Millions of Americans Could Lose the Protection of Workman’s Compensation

In a two part series, Insult to Injury: America’s Vanishing Workers Protections, National Public Radio is shedding light on a serious assault on worker’s rights and protections.

Texas and Oklahoma have slashed worker’s compensation benefits and deny injured workers the support they need as a result of a workplace accident.  State law allow employers to opt-out of state-regulated workman compensation plans and develop their own workplace injury plans.  As a result, 1.5 million workers in the states don’t have state-regulated workers’ compensation to turn to when they’re injured on the job.

The opt-out system saves employers 40 to 90 percent in claims costs.

Opt-out plans cover fewer injuries, cut benefits sooner, control the injured worker’s access to doctors and limits their appeals.  There are tougher qualifying rules for injuries and injured parties often have 24 hours or less to report the injury.  Many Texas plans cover medical care for only about two years, whereas workers’ comp pays as long as necessary.  Plans often exclude payments for wheelchair vans and chiropractors or for injuries caused by exposure to silica dust, mold or asbestos.

In Oklahoma, almost every opt-out plan includes mandatory settlements.  The employer decides when to cut off benefits. The employer decides how much to pay.  If a worker refuses to accept the settlement offer, they lose all their benefits.

Some details of opt-out plans follow:

  • Brookdale Senior Living, the nation’s largest chain of assisted living facilities, does not cover most bacterial infections.
  • Costco pays up to $600 for external hearing aids, while the cheapest model for sale at Costco costs $900.
  • U.S. Foods, the nation’s second-largest food distributor, excludes any sickness or disease “regardless of how contracted” potentially allowing the company to dodge work-related conditions such as heatstroke, chemical exposures or cancer.
  • Managers at Taco Bell can accompany injured workers to doctor’s appointments.
  • Sears and many other companies can deny all benefits if workers don’t report injuries by the end of their shifts.

While employees suffer, the opt-out plans protect  employers.  They cannot be sued for workplace accidents.

When state law fails them, injured workers are supposed to be protected by the Employment Retirement Income Security Act – or ERISA.  However, National Public Radio reports that ERISA doesn’t provide the worker protections promised by promoters of opt-out plans.

Currently, only Texas and Oklahoma have opt-out plans.  However, PartnerSource, a Texas company that writes, sells and services opt-out-workplace injury plans, has set up opt-out advocacy and lobbying groups.  The company consults for some of the biggest and best-known employers in America.

PartnerSource is busy lobbying to bring opt-out legislation to other states.  The company’s goal is to have a dozen opt-out states by the end of the decade.

To learn more about opt-out plans and their impact on real workers in Texas and Oklahoma, go to http://www.npr.org/2015/10/14/448544926/texas-oklahoma-permit-companies-to-dump-worker-compensation-plans