Can You Discipline an Injured Worker Who Doesn’t Follow Safety Rules?

Can You Discipline an Injured Worker Who Doesn’t Follow Safety Rules?

Temp worker with back injury“You’re hurt? Then you’re fired!”

No sane, responsible employer would ever say those words to an injured employee.

But have you ever disciplined an employee whose failure to follow a safety rule caused their injury? Can you even discipline an employee for that? 

Can you discipline someone who doesn’t follow your company safety policy?

Every business is responsible for maintaining a safe working environment for their employees. Part of that process is establishing safety policies for employees to follow.

Employees are certainly expected to be responsible for following those policies, which are there to keep them safe. So you might then logically conclude that it’s okay to discipline and/or fire an employee for violating a safety policy which resulted in them getting injured.

Not so fast!

Regulators are paying attention:

OSHA and L&I may both become concerned when an injured worker is disciplined for violating a safety rule, and see it as the company retaliating against the employee for filing a workers comp claim.

They think that a pattern of disciplining injured workers may result in discouraging other injured workers from filing legitimate claim.

Remember, reporting an injury is always a protected activity.

How do you enforce a safety program without violating employment regulations?

So how does a well-meaning company enforce their solid safety program without getting crosswise with the enforcement authorities? There may be some safe steps that you can take.

Make your safety rules specific:

First of all, make sure that all of your safety rules are specific. For instance, OSHA finds it more credible to enforce a specific rule regarding wearing required personal protective equipment than a vague rule regarding always being careful when you’re working.

Be consistent with safety rule enforcement:

Be consistent. If every employee is disciplined every time a safety rule is disregarded, then OSHA is less likely to see it as retaliation when an injured worker is disciplined for disobeying a safety rule. And make sure that discipline is proportional to the infraction. When it is disproportional, OSHA may consider it discrimination for filing a claim.

Be careful how you define your safety rules:

Oftentimes, our rules talk about the importance of immediately reporting injuries and the procedures for reporting them. OSHA gets concerned when companies discipline workers for reporting injuries late or for not correctly following the reporting procedures.

Sometimes it takes workers a while to realize they’ve been injured, or they initially think that the injury isn’t that bad. Then the worker fears reporting the injury at all since discipline will follow.

Perform thorough investigations:

Always perform thorough investigations. And document, document, document!

Safety rules are extremely important. And they don’t do any good if they only exist on paper. They have to be enforced. But injured workers are protected from discrimination and this makes the enforcement process a much more difficult and careful procedure.