Are New Workers Most At Risk Of Serious Personal Injury?
According to a recent study, over 1/3 of all workers’ compensation claims involve injuries in the first year of employment. In some fields like restaurant work and construction, the majority of accidents and injuries impact new workers. For construction and restaurant work, the numbers make sense. Those jobs are often short-term. But, those jobs aside, new employees (less than one year) suffer a much higher overall rate of injuries.
What is the impact of an injury to a recently hired employee? Does a new employee face different injury issues compared to longer-term employees? Let’s talk about a few potential issues new employees may face. First, I’ll talk about the “why” and then I’ll talk about the “how” it impacts a potential workers’ compensation claim.
Why Do New Employees Suffer A Much Higher Rate Of Personal Injury?
The research article does not discuss the “why” or “how” involving newer employees. So, we don’t learn why newer employees suffer a higher rate of injury. As an Alabama workers’ compensation attorney representing injured workers for more than 25 years, I have a few thoughts on the issue.
Too Many Employers Fail To Train New Hires For Safety
You start a new job. On the first day, human resources bombards you with paperwork. Tax forms. Company policies. Maybe a handbook. For some employees, that’s it. Here’s your documents. Sign here to indicate you received them. Get to work. That’s how it works for some companies. I’ve seen personal injury cases where employers immediately put the new guy to work in extended scissors lifts, driving cranes, or running production machines, with little or no instruction. That’s inadequate to protect workers from serious accidents and injuries.
New Employees Lack Familiarity With Key Issues
I often think about one of my first workers’ compensation trials 25 years ago in Huntsville. A new maintenance worker at a local plant slipped in oil around a machine, fell to the concrete floor, and severely injured his lower back. He required a spinal fusion surgery for the ruptured disc he suffered. When we investigated the case, we learned this machine regularly leaked oil into an aisle at the plant. The company knew the problem but refused to repair it. Long-term employees simply avoided the area and danger. Long-term workers knew to walk around that area. New workers, unfamiliar with the problem, did not. That lack of familiarity is why my client suffered a lifelong injury. The truth — With experience, we learn to avoid potential pitfalls and dangers.
New Employees Are Not Yet Physically Conditioned For Unique Physical Tasks Of The Work
When I was in college, I spent a summer working on a landscaping crew. The first week was rough. I had to get conditioned to working in the hot summer sun. With any difficult job, workers need to get conditioned.
In Huntsville, we have one large employer that puts new workers through serious physical conditioning before the real job starts. But, that’s rare. Some jobs involve very repetitive tasks. Without conditioning, those repetitive tasks can easily cause injury. Some jobs involve a unique physical position or activity. Without conditioning, spending long periods of time in a unique position or performing a unique activity, can result in injury. The lack of physical conditioning as well as the lack of familiarity with tasks, can result in needless accidents.
How Does An Injury To A New Worker Impact A Workers’ Compensation Claim?
Now that we’ve discussed “why” the injury rate is higher for new employees, let’s look at “how” injury claims by newer workers are uniquely impacted. I’ll provide a few reasons I’ve seen from trying these cases in court.
Newer Employees May Face Issues With Benefit Calculations
In Alabama, workers’ compensation benefits are based on math formulas. These formulas start with the worker’s Average Weekly Wage (AWW). What is AWW? How is AWW calculated? For long-term workers, the law is pretty simple. You start with the wages earned over the 52 week period (one year) leading up to the injury. And, you get a weekly average from those wages. In some cases, you can also add valuable fringe benefits into the average weekly wage.
If you are an injured worker, don’t count on the insurance adjuster to include overtime, bonuses or fringe benefits. But, those things can make a huge difference in your benefit calculations. I’ll talk about this issue in another post.
For the basics, averaging 52 weeks is pretty simple. How do you calculate AWW when the person has worked less than one year? That can get more difficult in some cases. In these situations, you average the number of weeks actually worked or look at the wages of a similarly situated employee in limited situations. Even where easily calculated, the new employee is less likely to have earned bonuses or overtime which would have increased the AWW and benefits owed.
In some cases, the Average Weekly Wage is a simple calculation. In others, it is not. It can make a huge difference in your benefits. So, seek experienced legal advice on the issue.
Newer Employees May Face Bias Issues At Trial
When an employee has a long-term track record of good performance, it is difficult for the company to argue otherwise at trial. A new employee lacks valuable tenure. If the new employee also regularly changed jobs in the past, it can be even more difficult. Some insurance companies will try to exploit short-term employment and play into negative biases. Because of this, it is so very important that you have a lawyer who actually prepares and tries cases. An experienced trial lawyer will know how to handle key bias issues at trial.
Newer Employees May Face Unique Vocational Disability Issues
If you suffered a severe injury that left you unable to continue your then-employment, you may have a claim for compensation based on your vocational disability. That is, benefits may be based on your disability in terms of how it impacts work.
When vocational disability is part of the compensation calculation, you definitely need a lawyer who understands those issues. Your past employment, including its length and the skills gained, can be key issues. Your lawyer needs to understand key vocational issues in order to prepare your case in the most effective manner.
Suffered An Injury On A New Job? Don’t Be Left Behind.
I jumped around with my thoughts about this data on injuries among newer workers. Safety. Conditioning. Familiarity. Those are key issues in understanding the “why” when it comes to the higher rate of injury among newer employees. But, you also need to understand the “how” in terms of impact on your workers’ compensation claim. To prepare your case for the maximum compensation at settlement or trial, the “how” must be an essential part of the overall strategy.