is my employer hiding my workplace injury?

A reader writes:

I work as a technician in a manufacturing plant. Early last year, I was the victim of a workplace injury for which I had to take a week off in order to recover. However, once I reported it, someone from the HR department drove me to a clinic immediately, and a workers comp claim was filed and approved so all medical expenses were covered, and I fully recovered without any permanent damage, so I didn’t give that incident much thought afterward.

However, just this week, the plant put up a great big new sign in the main hallway that has a counter of the Days-Hours-Minutes-Seconds without a workplace injury that led to time-lost. The current readout proclaims that it has been over four years since a workplace injury, which is bogus since my injury happened less than a year ago, and I missed an entire week and a worker comp claim was approved. I feel so insulted every time I walk past that sign, since I know it’s bogus, and it seems as if the company is forgetting or ignoring what happened to me. How should I react? Should I question the veracity of that sign to upper management? Am I justified in feeling insulted and ignored every time I walk past that sign? What do you think of the fact that they are portraying false information to all the employees?

Well, often the correct explanation is the simplest: Maybe they just got it wrong.

I wouldn’t feel insulted by this, particularly since you don’t know whether it was intentional or inadvertent. Why not just ask?

But it’s not upper management that you want to ask; it’s HR, since they’re the ones who track workplace injuries. Go talk to whoever in HR handles this, and say something like this: “Hey, I saw that there’s a sign in the main hallway now tracking how long it’s been since there was an injury, and I think it has the number wrong. I actually had a workplace injury last year that led to my missing a week of work. I thought I’d mention it so that the number can be corrected if it’s wrong.”

Notice how that wording isn’t accusing anyone of wrongdoing? It’s just offering information on the assumption that of course they’d want to have it, and not making a huge deal about it.

Now, obviously if they grab you by the collar and tell you to never mention your injury again, or otherwise behave sinisterly, then you can confidently assume that they’re intentionally fudging their statistics. But until/unless that happens, I’d assume you’re dealing with a plain old boring oversight.

{ 66 comments… read them below }

  1. Evan*

    Hmm….normally I agree with you but here I have to wonder if it is worth bringing up at all. It seems like regardless of whether it was intentional or accidental bringing it up with HR carries risk without any potential reward. Pointing out that all the awesome signage they made and their statistics are wrong is likely to frustrate someone even if it is an oversight. On the other hand, getting the sign changed will not benefit the employee in any way so why not just ignore it?

    1. Anonymous*

      Corporate cover up is done for a reason. None of those include benefiting their employees

  2. Melody*

    I’m going to disagree, too. Sounds like you really have your feelings hurt over this which is kind of silly, IMHO. The claim has been made, so there is no hiding it. Their insurance company is fully aware of the incident, too. Does it really matter? And even if they are purposely “forgetting” your incident… does that really matter? I just don’t think so. Maybe your accident wasn’t serious enough, maybe someone truly made an error, maybe the sign is having technical issues?

    I just really think if this is the BIGGEST issue you have in your workplace – you really have no issues. And I think you have way too much time on your hands.

    Just to note – if the organization was being audited and they pulled you aside and said to keep your mouth shut or if they had tried to avoid paying for the injury, then I’d say something but they are not even required to have this sign – it is strictly for employee morale – leave well enough alone!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I can see that point of view, and I agree he shouldn’t be as bothered by it as he is, but he is bothered, and there’s really no reason his employer should react badly to him politely correcting the information. A good HR rep would appreciate it, since otherwise their credibility is sunk with anyone who knows about the OP’s injury. (That’s not to say there aren’t crappy HR people out there who would get defensive, but really, if it’s clear that the number is wrong, it’s clear that the number is wrong. It’s all in how he goes about pointing it out.)

    2. ARM2008*

      It’s not a great morale booster to see a sign saying it’s been 4 years since the last accident when you know about the guy who got hurt last year. When I’ve worked in manufacturing the people I worked with would look at something like this as a lie and wonder what else they are lying about, even if it’s an honest mistake.

      1. KellyK*

        I think that’s a good point. I agree that the OP is taking it too seriously when it could be an oversight, but if they are, others might as well, and it is worth correcting. (But then, I’m biased. As a technical writer and copyeditor, I *always* think mistakes are worth correcting. :) )

  3. Anonymous*

    I understand the OP’s feelings from an certain aspect – the idea that the sign is wrong. When I see something that is erroneous, I just want to fix it. Have you ever heard of those guys who go around fixing grammar on signs? Yeah, that’s how I feel but won’t act on! And that’s how the OP is feeling here. So don’t trivialize it or call it silly.

    As for it being for employee morale, it’s not great morale when and if you find out the sign is either wrong by accident or is a lie.

    1. Anonymous*

      I agree with all your points, first Anon. If it’s a mistake, okay, fix it. If it’s not, then the disingenuousness here would make me question their dissemination of info and side-eye any other statistics-based attempts at boosting morale.

    2. Melody*

      It is just a sign – in my opinion, it is incredibly trivial to the purpose of the organization. However, another poster below mentioned the legality of the signage, so apparently he’s not the only one with thin skin regarding these signs. I just find it so silly – the only people who should truly care about these timelines outside of leadership (and stakeholders) would be the insurance company.

      1. Anonymous*

        If you read below someone wrote about how it can be an OSHA requirement, and we need to know if the OP’s injury on the job was claimed through OSHA. If it was, then their sign is incorrect. If it was not, then they do not necessarily have to put it on this sign.

        If this company is just putting this sign up for morale of the employees, then it is incorrect. If I was a new employee there or an interviewee and saw that sign, I would be thinking that it is a good place to work. But then, if I somehow heard that an employee, the OP, was injured within the time frame indicated on the sign, then I would be questioning it, maybe not to management, but maybe to my closest colleagues whom I’d feel comfortable talking to.

        Now does that sound silly? Or thin-skinned?

  4. Nichole*

    The use of the word “victim” in the first sentence struck me as curious right away-was that term used for lack of a better word or because the OP truly feels victimised? Was the injury a result of negligence by the company? This would explain both the “oversight” on the sign and the OP’s frustration about it. I agree with the commenters that say the OP should leave it alone (it won’t do any good to bring it up), but whether the OP has a right to be upset comes from whether s/he is upset out of some weird victim complex for an injury that happened as part of the job or if s/he genuinely feels that the company tried to pay him or her off and sweep the injury under the rug as a way of skirting responsibility. If that’s the issue and the sign’s just a symptom, we open a new can of worms.

    1. Nichole*

      (Disclaimer: I use the phrase “right to be upset” as a figure of speech, I firmly believe we have a right to our feelings whether they’re rational or not. We just can’t necessarily expect others to predict or accomodate feelings without a rational base. But I digress.)

    2. Anonymous*

      If a worker’s comp claim was approved, then the OP is not the responsible party for the injury.

      1. ThatHRGirl*

        Just because the WC was filed and approved does not mean the employee was not “responsible” for the accident/injury… Doesn’t matter whether a light fixture fell on your head and you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or you were daydreaming and drove your forklift off a cliff, it’s still WC.
        *i love my job, i love my job, i love my job* :)

  5. Lindsay H.*

    As someone who works in HR in factory setting, I completely concur. As long as the HR and Safety Management teams took care of the entire process thoroughly and you’re back-n-at-’em, who gives a crap about their sign? That might be the wine talking, too.

    1. Melody*

      This. Exactly. I just don’t get it. Seems like there is definitely something more to the issue… I think you pegged something when you mentioned “back-n-at-’em”.

  6. Eric*

    Is this common? Can I trust the 5 year no time lost sign at my employer?

    Can the company get in any trouble for publishing this falsehood?

    1. fposte*

      This is why I think that there could be some benefit in the OP’s going to HR with a “didja know?” People do put stock in those signs.

      I would doubt, though, that there’s any legal status to the sign that means the company would get into any trouble for a mistake on it, as long as they’re being truthful to the insurers and the regulatory agencies.

      1. Mike C.*

        And by “people”, don’t forget to include clients, and client/regulatory/government auditors as well.

