Major Workers’ Compensation Issues to Affect Employers and Employees in 2011

Among the key budgetary issues legislatures will have to address this year, workers' compensation is one that can have lasting implications on employers, employees and insurance providers alike. Preston Diamond, Director of the Institute for WorkComp Professionals, identified a number of issues that are certain to affect these groups in 2011 and in years to come. This article will highlight a few of these issues and identify what employees may do to protect themselves.

Integration of Health and Wellness Programs

Healthy workers are less likely to be injured and they tend to return to work sooner. While this may be the prevailing norm, many employers have not made the connection between workplace safety and employee wellness. Mr. Diamond notes that the combination of new research, court rulings, and tighter budgets have led to more executives considering how health and wellness programs can benefit workers. Essentially, workers can benefit from participating in employer-sponsored wellness programs that could lower their health insurance premiums.

Injured Workers Staying Out Longer

According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance, (NCCI) temporary total disability payments are increasing because injured workers are returning to work at a slower pace. The past recession has created fewer transitional opportunities for injured workers, especially when employers are laying off other employees for economic reasons.

Increased OSHA Presence

The article further noted that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) now has increased funding, additional investigators and staff members, and is determined to increase enforcement activities. This suggests that OSHA is monitoring safety complaints made by employees and will take swift action against unabated violations.

Misclassification of Independent Contractors

With federal and state governments facing budget crises, they continue to look for ways to recoup lost tax revenues. It is estimated that 3.4 million workers are improperly classified as independent contractors, costing the federal government $4.5 billion in tax revenue. Because of this, many states have passed laws forcing employers to classify workers as employees and pay unpaid taxes.

Increase in Litigation

While workers' compensation is designed to reduce litigation, more disabled workers are being forced from the workplace. As such, the prospect for litigation continues to rise. The Diamond article notes that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) saw a record number of complaints under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and other related statutes. Litigation commonly ensues when workers' compensation claims are improperly denied, when injured workers are terminated when they cannot return to a previous job, or when accommodations cannot be made. Injured employees can protect themselves by consulting with attorneys so that they can learn about their rights and options, and make informed decisions.

While there are a number of other issues that can affect workers' compensation in the coming years, employees can protect themselves by advocating for and participating in health and wellness programs, promptly reporting safety violations, and consulting attorneys to stay abreast of the laws and regulations that protect them in the workplace.