Workers compensation laws vary from state to state. In fact, only 74% of all states even require that businesses have workers comp insurance at all.
But that may all soon change. A recent report from the U.S. Department of Labor has urged lawmakers to consider federal minimum requirements for workers who are injured on the job.
The report reveals how recent changes in many states have resulted in “the failure of state workers’ compensation systems to provide [injured workers] with adequate benefits.” It also calls the current trajectory of the system a “race to the bottom” in providing as little average workers compensation settlement as possible.
The scathing report was prompted in part by a series of stories from NPR and ProPublica, some of which detailed injured workers who lost their homes when they couldn’t afford workers comp attorney fees or were denied coverage for prosthetics or treatments recommended by their doctors after a disability application.
“In this critical area of the social safety net, the federal government has basically abdicated any responsibility,” said Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. The current system “is really putting workers who are hurt on the job on a pathway to poverty.”
Not everyone is thrilled at the idea of federal-mandated minimums for workers compensation laws, however. The American Insurance Association (AIA), for instance, says that state governance helps ensure that the laws reflect various state economies. And a group known as Strategic Services on Unemployment and Workers’ Compensation argues that federal oversight would counteract 100-plus years of work on the system.
However, for the workers who are injured on the job and then fall into poverty because they’re unable to work, changes to the system may be just what the doctor ordered. Around 85% of all workers compensation injuries stem from slipping on floors, while one in five fatal work accidents happen on construction sites.
To better provide for affected workers and their families, a more thorough federal review may be necessary to make sure that everyone can find a way to move forward after a work-related injury or accident.