Today’s post comes from respected colleague Jon Gelman from Jon Gelman, LLC – Attorney at Law in New Jersey. The idea of a steady job has evolved into instability for the worker, Mr. Gelman writes. This instability also means that because of the way temporary workers are employed, employers have no financial motivation to keep workers as safe as possible. And when a worker gets hurt, the transitory nature of a job translates to the hurt worker being more likely to be forced pay for their own injury or “the public at large” having to foot the bill. While the whole blog post is important for workers to consider, it’s also important for “the public at large” to consider, since workers’ injuries can end up affecting our pocketbooks while the businesses are able to collect their profits and put degrees of separation between them and the injured worker.
While reviewing some historical cases today, I realized that what is missing from the workplace is the concept of “a job.” America’s economy has dramatically changed, and so have jobs that were once available its workforce.
Even clearer is the fact that the concept of a job has disappeared. The idea of getting up in the morning and going regularly to a job has even vanished. The evolution changed slowly with the young generation claiming that a job cycle transformed from a lifetime position to one lasting two years. Then the next stage in the evolution occurred, where the employee became a transient worker and daily the job changed and no stable employer really exists.
This evolution has eroded the underlining framework of a functional workers’ compensation program and the delivery of benefits. The injured worker becomes lost to the system, and a safe and secure workplace becomes an illusion. Lost in the complexity is the adequate reporting of accidents and occupational disease, and the ability to accurately follow the evolution of latent diseases and medical conditions.
“A new trend in the U.S. labor market is reshaping how management and workers think about employment, while at the same time reshaping the field of occupational safety and health. More and more workers are being employed through “contingent work” relationships. Day laborers hired on a street corner for construction or farming work, warehouse laborers hired through staffing agencies, and hotel housekeepers supplied by temp firms are common examples, because their employment is contingent upon short term fluctuations in demand for workers. Their shared experience is one of little job security, low wages, minimal opportunities for advancement, and, all too often, hazardous working conditions. When hazards lead to work-related injuries, the contingent nature of the employment relationship can exacerbate the negative consequences for the injured worker and society. The worker might quickly find herself out of a job and, depending on the severity of the injury, the prospects of new employment might be slim. Employer-based health insurance is a rarity for contingent workers, so the costs of treating injuries are typically shifted to the worker or the public at large. Because employers who hire workers on a contingent basis do not directly pay for workers’ compensation and health insurance, they are likely to be insulated from premium adjustments based on the cost of workers’ injuries. As a result, employers of contingent labor may escape the financial incentives that are a main driver of business decisions to eliminate hazards for other workers.”