Well… we all live with our choices of elected officials. The history of workers’ compensation law shows that the slant of the law has shifted dramatically over time. In the early days, workers' compensation was a system designed “to provide swift and sure compensation to injured workers.” This was true since the early 1900s. Over the last ten years we’ve seen a concerted effort by business lobbying groups and the insurance industry to make the workers' compensation laws more employer-oriented. This resulted in new laws quickly put into place in 2011.
The new laws are discussed in detail in our book, Seven Devastating Changes. This new set of workers' compensation laws undid decades of law and court decisions and stripped injured workers of much of their rights. Three key changes: First, your employer and the workers' compensation adjuster can talk or write to the doctor they chose to treat you without copying you on the letter or being in on the conversation. Second, you can be required to perform “make-work” or basically get paid to sit around and do nothing at work. Workers' compensation adjusters love this because it gets injured workers off of weekly checks funded by the insurance company. Employers dislike it because they have to pay you full wages to do nothing of value. Rarely do employers take out their frustration on the adjuster though – the injured worker is a more likely target. Third, and the worst, is that the legal workers' compensation definition of “suitable employment” was gutted of its single most important element: that the pay was comparable to what you used to make.
Consider a 35-year-old, skilled mechanic who might be making $45,000.00 per year. Under the old workers' compensation law he could be asked to take a job paying $38,000.00 or so and the adjuster would have to pay two-thirds of his wage loss for 300 weeks from the date of the injury. Under the old workers compensation laws the injured worker had a cushion to help him get back up to speed. That injured worker could not be required to take a part-time, minimum wage job because that would not be “suitable” to him. This was because when the 300 weeks were up he’d likely still be far from where he was before his employer injured him.
Mind you workers' compensation defendants tried of course! We represented a flight attendant one time that earned about $50,000.00 per year. Her vocational rehabilitation professional (someone hired by the workers' compensation adjuster to find her a job) from CorVel instructed her to apply for jobs at fast-food restaurants because she “had experience handing out food and beverages.” She hired us and we put a stop to that nonsense. Under the new workers' compensation laws, however, she would have no recourse. It doesn’t matter how well trained or well paid you are or were.
Under the 2011 workers' compensation law you can be required to accept a part-time, minimum-wage job or risk having your benefits terminated. The workers' compensation adjusters must be laughing all the way to the bank. What to do? As workers' compensation attorneys we’ve had a lot of success turning this system on it’s head. Call us and let us explain how.