multilingual risk management program
Property Casualty

Any Way You Slice It, You Need to be Able to Communicate

Timothy Lefler
Timothy Lefler
Sr. Claims Consultant

True story…Ramon speaks very little English and has been in Iowa for less than a year. He works at a busy, well-known local restaurant at the prep table cutting vegetables and preparing meat for the evening meal rush. Part of his job is to keep the cutting machine clean. On one particular day, he rushed into work from his morning job as a school custodian and was running late because his car wouldn’t start. He needed to wait for his brother to give the car a jump start. When he finally arrived at work, he got an earful from his shift manager for being late “again,” but Ramon didn’t know how to communicate his bad car battery. And to top it off, the cutting machine hadn’t been cleaned from the lunch shift.

He quickly started working on cleaning the machine. His mind was racing about needing a new battery, wondering if his car would start after work, and knowing his boss was upset. He tried to clean between the machine blades by reaching in with his bare hands to pull out the remaining meat and vegetable debris. The machine wasn’t unplugged, and Ramon accidentally bumped the switch, turning the machine on. He said it happened so quickly, but yet it was like slow motion. The machine shredded and amputated his middle three fingers.

A claim was reported, but Ramon couldn’t communicate well in English. He lost contact with the restaurant and insurance adjuster. He ended up getting fired. Thinking he had nowhere else to turn, he hired an attorney and the claim became litigated. A difficult claim to manage in a perfect situation quickly became a 6-figure claim with employment practices implications for the client. OSHA reached out for their investigation due to the amputations.

Our economy continues to evolve into a global marketplace manned by immigrants and multilingual employees. The majority of states allow workers’ compensation benefits for immigrants and undocumented workers. This ever-changing workforce stresses the importance of welcoming diversity in the workplace and employers maximizing their efforts on employee safety and having programs to acceralate injury recovery for multilingual employees.

As of 2015 in the United States:

  • 65 million residents (1 in 5 people) spoke a language other than English at home
  • 21 percent of school-age children spoke a language other than English at home
  • Translator/interpreters were the 5th fastest growing occupation

Worldwide, it’s estimated that:

  • There are more second language speakers of English than native speakers
  • There are as many bilingual children as there are monolingual children

Now back to Ramon. He was eventually placed at maximum medical improvement and settled the workers’ compensation claim. The employer included additional money for a global release to resolve any wrongful termination exposure. He lost his three middle fingers. No one was completely satisfied with the outcome when the claim was finally resolved.

On these difficult claims, employers should always look at things they could have done differently to improve the outcome. In Ramon’s case, for example:

  • Was there a co-worker or outside resource available to assist as an interpreter?
  • Should the carrier have hired a nurse case manager to assist with the appointments and communication?
  • Did the employer have the appropriate training and signage on the equipment?
  • What was the reasoning for Ramon’s firing and did it need to occur while the claim was ongoing?
  • Does the employer have other employees with a similar background they need to work with?

Risk management programs should always be evolving, improving, and never staying static. We need to understand this segment of our workforce can be at a greater risk of injury due to natural language barriers, limited experience in the U.S. workplace, less formal education, and cultural differences. When employers, employees, and safety resources don’t speak the same language or have the same understanding of terminology/signage, they’re asking for…

  • Longer healing periods
  • Barriers to medical recovery
  • Unsuccessful attempts at returning to work
  • Higher claim costs

If you have a diverse workforce that’s multilingual in nature and want to talk about your risk management program, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We have experts who focus specifically on this type of program!

Explore more from Holmes Murphy