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May 26, 2019
Marriage and Family Therapist


Dr. Luonne A. Rouse, LMFT Fellow - AAPC


75 Tanyard Lane

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New York, NY 10001

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Workers' Compensation
Posted On: May 20, 2008

Workers' Comp

Workers' Comp

When we talk about a steward’s toolbox, filled with the information and activism needed to combat problems in the workplace, let’s add one more tool: a knowledge of the workers’ compensation system. Workers’ compensation is under attack today, and it’s vital that stewards both understand how it works and he prepared to deal aggressively with threats to make it less helpful to workers. It’s important to remember that workers comp grew from out own increased political power. Employers used to he able to avoid responsibility for workplace deaths or disabilities through a variety of dirty tricks, most often by blaming the workers themselves for industrial accidents that occurred because of the employer’s own policies or carelessness. When victims started suing, and workers on juries started voting decent settlements, the bosses pushed for creation of the workers’ compensation system. The system pretty much closed off the right of workers to sue their employers in exchange for a basic right. That is, if a worker is hurt on the job, the boss is supposed to assume all responsibility both for paving a set percentage of lost wages and for paying in full for all medical care related to the accident. But across North America today, the whole workers’ compensation system is being turned around to remove these basic rights and protections. Here’s how.

Threats from All Sides

Business forces are trying to remove obvious causes of occupational health and safety problems from coverage altogether. And, they’re trying to cut the level of cash payments.

2. Insurance companies that sell employers their comp policies routinely deny claims, forcing workers to find lawyers and suffer through expensive, drawn out court cases. Most stares allow lawyers to take 25 percent to 33 percent of a worker’s settlement — a big chunk of an injured worker’s desperately needed award.

3. More and more employers are aggressively denying comp claims altogether, or at least trying to shift possible claims onto the worker’s sickness and accident policy. There are enormous financial benefits to a boss who does this: the amount of actual lost wages paid out under a sickness and accident policy is generally limited to 26 weeks, but a workers’ comp claim can basically be reopened any time there is a recurrence of the original injury. More important, workers comp pays all medical hills, hut a worker’s typical health insurance policy is filled with limits, deductibles and exclusions. In a case at a steel plant, for example, the company challenged the comp claim of a worker w ho needed an expensive MRI test: the full cost of the test would he covered by workers’ comp, and costly claims can add up to higher insurance premiums to the boss. But if the company successfully shifted the claim to the worker’s health insurance, the worker would have to pay approximately $700 out of pocket.

What’s a Steward to Do?

1. Alert sour co-workers to the overall workers’ comp issue. Most people just don’t care about it, figuring they will never he hurt. Remind them that an accident can happen at any time. Besides, we need to show some solidarity with other workers who might get hurt. Tell your coworkers to notify an officer of the union every time an accident takes place, no matter how minor. Workplace posters about accidents usually offer procedures and phone numbers, but they never tell workers to notify their steward.

2. Be alert to every workplace accident. Make sure an incident report is filed. Even if you have to go with your co-worker to a medical facility, don’t let management agents — even your friendly workplace nurse — write up an incident as “unrelated to employment.” An injured worker is especially vulnerable to pressure, so a steward can provide some important protection at the beginning of a dispute. Don’t let a company official sweet-talk workers into not filing an accident report in exchange for a promise of light duty or a couple of days off. Every accident may be potentially serious, so start a paper trail as soon as possible.

3. Educate yourself about work related issues of health and safety. Problems like heart attacks and stress, even though they may evidence themselves away from the job, may he work-related and should be filed as workers’ comp cases.

4. Demand better health and safety practices throughout the workplace. While some of the practices in manufacturing seem obvious — like lock-out/tag-out procedures to make machinery safe when being serviced — stewards also should look at the design of computer stations in offices or occupational diseases due to chemical exposure in manufacturing and other facilities. No workplace is totally free of the risk of accidents and illnesses.

5. Get information to your members about the political and court activity surrounding workers’ comp. In every state and province, the politicians want to prove their business—friendliness by cutting back on coverage and benefits: workers must be prepared to fight back. And court decisions should be tracked: they can dramatically change worker benefits, sometimes for the better. A 2003 decision in Maryland, for example, loosened standards in a way that made it easier for workers with injuries that gradually worsened — like bad backs — to collect. And in 2005 another good court decision in the state opened the door to benefits for undocumented workers.

6. Keep in touch with workers who are out on a comp claim to present the boss from pushing them to return to work before they are fully recovered.

7. Understand that denial of claims can he responded to through the grievance procedure, as a union issue, and not just by individual workers through the outside legal system.

— Bill Barry. The writer is director of Labor Studies for the Community Colleges of Baltimore County. With thanks to Charles Wagner, a graduate of the program and now a workers’ comp attorney, for his suggestions.

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