A nationwide campaign is underway to gut workers’ compensation laws financed by several large well-known companies including Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Safeway, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Sysco Food Services, Kohl’s, and several large insurance companies. These companies have formed a lobbying group known as the Association for Responsible Alternative Workers’ Compensation (ARAWC). The organization is attempting to write legislation in several states which would make it more difficult for workers hurt on the job to obtain their lost wages and medical care.
The goal of these large companies is for them to be allowed to opt-out of traditional workers’ compensation plans required in most states. Instead, these large companies would be allowed to write their own plans with their own rules controlling how long and for what reason an injured employee would have access to medical benefits and wages.
Not only would this be unfair to the workers in the states where these plans exist, but it would also be unfair to the medium and small businesses of those states which could not afford to opt-out of state required workers’ compensation benefits. Instead, premiums would go up for those medium and small businesses. This plan would also endanger the uninsured fund of each state to which all employers must contribute. By opting-out, these large companies would not have to contribute to the uninsured fund.
Many southern states have been targeted by the ARAWC including Georgia, Florida, Alabama, North Carolina, and South Carolina. In the state of Tennessee, ARAWC has spent more than Fifty Thousand ($50,000.00) Dollars in lobbyists to push its legislation.
By way of history, the workers’ compensation laws passed in most states around the turn of the twentieth (20th) century were seen as a “reform” and compromise between employees and employers. When a worker was injured on the job, the employer would pay his medical bills and part of his wages while he recovered from his injuries. In exchange, the worker gave up his right to sue the employer. There have been numerous horror stories coming from the states where these news laws have been passed.
Under the current system in most states, an employer must pay an employee’s medical bills as long as he needs treatment. Under one version of the new legislation proposed, companies would be allowed to stop paying lifetime benefits after three (3) years or Three Hundred Thousand ($300,000.00) Dollars, whichever comes first.
In part, the new law requires a worker to report his injury prior to the end of the shift on which he was hurt. In many cases, this is extremely unfair or unpractical. Many times a worker suffers an injury in which he has immediate pain which subsides but wakes up the next morning in extreme pain or with a body part swelling. Not surprisingly, the purpose of requiring the immediate reporting of an injury will be to limit the number of otherwise legitimate claims that would be filed against these big companies.
Other limitations in the proposed law include restrictions on repetitive injuries including excluding repetitive keyboard injuries. The law also provides for hearings by an arbitrator instead of a workers’ compensation commissioner appointed by the state. Appeals will be limited to the workers’ compensation commission only reviewing whether the benefits sought by the claimant are covered under the opt-out plan.
The South Carolina Workers’ Compensation system is working for all involved parties. South Carolina workers’ compensation premiums are the lowest they have been in twenty-five (25) years. Meanwhile, the profits for workers’ compensation insurance carriers nationwide are at an all time high.
Employers And Insurers Gain Control In Workers’ Compensation Disputes, NPR News, March 30, 2015