What you don’t know can hurt you – make pre-employment screening mandatory.

A company advertises a job opening for a worker to pack and load heavy boxes onto trucks. It would seem an easy position to fill. But what if that applicant shows up with two good, strong arms and appears to be a perfect candidate for the job, but has a history of back trouble that resulted in a number of previous workers’ compensation claims? This is not an easy call to make and virtually impossible if no pre-employment medical testing is required. Especially by a medical expert who understands your job requirements and what it takes physically to accomplish them.

With budget and personnel cut backs, many companies are also cutting back on pre-employment practices. A few years ago investing in integrity testing, pre-employment physicals, blood work, and drug testing was palpable. Today, when a company is struggling to find candidates, it is very difficult to turn away potential employees.

Today many employers are also aware of the high-cost of workers’ compensation claims, which can sometimes be up to 300% of what the carrier pays out. This creates a juggling act with them wanting to make sure they hire the right person, while protecting the safety of their other workers and in some instances, the public. Failure to hire the right person for the job sends a message to the other workers that the company doesn’t care whom they hire, even if it impairs job safety. This is something that can have huge repercussions and create a culture that does not care about safety.

There are many examples of companies who see their Workers’ Compensation Experience Modification Factor (ex mod) skyrocket to much higher than what it should be. The elevated ex mods are caused claims, which were a direct result of improper or non-existent hiring procedures. These companies did not conduct pre-employment background checks and physicals. They open the door for employees to come on payroll with existing injuries which are further aggravated by their new position.

Staying up to Date with State Regulations

States address the aggravation or exacerbation of a pre-existing condition differently. In most states, if the on-the-job injury exacerbates a pre-existing condition (even by 1%), it is considered to be a part of the payable injury. This is conditional upon the physician being able to say that within “reasonable medical probability” the pre-existing condition was and still is aggravated by the on-the-job injury.

For instance, diabetes is a very common pre-existing occurrence.  If an employee injures a leg on the job and also has diabetes, the physician starts treatment for the leg condition and is also monitoring the diabetes.  As long as the majority of the treatment (51%) is for the leg pain, it is payable under Workers’ Compensation.  If there comes a time when the leg pain subsides and the diabetes is getting worse (51% of the treatment is now related to the diabetes), it should no longer be considered payable under Workers’ Compensation.

Another tricky area of pre-employment screening is determining if the applicant has a history of filing Workers’ Compensation claims. Under the Federal Americans with Disabilities Acts (ADA), employers cannot inquire about past Workers’ Compensation claims, nor can they refuse to employ someone who has filed past claims or whose disability or impairment has no bearing on whether or not they can perform the essential tasks they are being hired for. The job interview can only determine if the person can perform essential job functions, with or without reasonable accommodation.

In the end, it is important for employers to take all steps necessary to make sure they hire the right person for the job. This can only be accomplished by implementing the proper pre-employment procedures. This includes using integrity testing, post job offer medical questionnaires, making sure that a qualified medical practitioner who understands the job requirements performs all medical testing, and dodging a legal minefield by remembering that applicants should be assessed only by their ability to perform the essential tasks at hand.