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June 11, 2013
Employers hesitate to discipline workers for safety

A labor lawyer says discipline is essential for safety, but employers just aren’t doing it. Fisher & Phillips partner Howard Mavity cites a firm study that found 56 percent of large general contractors were unsatisfied with how often supervisors disciplined employees for unsafe actions.

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This is a problem for several reasons, including the fact that without a record of disciplinary action, an employer might not be able to demonstrate to OSHA that it is operating an effective safety program.

Lack of disciplinary action also makes it unlikely for an employer to use what’s known as the “unpreventable employee misconduct/isolated incident” defense. It says that despite the employer’s efforts to run an effective safety program, the employee acted unsafely. Mavity says disciplinary steps, proof of training, and documented safety rules help prove that the employer was providing a compliant safety program.

Why do supervisors fail to discipline unsafe employees? Mavity points to reasons, including:

  • The supervisor fears that using discipline will cause trouble for the employer;
  • The supervisor has not been trained and does not know how to discipline; and
  • Discipline is only used following an action that led to a serious outcome, rather than in response to breaking of the rules.

The Fisher & Phillips survey also found that most companies make little consistent effort to train supervisors on when and how to discipline employees. Too often, Mavity adds, the only time an employer learns that an employee was working unsafely is in the course of a postinjury investigation.

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