Is Workers’ Compensation Working For Victims? Many States Say No

Workers’ compensation is one of the most important tools that employees have to protect themselves against hazardous work conditions, but is this system actually protecting workers?

Workers’ compensation is one of the most important tools that employees have to protect themselves against hazardous work conditions, but is this system actually protecting workers? Many states, worried about delayed claims and contractor exclusions, are now working to reform their current practices so that injured workers aren’t left to languish without support while their claims are decided.

Long Timelines Attached To Claims

One of the biggest issues for injured workers going through the workers’ compensation system is the length of time it takes to move through the system. In fact, California assembly members recently proposed a bill that would compensate workers for unfair delays or denials in payouts.

If this happens, workers could receive a 25% increase or up to $10,000, whichever is less, based on their delayed ability to pursue appropriate medical care. The state is also working to implement paperless filing for workers’ compensation in order to speed up the process.

Claim Size Concerns

While California is addressing the long wait times associated with workers’ compensation, New York is facing up to its unreasonably low payments, as well as the system’s complex bureaucracy. In New York State, the minimum weekly payout is just $150, which is less than half of what injured workers are guaranteed in immediately neighboring states.

Meanwhile, experts consistently emphasize that, in order to maximize workers’ compensation payments, applicants should work with a lawyer, yet many of the injured workers in New York State are immigrants who don’t have access to this assistance.

Whether or not claimants work with a lawyer, other states guarantee a much higher earning rate, compared to New York. According to the Ricci Law Firm, for example, North Carolina workers are entitled to two-thirds of their earnings over the last calendar year. By that measure, New York’s minimum payout is in no way equitable.

Stagnation Nation

If workers’ compensation payments are based on earnings the year prior, what happens to permanently injured and disabled workers as time goes on? This is one of the questions that Maine legislators are currently grappling with as they negotiate over the terms of a new workers’ compensation bill. The proposed bill would increase the cap on payments and would also allow for cost of living adjustments. Without access to such adjustments, injured workers lose buying power year by year, despite no change in health or employment status.

The Contractor Crisis

Perhaps one of the most pressing concerns for workers and employers today is the rise of the contract workforce. Generally, contractors do not have any of the same protections as traditional employees; they are self-employed and are thought to control their own work conditions, even though this isn’t necessarily the case, particularly in the gig economy.

In order to address this issue, California is working to pass a bill that would guarantee many workers currently viewed as contractors traditional employment rights like minimum wage and access to workers’ compensation. A great many workers could potentially benefit from this type of change, particularly those working in more dangerous industries.

For example, in the auto industry, contractors are fired first and lack protections, even though they save the same risks as typical employees. With 50% of workers expected to be freelancers by 2020, contract work may just be a way for employers to cut costs, not a tool of employee freedom.

There’s no quick fix for the workers’ compensation system, but with so many states attempting to rethink the laws and procedures, it clearly needs sustained attention. Victims of workplace injuries deserve better support from their employers, whether they’ve suffered a minor injury or been in a tragic accident.

Like labor laws, strong workers’ compensation policies are vital to a healthy employment environment.

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