Workers’ Compensation Under Attack from Big Business
The idea behind workers’ compensation is simple: When an employee is injured, or even killed, in a workplace accident, the employer agrees to pay a fixed amount of benefits. Workers’ compensation is thus supposed to provide a safety net for workers so they can receive compensation without having to fight their employer in court.
Unfortunately, in recent several large employers have decided to focus their energies on dismantling workers’ compensation in order to save a buck while leaving workers out to dry. The public interest journalism website ProPublica and National Public Radio have done an excellent job over the past year documenting this War on Workers’ Compensation. In their most recent article, ProPublica focused on the poultry giant Tyson Foods, which reportedly used its influence with Iowa’s governor to force the ouster of that state’s top workers’ compensation judge. ProPublica said this was part of a larger campaign by Tyson to make changes to the workers’ compensation system with the “comparable effect to cutting benefits, excluding people whose doctors say have legitimate work injuries — especially the costly musculoskeletal disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome that poultry workers are prone to.”
Self-Insurance and “Opting Out” of Workers’ Compensation
ProPublica also documented Tyson’s status as a “self-insured” workers’ compensation entity. Most employers purchase third-party workers’ compensation insurance to cover their employees. But some large employers like Tyson “self-insure,” meaning they agree to pay all claims out of their own pocket. At first glance, that might sound like a good thing. After all, if the company is on the hook for 100% of workers’ compensation costs, that should encourage them to promote workplace safety.
But the reality, as ProPublica illustrated, is that self-insuring basically leaves the worker completely at the company’s mercy. The company can essentially dictate an employee’s medical care and schedule for returning to work. In the case of Tyson, for instance, “the company even has its own managed-care unit, handpicking the doctors that workers can see and advising those doctors on light-duty jobs injured employees might be able to do.”
And many big businesses want to go a step beyond self-insurance and “opt out” of state workers’ compensation altogether. Texas already allows this. And there was in fact an effort to do the same in Tennessee. A ProPublica report from earlier this year noted there was a serious effort to promote a Tennessee “opt out” law in 2012. “But after a series of public meetings,” ProPublica reported, “the state workers’ comp division hired consultants who produced a scathing report, raising concerns that letting companies opt out would shift costs to government programs.” In other words, the state realized allowing large employers to shirk their workers’ compensation obligations would drive more injured and disabled workers onto state-funded Medicaid or federal Social Security Disability insurance.
Fighting for Workers’ Compensation Benefits
If you have been injured on the job, it is essential you stand up for your right to receive workers’ compensation benefits. Employers will often stop at nothing to deny such benefits, which is why you need an experienced Tennessee workers’ compensation attorney on your side. Contact the offices of Fox Farley Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, in Knoxville or Clinton today.