When addressing questions related to employer/employee relationships, the first aspect to note is whether the employee in question is a “covered employee” or not.

Workers compensation benefits naturally apply to those employees who have established this specific relationship and who fall ill, sick or injured secondary to a workplace hazard or occupational incident. But what about those employers that are not covered by workers compensation? Many states, including Texas, do not require employers to carry workers compensation insurance for their employees. But “going bare” is always at the risk of the employer and leaves them open to litigation and issues of liability. The various protections established in civil court that workers compensation insurance offers do not extend to non-subscriber employers. Therefore, it is the sole responsibility of this uninsured employer to create a work environment that is safe and secure for employees and to establish clear and set expectations with their team.

The first step in establishing a positive employer/employee relationship is reassuring employees that the leadership of their company always has their best interests in mind and they will do everything in their power to protect their team from any unforeseen issues. By guarding the interests of all parties involved, employers can ensure that employees feel secure in their roles and can perform to the best of their abilities. These positive relationships are a direct reflection of a company’s leadership and indicate where a business’s priorities lie. Defined as the ability to guide or influence individuals, leadership at its core is a significant relationship that can either have an exceedingly positive or negative effect on a business. Therefore, it is crucial that employers continuously work to cultivate and maintain a positive leadership role for their team.

Unfortunately, not every employer values this employee/employer relationship as highly and there are those employers who may attempt to eschew responsibility for the care of their employees. Conversely, employees may seek to gain more than they are due through dishonest means because they feel they are entitled to additional compensation. For this reason, a critical analysis of the employer/employee relationship is essential on a regular basis to foster a functional and safe work environment for all parties involved.

With the understanding that an organization has successfully demonstrated to its teammates that they are doing everything in their power to care for injured individuals, clear communication of what is expected from each member of the team is vital in mitigating excessive costs in the workers compensation environment. By acquiring workers compensation coverage, continuously educating employees about safety issues and correcting ill-advised or risky behaviors on the spot, leadership can effectively manage the expectations of both employees and employers in the workplace. This means that it is the shared responsibility of both the employee and the employer to establish a standard of diligence and accountability in the workplace to avoid any miscommunication or mismanaged expectations.

Not only should employers set clear expectations for individuals and leaders in the workplace, but they should also actively discourage and discontinue any unsafe or precarious behaviors that could potentially put both the employee and the company at risk. Recognizing and altering behaviors associated with unsafe acts benefits all parties concerned and ultimately contributes to the financial health of an organization by minimizing future workers compensation premiums. Since a company’s financial health is impacted by these behaviors, it can also help employers identify which activities should not be pursued as they expose the company to unnecessary risk. But this proactive initiative can only succeed with a clear and open line of communication between employees and their leaders.

Setting and managing expectations is another crucial aspect of any successful relationship. What is expected from the employee in terms of their production/output and what is expected from the employer in terms of meeting their obligations and providing those materials necessary to secure a successful relationship? These are questions that should be addressed early in the employee/employer relationship and each of these expectations should be fully understood by all involved parties to ensure success for both the individual and the company. If, for whatever reason, the employee feels they are being somehow compromised when it comes to workplace injuries, they are not likely to act in the best interests of the organization and instead assume a self-serving position in the workplace. Therefore, an open and effective communication strategy is essential in building and nurturing a stronger employer/employee relationship.

Although workers compensation insurance has its limitations—and is in no way a silver bullet for workplace safety—it can still provide a significant safety net for both employees and employers. However, if the expectations of either party are unrealistic or unmet then this breakdown in communication can lead to a slew of costly consequences. This relationship should also come with the understanding by the claimant that workers compensation insurance is not a substitute for group health insurance. Additionally, employees should recognize that workers compensation coverage extends only to certain traumatic or occupational health issues that are a direct result of the workplace and should not include normal disease of life, pre-existing or degenerative conditions. Unfortunately, this point is often lost or not communicated clearly to employees, which tends to create animosity and resentment in the workplace.

To whit, the path toward building a positive employer/employee relationship begins with the leadership of the organization. And successful communication should be a function of this leadership to encourage an open and honest environment where all parties are understood. A critical aspect of that communication is setting the expectations of the employee (in terms of their personal responsibilities) and the expectations of the supervisor/manager/leader in guiding the employee. This narrative should always include workers compensation insurance, what is expected of the employee, what will not be tolerated and what the anticipated outcomes might be. If these efforts are continued, the result will be a successful, cost-efficient application of workers compensation coverage and, consequently, improved overall financial health of the organization.