The cost of workers’ compensation benefits has risen drastically in the past two decades but not because of any major increase in the number of claims filed.
For many years workers’ compensation was a fairly small program at the federal level compared to the costs of unemployment insurance, food stamps, and similar government programs. Then, beginning in the early 1990s, workers’ comp costs more than tripled due to the explosive growth in health care costs.
The number of claims filed are not primarily responsible for rising workers’ comp costs because many workers remain uninformed about their rights to benefits for workplace injury or occupational diseases.
The fact is that almost all employers know far more about workers’ comp law than does the average employee. Although many employers are honest and well-intended, there are far, far too many unethical employers who will cheat their workers out of entitled benefits.
An injured worker who returns to work to a specifically created position may find that, 100 weeks later, the position is eliminated and he is laid off – no longer eligible for workers’ comp.
Many employers hire doctors who are much more interested in maintaining a relationship with the employer than with accurately diagnosing the employee. When this happens, employees need an attorney to protect their rights when one of these ‘hired gun’ doctors tries to block them from getting necessary treatment, cut off benefits, or sends them back to work too early.
Workers’ Compensation is the name given to a system of laws intended to protect injured workers. The goal is to make sure that anyone injured at work will receive appropriate medical care, lost wages, retraining and rehabilitation if needed to re-enter the workplace, or benefits for the family if the employee is killed on the job. There are three basic types of benefits: lost wages, medical, and vocational rehabilitation.
Workers’ Compensation is considered a “no fault” insurance system because the worker is compensated regardless of blame unless the accident is caused by intoxication, willful misconduct, or gross negligence. Often workers’ comp claims are paid voluntarily by an employer, but certainly not always.
The employer can refuse to pay benefits from the beginning, terminate benefits after payment has started, or call the employee back to work before he or she is physically able to return. At this point, the employee needs to hire an attorney who will begin the hearing process laid out by the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.
There are informal hearings conducted by a mediator who considers the evidence, makes a recommendation, but has no authority to order payment of benefits. A formal hearing is where both sides are represented by counsel before a magistrate who has the authority to order payment of benefits. An order to pay benefits is known as an open award.
In some cases, the employer and the employee agree to a lump sum payment for all past, present and future benefits. This is called a redemption and is a full and final settlement of any and all claims the employee may have against the employer for workers’ compensation benefits.