During the last 13 years, at least 30 states have changed laws designed to protect injured workers - to the detriment of employees. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently concluded that this trend to the bottom creates a tremendous risk for injured workers to tailspin into poverty. And the federal government is considering stepping in.
In a recently released report, the DOL provided an update on workers' compensation in America and established a history of federal intervention. In response, at least one member of Congress has promised to introduce legislation regarding establishing federal minimum standards regarding workers' compensation.
The State of Workers' Compensation
Last year, NPR and ProPublica aired a series after extensive investigation that found many of the new laws had created roadblocks that prevented injured workers from being fairly compensated and receiving adequate health care treatment. The series highlighted people who had been denied prosthetic limbs and surgeries even though their doctors ordered them. In other cases, people lost their homes or had to disperse their family because they could no longer support their children. The discarding of injured workers in this manor flies in the face of the "grand bargain" that was forged over workers' compensation coverage with companies.
The "Grand Bargain"
Workers' compensation is an agreement between employers and employees. In return for employers being insulated from lawsuits, employees receive compensation for adequate medical care.
Is Workers' Compensation Eroding?
Some states have passed laws aimed at cutting employer costs regarding workers' compensation. One state even allows companies to opt out of workers' compensation insurance entirely. Unsurprisingly, allowing employers to manage their own workers' comp benefits has led to decreased payouts. The number of hurdles and attacks on the benefits of injured workers has only been surpassed by the number of quick, technical rejection of claims.
Across the country, wide differences now exist between states. For example, in one state a worker may receive a maximum benefit of $48,000 for losing a limb. Another state could pay 10 times that amount. In some states, hard-working people are experiencing a workers' compensation race to the bottom that lowers or eliminates money, services, and health care.
Lack of Consistency
Because each state is different in how it runs workers' compensation, injured workers can receive different benefits depending on where they live and where they were injured.
Fot this reason, if you are injured on the job, it's important to work with an experienced workers' compensation attorney who has your best interests in mind.
Winegar, Wilhelm, Glynn & Roemersma, P.C., is an established workers' compensation firm representing injured workers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.