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Proposed workers’ comp changes would hurt workers

Stuart Appelbaum, President, Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, www.rwdsu.org | 10/19/2017, 1:49 p.m.
For more than 100 years, our workers’ compensation system has protected workers injured on the job by providing immediate wage ...
Stuart Appelbaum

For more than 100 years, our workers’ compensation system has protected workers injured on the job by providing immediate wage replacement and medical benefits without the need for a costly lawsuit. Now the obscure state agency that runs the workers’ compensation system in New York is proposing to cut benefits and eliminate essential legal protections for workers—changes that would devastate workers while lining employers’ pockets.

Recently, the Board released with little notice a set of proposals that would upend the system, stripping injured workers of their legal rights and drastically cutting the compensation they receive.

The first change would turn the routine medical examination, which must be done by an insurance company-paid doctor, into an adversarial interrogation. Up until now, an insurance company doctor was faced with two questions: Was the worker injured on the job and if so what injuries did the worker sustain? Under the proposed regulations, workers, who may or may not speak or read English, would be required to answer a questionnaire that could force them to make statements that could hurt them in future legal proceedings. Yet, they would have no right to have a lawyer present.

What’s worse, a doctor could classify a worker who refuses to answer a question or fails to answer a question to the doctor’s liking as “uncooperative.” Based on this classification, the Workers’ Compensation Board could suspend a worker’s benefits. The right to remain silent could be used against you if you are an injured worker.

The Board was charged by the state Legislature to suggest reforms to the guidelines that determine the level of benefits a worker might receive depending on the extent of permanent impairment resulting from the workplace injury. These reforms were supposed to be limited to “advances in medicine” that might alter the impact of a permanent impairment resulting from a workplace injury. Instead, the Board completely rewrote key provisions of the guidelines, going well beyond the scope of their mandate and drastically cutting injured workers’ benefits.

The Workers’ Compensation Alliance examined potential outcomes based on real Workers’ Compensation claims to determine the impact of the new proposed regulations. Disturbingly, they found that only 18 percent of the claims would receive compensation under the new proposed guidelines. Under the current guidelines, 71 percent of these claims would be covered.

If the proposed changes are allowed to pass, there could be a threefold increase in uncompensated workplace injuries. Under these changes, many injured workers won’t be able to pay their rent or feed their families, let alone pay their medical bills, and that is an outrage.

The Workers’ Compensation Board and Governor Cuomo should scrap these regulations and start again with a public, transparent process based on facts rather than a clear agenda to cut benefits to some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers: injured workers.