An interesting article discusses the quiet lobbying effort to gut workers’ compensation laws bankrolled by Walmart and several other large retailers. According to the article, these companies have supported and funded a behind the scenes lobbying effort to dramatically change workers’ compensation laws in many states. My state, Alabama, is on the group’s target list.
The changes come quietly. In state legislatures, the group’s lobbyists work to promote legislation which limits or diminishes basic benefits to injured workers. One of the major efforts of this business group is to create an opt-out system for workers’ compensation. How would such a system work? Workers’ compensation benefits in Alabama are already extremely limited. Yet, although limited, the system does mandate certain basic medical and disability benefits for workers.
Under an opt-out system, a business could choose to opt-out of the workers’ compensation system and write its own benefit plan. The employer could be allowed to write its own rules governing benefits. If this ever became a reality in Alabama (and it already has in a couple states), here’s what injured workers and their families could possibly see and suffer —
- Plans that limit or cut-off medical benefits. Our current workers’ compensation law requires an employer to provide medical care for work-related injuries. Under some opt-out systems, the employer can choose to arbitrarily limit medical benefits to a set dollar amount or set time period in its plan. While this might save an employer like Walmart a few dollars, the overall cost to affected communities and taxpayers would be tremendous. Many workers would be left without care or rehabilitation.
- Plans that limit or cut-off disability benefits. Lobbyists have already pushed proposals to cut-off disability benefits in past Alabama legislative sessions. In fact, one Senator from Decatur annually proposes to cut-off benefits arbitrarily for the most disabled workers. We are likely to continue seeing these proposals in the future. If lobbyists have their way, employers like Walmart might save a few dollars. Yet, the real cost of disabilities would simply be shifted to workers’ families, local communities, and taxpayers.
- Plans that limit or deny benefits for many work-related activities. I recently completed a workers’ compensation case where the worker suffered paralysis following an injection at work. The employee was a nurse who underwent additional vaccinations at her employer’s urging and benefit. Her employer wanted its staff inoculated to reduce the risks of blood-borne diseases in its healthcare facility. I get that. I support their goal. Yet, when injured, this same employer denied my client work comp benefits arguing the injection was not mandatory. The employer asked her to undergo the procedure. The employer paid for it. The employer provided the facility, staff and equipment, for the procedure. Do we want employers like Walmart to write plans arbitrarily limiting benefits to certain narrow activities? Do we want employers writing plans to exclude specific work-related risks and work-related exposures? We fought for our nurse client and obtained benefits because Alabama law provided some protection for her. In an opt-out system, she would suffer needlessly without medical care.
Some causes benefit the public. But, this shadow group of lobbyists funded by big business is not lobbying for the public good. No. Instead, they are lobbying behind the scenes for special protection so their clients can profit while the public suffers. This shadow group of lobbyists wants to shift the costs of workplace injuries to the families of workers and the communities where they live. That’s unjust. The quiet lobbying efforts to gut our basic workers’ compensation laws should be stopped.
The Blackwell Law Firm represents injured workers across Alabama. If you have questions about a workplace accident or injury, let us know. We are happy to answer your questions. Consultations are always free and confidential.