It’s every restaurant owner’s nightmare: a staff member is injured on the job. Perhaps they suffer a nasty hand injury while slicing vegetables, or maybe get a nasty burn. The injury might not even happen in the kitchen – they could slip on a wet floor, or even be assaulted. In many cases, an injured employee will have a right to compensation. This is why you pay into your state’s workers’ compensation fund or self-insurance. (All states, except Texas, require employers to have some kind of workers’ compensation coverage.)
What Types of Injuries Are Covered by a Workers’ Compensation Claim?
The illnesses and injuries covered by workers’ compensation vary between states. In all cases, the illness or injury needs to be something that was caused by the job or working conditions. This means that your employees can’t put in a claim for something that’s unrelated to work. For instance, if one of your employees develops a heart condition and this has no relation to their work for your restaurant, it’s not covered.
If an employee assaults another employee, you may think this won’t be covered. However, if both employees were on the job at the time, then it is likely to be grounds for a valid claim.
When Is a Compensation Claim Not Valid?
The rules vary from state to state on what types of injuries can be claimed for, how much proof is required, and so on.
Compensations claims are normally outside the scope of workers’ compensation if:
- The injury was self-inflicted (the employee deliberately hurt themself)
- The injury happened while a crime was being committed
- The employee was injured while violating company policy
- The employee wasn’t on the job when the injury occurred (e.g. your employee came to eat in your restaurant on their day off)
Can I Be Sued for a Workplace Injury?
When you have workers’ compensation in place, this normally means you can’t also be sued by an employee. However, you can be sued if:
- You intentionally injured the employee. For instance, if you lost your temper and hit your employee in the face with a pan, breaking their nose, then you could be sued by them.
- The injury was outside the scope of their assigned work. For instance, if you ordered your chef to climb on the roof and fix broken tiles and they fell off and broke their leg, you could be sued.
You could also be sued if you haven’t taken reasonable steps to protect employees from accidents or injury.
How to Prevent or Reduce Injuries in the Workplace
Restaurants are, by their nature, somewhat hazardous workplaces. There are still things you can do to reduce risks to your employees, and to reduce the likelihood of a workers’ compensation claim.
For instance, you could:
- Make sure that you have the necessary tools and equipment to avoid employees being injured. This could mean things like non-slip floor mats, splash guards to prevent hot oil burns, and carts to easily move heavy items.
- Reduce the risk of slips by clearly putting signs on slippery floors, by adequate lighting, and by using danger tape to highlight areas such as steep or uneven steps.
- Train all employees on safe lifting and handling techniques, and provide equipment when necessary.
- Ensure that items in the kitchen (or elsewhere in the restaurant) can’t be knocked or fall onto employees.
- Encourage employees to speak up if they spot something unsafe or if anything concerns them.
- Have a strict “no running” policy – while things might get hectic in your restaurant, you don’t want employees to risk slipping, injuring themselves by running into something, or even running into a colleague.
No employer wants a member of their staff to get injured on the job, or to become ill because of their working conditions. Accidents can and do happen, though, so whatever measures you have in place, you still need to pay into a workers’ compensation scheme.