Today’s post was written by guest author Hayes Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm in North Carolina. In 2015, ProPublica and NPR have done a great service to the public by making in-depth reports on workers’ compensation systems in many states. Their most recent focus was looking at the opt out systems implemented Texas and Oklahoma. These similar systems essentially strip workers of the protections that workers’ compensation gives, stacking the deck dramatically toward employers and their insurance companies.
Fortunately, Nebraska is not an opt out state yet. But many Nebraska employers, especially those who are self-insured for the purposes of workers’ compensation, have adopted many tactics from opt out states. I think the most prevalent tactic is hoodwinking employees into filing for short- or long-term disability when an injury should be covered by workers’ compensation. Employees often unknowingly agree to this in situations where the work duties aggravated an old injury or pre-existing condition or if there is some minor delay or defect in reporting the injury. If you sign up for private disability insurance, you are often asked to deny that your disability is work related. That can doom any possible workers’ compensation claim in the future. If you are being asked to sign up for long-term or short-term disability for a medical condition that may have been caused by work injury, contact a workers’ compensation attorney.
Texas and Oklahoma have both adopted an “opt-out” system for Workers’ Compensation. ProPublica along with NPR recently published an in-depth look at the results in these two states. Under this system, employers can opt-out of state mandated workers’ compensation insurance by creating their own policy for injured workers. These employer-written policies give employers 100% control over the terms, the benefits, and even settlements.
Specifically, ProPublica and NPR found that these employer-created policies generally have strict 24-hour reporting requirements or even require an injury to be reported by the end of a shift. This means, if an employee does not report their injury within their shift, or within 24 hours, they are prevented from bringing a claim at all. Period. End of discussion. Employers can also dictate how much benefits will be paid and some employers have capped death benefits for employees who are killed at work at $250,000. Whereas under the State Workers’ Compensation system, if a deceased worker leaves behind minor children, they will continue to receive benefits until they turn 18 (which could easily end up being well over $250,000 when you factor in lost wages until the worker would have been 65). This is potentially detrimental to a young widow or widower who is left with very young children.
This morning we tweeted a recent ABC news article that a worker was killed when he fell at a construction site in Charlotte. I’d hate to think that his or her family would be limited to recovering only $250,000 in the event the worker left behind dependent family members and young children. Money can’t begin to replace someone who is lost to us too early from an accident at work, but $250,000 would hardly cover a lifetime of income that the family will lose, especially if young children are left behind.
To read more on how the Opt-Out system is affecting injured workers in Texas and Oklahoma, go to: ProPublica: Inside Corporate America’s Campaign to Ditch Workers’ Comp.