State workers compensation laws are heading in the wrong direction, according to new report from the Labor Dept. that calls for the "exploration" of federal oversight and federal minimum benefits, NPR reports.
NPR says "working people are at great risk of falling into poverty," because of changes that are weakening state workers' comp laws. According to NPR, the Labor Dept. effort was prompted by a letter last fall from 10 prominent Democratic lawmakers, who asked the department to step in to help protect injured workers following a ProPublica/NPR series on changes in workers' comp laws in 33 states.
The Labor Dept. report says states across the country have, over the past ten years, enacted new laws, policies and procedures "which have limited benefits, reduced the likelihood of successful application for workers' compensation benefits, and/or discouraged injured workers from applying for benefits."
Considering what's been happening in states such as Texas and Oklahoma, it's no surprise the case for federal government intervention is being made. In its report, the Labor Dept. calls for "the establishment of standards that would trigger increased federal oversight if workers' compensation programs fail to meet those standards."
Workers compensation-related bills and draft proposals are surfacing in Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Illinois, so the federal government's interest is growing. Also, depending on the outcome of the November presidential election, this activity is likely to continue. Prior to the report's release, employers, insurance companies and others involved in workers' comp programs expressed alarm at the possibility of federal intervention.
While workers' compensation typically falls under the purview of risk management in larger employers, HR leaders of all sized companies should pay close attention to both the "opt out" workers compensation trend as well as what the federal government may do to thwart the rise of alternative programs, which claim to save money and provide workers with the right medical care.