  7. William*

    I am not a lawyer or HR professional, but I do remember reading a rather thick book of OSHA regulations one weekend when I was bored at an old job, and I remembered these types of signs being required by OSHA. As I recall, the preferred language of the sign is “This Plant Has Worked ___ Days Without An OSHA Recordable Injury | The Best Previous Record Was ___ Days.” I think the rule is that the sign has to be prominently displayed, but includes only certain injuries that meet very specific reporting parameters (I think these are only injuries resulting in time loss reported under OSHA form 300). So, in addition to an oversight, it is possible that the injury simply doesn’t meet the requirements for reporting on that sign. That said, I would concur with the original advice to contact HR, but with the possibility that it might not be an error in mind.

    1. ThatHRGirl*

      These “number of days since” signs are not required by OSHA. What is required is posting the OSHA 300A – which is a summary of number of incidents, number of days lost, types of incidents (injury, skin disorder, respiratory condition) etc.

  8. E is me*

    I am a health and safety manager. Certain injuries are “OSHA recordable”, others are not. Your injury may or may not have been of the type that is being tracked and recorded. The fact that there was a workers comp claim and lost days make me think it was, and they may just have a recordkeeping issue. Were your days to recover dr.’s orders, or did you just not feel well enough to come back to work? The fact that someone from HR took you to the clinic and filed the claim is a good thing. This definitely does not show that they are trying to cover anything up.

    I would recommend going to HR and asking about the sign. It never hurts to be better informed. Ask how they track their injury rate, what qualifies as an injury, etc. They may find that a lot of people have the same questions, and maybe they will host a health and safety meeting to explain the sign. After going that long without an injury is a good thing and they probably want to continue that trend, so informing their employees how they got there can’t be bad.

  9. Anonymous*

    in some manufacturing plants, annual bonuses are computed based on environmental, health and safety track records (which include injury rates etc) so it’s not just a signage for pr purposes but an indication of company performance. many manufacturing plants make a big deal out of eh&S performance, so it’s not surprising he is feeling perturbed. i dont think he is overreacting.

    1. Suz*

      Exactly. At my former employer, in addition to the merit bonus, there was also an annual eh&s bonus at each manufacturing facility. If your plant went a year without any lost time incidents, every person who worked at that plant received the bonus.

  10. Anonymous*

    yeah if the injury was recordable and contributed to lost time, other employees will also know about it and will be equally perturbed not to see it acknowledged; talk to your eh&s department if there is one and find out the OSHA recordable criteria.

  11. Anonymous*

    To be honest, I really think that there’s a problem with the sign. I mean, if it was HR’s intention to do a work safety campaign and boost the people’s morale, then it’s not going to work with false information. I doubt that the OP is the only one that remembers the accident and I myself wouldn’t like to walk past such a careless and wrong sign everyday either.

    Mistakes happen, so I don’t think that it was on purpose, but if it was me, who put it up, I’d rather be told about the mistake than having a big fancy and wrng sign hanging there.

  12. Under Stand*

    Was the manufacturing line shut down while you were injured? If not, then the company had no lost time. You were paid for your injuries. Get over it. (Sorry if this is gruff but this is day three without Dr. Pepper and I am more blunt than usual).

    1. Jo*

      “Was the manufacturing line shut down while you were injured? If not, then the company had no lost time.”

      This. It’s likely a technicality.

    2. Henning Makholm*

      The problem is that the sign appears to be part of some kind of workplace safety campaign. I have no particular knowledge of that field, but I would imagine that principles like pay attention to details and don’t be sloppy about safety figure prominently. If the people behind the campaign are themselves sloppy and don’t pay attention to detail, that makes a mockery of the entire exercise.

      And frankly, defending the non-counting of the OP’s injury by “the company had no lost time” is simply insulting. That conveys the message that the company is okay with workers being injured, so long as it doesn’t lead to manufacturing line shutting down. (Which may be true, but in that case get out of there as quickly as possible!)

      1. fposte*

        Though, to be fair, if the sign is as a result of OSHA requirements, as a poster above posits, it’s not the company’s decision as to what counts and what doesn’t.

        1. Jamie*

          This. The lost time is recordable on the OSHA form which is required by law to be posted in an area visible to all employees.

          Now this sign seems flashy and the OSHA form is pretty sedate – but if your injury isn’t on the form for recordable injuries on the next required update – that’s a very big deal. And I don’t know why the employer would risk posting information that doesn’t match other posted info.

          There is no option with OSHA – you lost time – it’s a recordable injury. Period.

    3. Suz*

      “lost time” has nothing to do with whether the manufacturing line was down or not. If the injury resulted in the employee needing time off work to recover it’s a “lost time” injury.

      1. Under Stand*

        Not necessarily. It depends how the policy is worded. OSHA does not require this sign. Maybe this company considers that since the line stayed up and they paid the employee as if she worked that there was no lost time. We do not know where they are defining “lost time” and as such cannot rule out that to be why they can say it.

        I have worked several places that have paid hours so as not to claim as a lost time accident in their safety program.

  13. JL*

    If you bring it up you might be on the chopping block if cuts come later. You could be labeled as a trouble maker or a goody too shoe. There could be rewards and bonuses that your bosses might get at the end of year that you don’t know about and if you take money out of there pockets they could come back to bite you.

  14. Jamie*

    Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t understand why people think it would be a bad idea to mention the error.

    If I inadvertently posted something erroneous, I would appreciate someone pointing it out – before an OSHA audit where I could be asked why our informal company sign isn’t in agreement with the posted recordable injury form.

    I make mistakes and if someone gave me a heads up on one before it blew up in my face, I’d be grateful – certainly not out to retaliate.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This. For the people saying you’ll be retaliated against, if you were in HR would you hold it against someone who pointed this error out to you? Most HR people are normal people like you, not some other species.

      1. Eric*

        There’s a risk speaking up with zero possible reward for doing so. Are you saying there is zero risk? Can you point to the reward?

          1. ThatHRGirl*

            I would appreciate someone bringing this to my attention IF they did not paint it as some elaborate scheme to hide an injury which “victimized” OP and blah blah blah. If he follows your advice, I’d expect any sensible HR person to react positively.
            What worries me is that the OP seems to be getting WAY too wound up and emotional over this, so I fear that coming in calm and nicely pointing out the error is not the way he’ll approach…

    2. khilde*

      I agree with you, Jamie. I don’t think the OP is out of line to be bothered by the discrepancy. After all, he was hurt and had to take a week off of work. that’s a big deal in a person’s life so I understand the desire to have the facts straight. Also, it could just be the HR people have about a million other things to do and they forgot to update the sign. I would probably forget. Unless there was some kind of automatic reminder triggered when someone got hurt (which isn’t likely), then flipping a number on a sign is something that I would certainly overlook in the hubbub of trying to get the legal paperwork all squared away. I agree with some previous posters who suggested that the company ISN’T trying to cover anything up. Sounds like they did right by the employee by taking him to the clinic and filing appropriate paperwork in a timely fashion. I agree with AAM’s advice 100% here.

  15. What the?*

    There is always intent behind our actions, so just wondering how the OP would benefit from mentioning this little factoid? There is zero benefit mentioning this, no one broke the law, no one was harmed by this sign, just go with it for the greater good of the company and forget about it.

    1. Mike C.*

      Issues of safety reporting are one of the last things that should simply be “forgotten about”.

    2. Jamie*

      The benefit from mentioning this is that pointing out an error which can save trouble down the road is the decent thing to do.

      If the company were being shady they would have not filed the work comp paperwork, nor would that have gone through proper channels. There would have been some under the table coverage of medical bills – etc. Once you file work comp, there is no way they can cover it up with OSHA.

      So this leads me to believe it was most likely an oversight – an inadvertent error where the inhouse sign is discrepant from the OSHA form 300 which is posted at the end of the year.

      An OSHA audit can be a simple walk through, or a soul sucking adventure in pain. Nothing will red flag and auditor to dig deeper like posted numbers in conflict with the report.

      By saying something he is saving someone both time and embarrassment should there be an audit.

      Besides that – Mike is right – the safety and well being of employees should be an area where everyone is entitled to full disclosure.

      I just don’t see the downside – since I can’t see any logical way this is a Machiavellian coverup…not with a paper trail from work comp. Besides, one recordable incident doesn’t hurt the company…but not recording a recordable incident has mandatory fines attached. And unofficially – increased auditing.

  16. Interviewer*

    OP, this quote leapt to mind immediately, and I felt the need to share it with you: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

    In other words, don’t assume the company is campaigning to ignore your injury. Does the person who drove you to the ER that day even work there anymore? A lot of institutional memory can disappear in a mass layoff, the remaining people can’t find old records or don’t know the history, etc. I would go there first for excuses on why the sign is clearly wrong, instead of assuming they are trying to lie to the employees. If I worked there, I would be mortified and embarrassed if I got the sign wrong. I wouldn’t be trying to lie about it at all. Ask, politely. See what happens.

  17. Jaime*

    I totally agree with AAM’s advice here and I also think the Op is reading too much into it on too little information.

    However, it is something to take seriously. The company certainly felt it was important enough to put a “great big sign” up, so it needs to be accurate. I know some workplaces take these things VERY seriously and, as others have said, some pay out bonuses based on safety statistics. In the past, my dad’s workplace (oil refinery) was so proud of an injury-free time period that they painted a sign about it with the company logo on one of their huge tanks.

    Signs like this are not just about employee morale, but also can reinforce how seriously they take safety. They can point to the sign and say “see, this is why we are always talking to you about safety issues.”

  18. Ellen M.*

    I agree with AAM’s advice, and I also think the OP was right to question this and is not being “too sensitive” or whatever. Safety should be taken seriously, or what is the point of the sign at all, OSHA required or not? And attention to detail and doing things the way they should be done is part of safety, so these things are related.

    However, AAM questioned whether there might be retaliation(?) I have seen retaliation for all kinds of things in the workplace, including small things, smaller than this notification of an error or whatever it may turn out to be. I still think the OP should question it, not in an accusatory way, but yes, definitely, in some workplaces there would be retaliation for this; for anything really.

    If someone gets even mildly pissed off at having to address something they don’t want to be bothered with, sure, there might be revenge down the road.

    And it’s not like people will announce, “I am now doing this solely in retaliation for that specific thing you did 2 1/2 months ago.” lol

  19. Anonymous*

    If your checks are clearing and its generally a pretty good place to work, keep your mouth shut and move on. There a ton of people out there right now who stood up for some principle which, in retrospect, seemed important at the time and now have been without a job for the last 18 months. You gotta know when to pick your battles. This one ain’t worth dying over.

    1. Henning Makholm*

      The thing is, assuming that this is a place where helping to get errors fixed (if only by bringing them to the attention of people who can fix them) will get you into trouble — which IMHO is a pretty big assumption; most places run by actual human beings would reward such behavior — is that a place you’ll even want to work?

      1. fposte*

        As opposed to working at the unpaid cover-letter-crafting factory, aka being unemployed? Quite possibly yes, especially if you’re supporting kids as well as yourself. If you have legit reason to believe you can walk into another job, that’s one thing, but if, like many people, you’d be looking at months to years of unemployment as a result, you have to consider the practicalities.

        I get the “you’re better off without them” theory, but I think that applies more to relationships, where having one is optional. Having a job really isn’t.

          1. Jamie*

            I need to get my Hello Kitty Gravatar back up to lose this androgynous thing I have going on without it. It’s ‘she’ :).

            No offense to all the male Jamies out there who share my love for anime Japanese felines.

            Spelling it wrong is funny, because I work with someone who spells my name Jaime in every email going on four years now – so he thinks I spell it wrong, too. I don’t correct him because it’s definitely cuter that way.

  20. Jamie*

    “unpaid cover-letter-crafting factory, aka being unemployed?”

    +1 for the awesome wordsmitthing. Very funny!

  21. Anonymous*

    To suggest that this individual ask their employer about the over-sight is naive. I truly hate to be so cynical, but experience has shown me that to question something at work does not pay. Of course, the company is going to want to appear to be more than they are. It’s right up there with schools having Blue Ribbon’s all smoke and mirrors. You are nothing more than a commodity and an under-valued one. As was stated, if you like where you work, let it go. To ask will only prompt you to be replaced.

