Top Workers’ Compensation Issues in 2016

A recent Safety National webinar asked a panel of industry professionals to discuss the top trends and concerns for workers’ compensation this year. The consensus was that in 2016, we should be looking out for:

  • Federal interest in state workers’ compensation programs
  • Changes to claim models
  • Election impactselection

Those issues were expounded on recently in an article by Claims Journal. 

As far as elections go, first of all, 11 states have elected insurance commissioners. One of those states is North Carolina. George Wayne Goodwin was elected the North Carolina Commissioner of Insurance in 2008 and he held onto that spot in the 2012 election. He’s now up for re-election this year. Goodwin and other insurance commissioners¬†set policy that can affect injured workers.

The presidential election could also shift the direction of any talks of federal intervention in state workers’ compensation systems.

With regard to claim models, this has to do with the increasingly popular idea that workers’ compensation is no longer the grand bargain it once was when it was first adopted. The goal was always to reduce employer costs and liability by reducing litigation (eliminating it as an option for injured employees), but simultaneously give workers quick access to adequate compensation for wage loss and medical bills while they recover (or to grant long-term disability benefits for those who do not recover or the families of those killed at work).

This growing tide of discontent from workers about a system that’s been chipped away at for years will likely mean a number of states are going to be evaluating the viability of the program in the coming months. Some of the top complaints include:

  • Gaps in protection for companies with five or fewer employees;
  • No workers’ compensation available to agricultural employees;
  • Occupational disease being one of the top causes of work injury, combined with the fact of problematic tolling statutes to bring a claim when diseases aren’t diagnosed until years after exposure;
  • Increasing difficulties for legitimately injured workers to successfully claim workers’ compensation benefits in a significant number of states.

There are some calls for the federal government to step in and get involved to make for a more effective, streamlined process.

Another aspect that is likely to crop up is that of an alternative workers’ comp system. There are bills pending currently in several states to this effect, including South Carolina. The bill is modeled after programs in Texas and Oklahoma that allow companies to opt out of state workers’ compensation and offer a private benefit plan (one over which employers have substantially more control).

As far as regulation, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has increased reporting and record-keeping requirements, and it’s plausible additional regulations could be forthcoming this year.

As far as issues that are issues that have been raised in courts over the last year, there has been an erosion of exclusive remedy in some jurisdictions, as well as questions about medical marijuana used by workers – sometimes for work-related injuries.

One thing that won’t change: Workers who have been injured on-the-job will need advice from an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.

If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Workers’ Comp Issues to Watch in 2016, Jan. 28, 2016, By Denise Johnson, Claims Journal

More Blog Entries:

NC Governor Signs Employee Misclassification Order, Jan. 22, 2016, Greensboro Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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