Rising health-care costs can mean high workers' comp bills, putting entrepreneurs' budgets in a sling. Rebecca Shafer, president of Amaxx Risk Solutions Inc., estimates that workers' comp costs per small-business employee rose more than 25 percent last year from 2006. This year, the slowing economy may encourage more workers to fake or exaggerate injuries rather than face layoffs, she adds.
Because small companies usually have high workers' comp deductibles in their insurance policies, a single serious injury can hurt the bottom line. But insurance industry experts say thoughtful planning can keep workers' comp costs under control. Your first line of defense should be to keep your workplace free of hazards. But if an employee suffers an injury on the job, Shafer offers these tips:
- Have a supervisor drive the injured worker to a clinic or hospital preselected by the company, rather than to the employee's own doctor. The clinic should properly document what happened, while the supervisor notes the employee's level of disability.
- Meet with the employee soon after to plan his return. Offer a light-duty job the worker can do while he's healing.
- Meet weekly with the worker to evaluate his progress toward returning to his normal work duties.
- Make your insurance company's medical advisor available to answer questions, rather than leaving injured workers to consult personal-injury attorneys.
- Consider suspending company perks, such as retail discounts or free travel, during the convalescence period to discourage a "paid vacation" attitude. Work to reduce the number of claims and claim costs, Shafer says, and it will pay off down the line in lower insurance premiums.
—By Carol Tice, a Seattle writer who reports on business, finance and social issues for Seattle Magazine, Washington CEO and other leading publications.
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