The U.S. Department of Labor has filed a lawsuit against U.S. Steel Corp., demanding the company change its workplace injury reporting policy, which currently mandates workers immediately report incidents when they occur. The company has taken disciplinary action against workers who don’t immediately file.
Although this kind of policy may at first seem like a way to protect workers – after all, it may be in their best interest to report a work accident with injuries immediately – the problem is not all injuries are immediately apparent. A worker who doesn’t suffer any problems until days later will be discouraged from reporting the injury, due to the policy.
That fear would be with good reason, given what recently happened to two of U.S. Steel’s employees.
In a complaint filed last month, the federal government accuses the company of violating the Occupational Safety and Health Act by suspending the two workers without pay after they reported their injuries immediately after they began to suffer symptoms, but days after the actual accidents. The lawsuit asserts the workers didn’t report their injuries right away because they didn’t know about them.
OSHA backs the DOL on this, urging the company to change its policy because otherwise, workers with legitimate injuries are afraid to report them for fear of retaliation.
Our workers’ compensation lawyers know that while it is best to report an injury right away, not all injuries are immediately apparent. It could be days or in some cases weeks before a worker realizes the full extent of the injury and the need to pursue compensation for it.
In the underlying case, both injuries occurred more than two years ago, in February 2014.
One of the workers was employed as a laborer at one of the company’s facilities in Pennsylvania when he slammed his head on a beam. He’d been wearing a protective helmet, and didn’t feel any immediate pain or discomfort. However, five days later he saw a doctor after noting intense pain in his shoulder. His union representative reported the injury that day to the company, and as a result, he was suspended without pay for five days for failing to immediately report the injury.
Then in another case, a utility technician was working at another Pennsylvania plant when he noticed a splinter in his thumb. Not thinking this was a major issue, he removed it and continued working. However, two days later, he started to experience severe pain and swelling on that thumb. He immediately sought treatment, which included antibiotics. He also at that point reported the injury to his employer. Because he did not report the injury right away, U.S. Steel suspended him for five days without pay, though that was later reduced to two days.
Both employees filed complaints with OSHA, which in both cases concluded the company violated anti-discrimination policies. Still, the firm has staunchly refused to alter its injury reporting policy.
Now, though, if the court decides the case in the DOL’s favor, the company may not have a choice.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
U.S. Steel Hit With DOL Suit Over Employee Injury Policy, Feb. 23, 2016, By Alex Wolf, LAW 360
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