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Businesses pressure Workers’ Comp to cut protections for workers injured on the job

Client story: Recently, a young automotive technician working at a small, independent repair shop, got a shard of glass embedded in his wrist when he got into a car that had recently had the windshield broken. The wound became infected, and “Joe” (who was only 24 at the time) required intravenous antibiotics and surgery to remove the piece of glass.  The incident left him with limited mobility, which affected his ability to work as efficiently as he had prior to the accident.  While he was recuperating, he received Workers’ Compensation at 40 percent of his pay.  Additionally, after working with an experienced Workers’ Comp attorney, he was awarded a settlement of $7,000 for lost mobility.

Last spring, the New York State Assembly asked the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) to make recommendations for revising the payments workers such as Joe receive when they are injured on the job.

According to Germain Harnden, executive director of the Western New York Council on Occupational Safety and Health (WNYCOSH), the Worker’s Compensation Board took the request of the legislature as an opportunity to reduce workers’ comp expenses for business.  Their recommendations will cut protective regulations and affect the amount of benefits to injured workers. These recommendations, Harnden says, undermine the purpose of Workers’ Comp, which originally was an agreement between labor and business whereby workers gave up the right to sue employers for injuries that occurred at work. Instead they were to be compensated for lost wages and their injuries through the Workers’ Compensation system.

The recommendations from the WCB that Harnden’s organization disagrees with are as follows:

  • To require injured workers to go to company-assigned doctors who can ask questions and do examinations not related to the injury; and who have the power to recommend suspensions of benefits and care.
  • To cut payments for a number of impairments related to a workers’ ability to fully extend arms or legs by up to 97 percent for certain injuries.
  • To give the WCB the authority to adjust claims regardless of what has been guaranteed by the legislature.

These recommendations, according to WNYCOSH, strip injured workers of important protections and due process rights.  They open the opportunity for abuse by employers and insurers, would seriously damage injured workers financially, and prevent workers from receiving unbiased medial care.

There is also no medical evidence, Harnden says, showing that broken bones, dislocated joints, torn ligaments and tendons and joint replacement surgeries do not cause permanent damage; or that “normal range of motion” of the human anatomy has changed.  When permanent damage such as Joe’s occurs, range of motion is typically affected, which in turn affects how well the worker can use the limb and ultimately, his or her ability to work.

The WCB is making these recommendations because small businesses, through the Business Council, are claiming schedule-of-loss costs are skyrocketing, which is false. Schedule loss awards are lower today than they were in 1996.  Plus, as you can see by looking at Joe’s case, existing workers’ compensation benefits are not overly generous.

As WNYCOSH says, there are no grounds for taking away protections for workers who take risks every day to do jobs that are essential to our economy.