the employee decides to sue your business
Generally, workers’ compensation law prevents employees from suing their employer if they have suffered a workplace injury or illness. Compensation is provided through workers’ compensation insurance. In a minority of cases when an employee thinks that the compensation offered is too low, and believes that the accident was due to the employer’s negligence, it is possible that you could face a personal injury lawsuit. To deal with this eventuality you will need the expertise of a personal injury or litigation lawyer. A lawsuit, if successful, could potentially be far more expensive than any compensation paid out to the employee through workers’ compensation.