No employer wants to see an employee hurt on the job. And all certainly want the existing workers’ compensation system to take good care of workers who are legitimately injured on the job, get them rehabilitated and returned to work quickly. In the meantime, nobody wants injured workers’ families to be driven to bankruptcy. After all, that’s what businesses pay those workers compensation insurance premiums for.
Unfortunately, workers compensation benefits are coming under increasing pressure in many states – and injured workers may face significant unreimbursed damages, even when they are receiving workers compensation benefits.
States are coming under intense competitive pressure to attract businesses and employers. For many employers, workers compensation premiums are a key factor in where they locate. Some states impose much higher premiums on employers than others – and in turn, provide more generous benefits to injured workers. Others, however, have been slashing benefits to workers in order to cut premiums to employers.
As a result, workers in some states are exposed not just too substantial workplace safety hazards in the course of their jobs, but they and their families are more exposed to the financial costs as well.
For example, according to a recent report from ProPublica, Oklahoma recently slashed its maximum workers’ compensation benefit from $801 per week to $561 per week. This is not adequate to sustain a lifestyle or make workers whole when many skilled blue-collar workers, with overtime and bonuses, are making $1,000 to $2,000 per week and more.
But Oklahoma is not alone: Benefits have been slashed in California, West Virginia, North Dakota, restricting benefits to two years, regardless of the injured workers’ medical condition or whether more medical treatment is needed. Florida, New York, and Tennessee have all slashed benefits for certain workers by 20 percent or more.
Under workers compensation, employees cannot sue their employers for damages. They essentially give up the right to sue their employers in exchange for the promise of quick claim settlements. Otherwise injured workers would have to wait years for their lawsuits to be litigated – a crushing burden for the vast majority of working families.
The problem isn’t going to go away any time soon. The cost pressures employers face are real, and there will continue to be downward pressure on benefits for the foreseeable future.
Employers can, however, help protect workers and their families efficiently and affordably by ensuring workplace benefits are up to snuff. For example, as workers compensation benefits are eroded, you may consider beefing up your long-term disability insurance benefits. Long-term disability provides an income to replace what an injured worker can’t earn anymore – up to a specific percentage of the workers’ pre-disability income.
Some employers provide this insurance for workers. Others make it available as a voluntary benefit, which costs employers little or nothing out of pocket. Workers can purchase their own coverage, and employers simply deduct the premium and forward it to the carrier.
Insurance bought this way is portable. Any premiums paid by the employer are deductible as employee compensation.
You may not be able to prevent every tragic workplace injury. But by increasing the available disability protection available to employees, you’ll be doing your part to make sure that their family doesn’t face economic devastation on top of the injury.