With more than 3,000 workers in Massachusetts suffering on-the-job injuries every year, workers’ compensation remains a major hot-button issue with courts, legislators, lawyers, and employers. As laws change and employers and insurance companies find new ways to try to avoid paying their employees benefits, at Law Office of John J. Sheehan we are staying abreast of the developments affecting injured workers’ rights to compensation.
Legislative Developments in Workers’ Compensation
Massachusetts Legislators Urged to Improve Protections for Public Employees
Occupational health experts, public employees, and union leaders are urging the Massachusetts legislature to close a gap in the state’s safety law that has left many public employees without the protections afforded under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). Citing an estimated 1,500 serious injuries suffered by municipal employees in 2014, proponents of the reform are urging lawmakers to require all public agencies in Massachusetts to comply with federal occupational safety standards.
If passed, the law should both improve workplace safety for municipal workers and provide them with additional grounds for compensation in the event of a work-related injury.
Massachusetts Reduces Private Employers’ Assessment for Workers Compensation
In July, the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA) stated that it was reducing private employers’ mandatory workers’ compensation assessments from 5.8 percent to 5.75 percent. The change goes into effect for the 2016 fiscal year.
This could potentially be good news for employees – if employers have to pay less for workers’ compensation insurance, they may be more willing to pay their employees’ claims. On the other hand, if insurance companies have less in their pocket books, the tides could swing the other way. We will continue to track updates on the decrease in workers’ compensation insurance premiums for additional information.
Proposed Law would Increase Workers Compensation Benefits
A bill proposed by Massachusetts Senator James B. Eldridge in January would increase benefits for certain injured workers. Specifically, the law targets compensation for individuals earning less than minimum wage. Currently, if an employee earns less than minimum wage, his or her benefits would be calculated based on actual earnings. With the proposed change, underpaid employees would be entitled to benefits calculated based on, “wages earned and required to be paid even if not actually received by the employee.”
The proposed bill also calls for benefits to cover the cost of a qualified interpreter for injured workers whose first language is not English. Workers would also be entitled to payment for transportation costs and certain other necessary expenses.
Legislators Re-Propose Bill to Provide Benefits for Scarring and Disfigurement
State legislators have also once again proposed a bill that would expand workers’ compensation benefits to include payment for permanent scarring and disfigurement. The law currently provides compensation for these types of injuries only on the “face, neck, or hands.” While similar bills introduced in past years have failed to become law, if the new bill gains traction, it could provide important additional compensation for workers in need serious need of financial assistance.
Workers’ Compensation Court Cases
Workers’ Compensation May Be Available for Injuries During Pre-Employment Testing
An important out-of-state court decision may lay the groundwork for Massachusetts workers to obtain workers’ compensation for injuries suffered during pre-employment testing. In the decision – handed down by the state workers’ compensation commission and affirmed by an appellate court – a truck driver was awarded benefits for a knee injury sustained during a mandatory driving test. Although the driver failed the test and was not offered full-time employment, the appellate court affirmed that the employer was still obligated to provide benefits for his injuries.
Employee Ordered to Repay $305,000 in Workers’ Compensation and Other Benefits
In May, a former corrections officer pleaded guilty to workers’ compensation fraud and was ordered to repay $305,000 in workers compensation and other benefits he had received as a result of claiming permanent and total disability. Despite claiming he was unable to work, the individual ran one car dealership while also working for another. Following police surveillance, the individual was charged – and ultimately pleaded guilty – to larceny and workers’ compensation fraud.
News and Research on Workers’ Compensation
Employer Workers’ Compensation Fraud Costs $100 Million per Year
According to statistics published by the DIA, as many as 13 percent of Massachusetts companies misclassify workers as “independent contractors” rather than employees in order to avoid liability for workers’ compensation. This means that as many as 248,000 workers are improperly classified – and may be at risk for being improperly denied legal benefits in the event of a work-related injury.
The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud says that this rampant misclassification results in $100 million in unpaid insurance premiums each year alone. The Massachusetts Insurance Fraud Bureau has also been collecting tens of millions in unpaid taxes due to employer workers’ compensation fraud. If your employer denies you benefits, you should always speak with a lawyer for an assessment of your legal rights.
Studies Show that Workers’ Fear of Being Fired Affects Workers’ Compensation Claims
A study conducted across 12 states – including Massachusetts – found that workers’ fear of being fired significantly affects their decisions regarding returning to work and pursuing benefits through workers’ compensation. According to the study’s findings, as many as 33 percent of workers fear losing their job when they sustain an injury that forces them to miss time from work.
This is a situation that cannot stand. Workers who are entitled to benefits by law should not be forced to choose between seeking those benefits and risking further injury by returning to work prematurely. At Law Office of John J. Sheehan, we are aggressive advocates for protecting the rights of injured workers.
Contact a Boston, MA Workers’ Compensation Attorney at Law Office of John J. Sheehan
Attorney John J. Sheehan provides experienced, aggressive representation for employees seeking workers’ compensation benefits for job-related injuries in Massachusetts. At Law Office of John J. Sheehan, we can help make sure that you take all of the necessary steps to receive maximum benefits; and, if your employer has denied your claim, we can help you fight for just compensation.