  22. Anonymous*

    Let me add my two cents to the discussion.
    Given the timing of this electronic safety sign indicating the Days, Hours, Minutes and Seconds since the company’s last recorded lost-time injury (i.e., 4 years), I’m quite certain that this is the company I currently work at. What are the odds that another manufacturing company in the United States placed an electronic safety sign in the facility’s main hallway, did this last week and currently has a similar 4-year lost-time injury record?
    Assuming this is the company in question, I know this much. They keep very accurate records about employee injuries and worker’s compensation claims (it’s the law). In fact, they even track first-aid treatments (i.e., employee injuries that only require a Band-Aid) and near-miss incidents (the accidents that almost happened). Each accident or injury is recorded on an investigation form by the employee’s supervisor and sent to HR and the Safety Department within 24 hours. The cause of the injury is investigated by both Safety and the employee’s manager to determine the root-cause so that the appropriate corrective measures can be taken. Then each month all of the safety incidents are compiled into a report that is distributed to all company facilities worldwide. The intent is to inform, educate and share “best practices” when addressing injuries and accidents. All worker’s compensation claims are reviewed monthly between HR and the insurance company. Any changes in the claim (say the employee is ordered by their doctor to spend time away from work – weeks, even months – after the initial injury occurred) is recorded on the OSHA 300 log, which is then forwarded to the Safety department so they might keep their monthly safety reports up-to-date. Despite all of these well-established safety recording procedures, errors can occur.
    If the employee feels that the company has posted safety information that is incorrect or misleading, by all means contact the HR or Safety Department. Most companies want to be accurate and not mislead employees. There is very little to gain and much to lose.
    Note: There is a safety suggestion box in the same hallway across from the new electronic sign where employees can submit suggestions or complaints anonymously. The box is checked daily.

  23. mary j*

    My employer and the state both covered up my workplace injury and got attorneys not to accept my claim.cause it had something to do with an illegal substance that got on me.they care nothing about injued workers.all about the money and them getting there share as side payoffs besides what they jobs pay.more corruption in america today than ever before.

  24. Sam*

    Several years ago I tripped and broke my knee getting off the bus at work. Went to the on site doctor was initially put on light duties (before I knew it was broken) the incident was put down as a medical treatment case our HSE manager then went back to the medical centre has my medical certificate changed so it was not a medical treatment case. I was told to make out it is not as bad as it was and also told if I went back and got put off work that I would be blacklisted from the construction industry over here. I went to the hospital that night and got an x ray on my own accord as I knew something wasn’t right the next day the site doctor wanted me on a plane heading home that day. That didn’t happen I hung around until I was due to fly home on r n r in a weeks time went straight to the doctor and was put off work. Then got told my work cover certificate would not be accepted and I had to go and see a company approved doctor. I mentioned lawyers and the union to my company and they decided to let me stay home. I was receiving full pay and all benefits leave sick leave super etc for three months so that I was not being paid by work cover. I returned to work three months later to them giving out watches to everyone to mark 1 million hours lost time injury free. Its now my belief that nearly any company in the construction industry at least will cover up workers injuries. Its far from OK and is only getting worse

  25. James*

    It’s great to hear that you case was settled and that you’ve recovered from that accident. Yes, that’s kinda strange. Something is wrong with the records and somehow it’s the clinic or HR’s job to update the numbers of days count. It’s important that these king information should be updated, real and true.

  26. CMartin*

    Who would want to be the employee that broke the 5 year “no workplace injury”? Would an employee have the same reservations about reporting an injury if the sign read 1 year? If the employee had work lost time, then it should have been an OSHA recordable. If it wasn’t the company gave the employee a week of paid “vacation” to avoid reporting the incident. No one made a mistake about how long it’s been since their last workplace injury, these things are serious and have many negative impacts for a business, higher insurance premiums, increased risk for OSHA inspections, and in some states loss of tax deductions. Letting management know about the error will prob not benefit the employee at all. You can swallow the feeling you have to do the honest thing or you can speak up despite the negative consequences that will probably follow. Your choice and only you know whether or not its worth it.

  27. Graff*

    Well as is the case with the company i work for in a glass bottle manufacturing plant….if you injure yourself at work you will eiether be made to return to work on light duries or given the sack!! Wich happens all the time!! They are constantly ramming the accident free days total down our necks at the monthly shift meetings when we all know full well there have been many!!… one case that happend at begining of jan 2014…a guy fell from height and hurt his have now sacked him saying he should not of been doing what he was doing even though he was made to and no safety ewuipment (harness) was supplied so he’s screwed!!! This is totally wrong and our company for one get away with murder its so very wrong!!!!!

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