Question

What should you do when an employee refuses medical treatment?

Answer
By Safeopedia Staff | Last updated: March 7, 2024
Worker with injured shoulder or elbow, surrounded by others attending to him, with a hard hat on the floor in the foreground.
Source: 1footage (Envato Elements)

An employee slips at work and injures their ankle.

They can still walk, but slowly and with a noticeable limp. Every few steps, they wince in pain.

The supervisor advises them to have the injury checked and treated by a doctor, and offers to drive them to the emergency room.

To their surprise, the employee refuses – not just the ride but to see a doctor at all.

In cases like these, what should employers do?

Clearly Communicate the Need for Treatment

First, reiterate to the employee that their injury needs medical attention. Make sure they understand why you are recommending that they receive first aid or see a doctor.

Thoroughly Document the Incident

Even if the employee is refusing treatment, make sure to follow all the usual steps in investigating and documenting the incident.

Be thorough, adding as many relevant details as you can. When an injured employee refuses to get treatment, it’s important to have a complete picture of the situation.

Document the Refusal

If your organization has a “Refusal of Treatment” form, get a copy and ask the employee to fill it out and sign it. Be sure to have a witness sign it as well.

The form should include:

  • A description of wha
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    t happened
  • The type of injury
  • How severe the injury appears to be, including additional symptoms (e.g. dizziness, headache, soreness)
  • The treatment offered to the employee (or that the employee was advised to seek out)
  • A statement by the employee acknowledging their decision to refuse treatment

If you don’t have such a form on hand, make sure to include all this information in your incident report.

Don’t Pressure the Employee

Employees have the right to refuse medical treatment. Once you clearly explained to them why they should get medical attention, it’s out of your hands.

Whether they choose to get the help you recommended is entirely up to them and you must respect their decision. Don’t pressure them to get treatment or pester them about it.

How Does a Refusal of Treatment Affect Workers Comp?

What happens next will depend on your jurisdiction. By and large, however, workers in most states cannot receive compensation for an injury (or complications arising from that injury) after refusing treatment for it.

Of course, it’s possible that an employee will wait for the condition to worsen and then file a claim. That’s where all the steps you took to document the incident comes in. With a thorough incident report and the employee’s signed statement, you’ll have all the information and evidence you need to make your case.

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Written by Safeopedia Staff

Safeopedia Staff

At Safeopedia, we think safety professionals are unsung superheroes in many workplaces. We aim to support and celebrate these professionals and the work they do by providing easy access to occupational health and safety information, and by reinforcing safe work practices.

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