Report: Work comp laws in 33 states engaged in ‘race to the bottom’

Oct 13 2016

Over the last ten days, the majority of people have more than likely seen their daily dose of news coverage consumed by reports relating to the imminent presidential election. While this comprehensive reporting makes sense, it can sometimes serve to push other important stories to the backburner.

For example, many people might have overlooked the release of a fascinating and potentially game-changing report from the U.S. Department of Labor examining the approach of the 50 states towards workers’ compensation and characterizing 33 of them as engaged in a “race to the bottom.”

The report was prompted by a letter sent last year by a group of 10 Democratic lawmakers in response to an eye-opening series by NPR/ProPublica on the detrimental changes made to work comp laws in 33 states over the last ten years.

In the report, the DOL castigates these 33 states for passing laws, and introducing various policies and procedures that is says have limited work comp benefits, diminished the chances of filing a successful application for work comp benefits, and dissuaded injured workers from even applying.

(It’s worth noting that Colorado was not among these 33 states that have cut benefits or made it more difficult to qualify.)

Perhaps most damning of all, the DOL report claims that these laws, policies and procedures put working people “at a great risk of falling into poverty.”

The DOL report does goes on, however, to boldly suggest that an exploration should be undertaken to examine the possible implementation of uniform standards among the work comp programs of all 50 states and the introduction of federal oversight should these standards fail to be satisfied. It also calls for the exploration of the introduction of a federal minimum for work comp benefits.     

“In this critical area of the social safety net, the federal government has basically abdicated any responsibility,” said Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.

As you might have expected, the insurance industry has universally condemned the call for federal involvement, calling workers’ compensation the exclusive province of the states.

While the report stops short of calling for direct action by Congress or the Obama Administration, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has already indicated that he is working on legislation to address this issue.

Stay tuned for developments …

If you’ve been seriously injured in a workplace accident and would like to learn more about your options as they relate to work comp benefits, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible.