New Bill Proposed in Michigan Could Cripple Workers’ Comp System

We live in difficult economic times. Those who are out of work know how hard it is to find a job. For workers who have steady employment, every paycheck counts. Missing work for any reason is a hit to the pocketbook that most cannot afford. If a worker needs to miss extensive time due to an on-the-job illness or injury, they may be eligible to receive workers' compensation which can help them while they recover.

Many Michigan workers count on this income make ends meet while they are out of work due to injury. There are extensive rules in place that insurers, employers and employees must follow before compensation will be granted, which can make this a frustrating time for injured workers. Now, new rules are being proposed in Michigan which would drastically change the way the workers' compensation system operates.

Changes Being Proposed

States are facing severe budgets challenges, and have made cutting spending a top priority. House Bill 5002, introduced by Representative Brad Jacobson, was introduced as a way for the state to reduce the amount of money that is spent on workers' compensation.

The bill would substantially change the types of injuries covered by workers' compensation. The current laws provide that an injured worker will be compensated for any injuries arising out of and in the course of employment. If the new bill passes, injuries would only be compensable if they were medically distinguishable from an employee's prior existing conditions.

Another proposed change would significantly alter the definition of disabled. Right now, disability is established when there has been a limitation of wage earnings capacity due to a personal injury or illness suffered while on-the-job. The current law also states that if an injured worker is offered a job that he or she is able to perform, the worker must accept the position. If this particular position pays less than the worker made at the position he or she held at the time of injury, workers' compensation would cover the difference between the two pay rates.

The new rule would expand upon the definition of disability, by stating that a limitation in wages occurs only when a person is unable to perform a job that is equal to his or her qualifications, training and transferable work skills. This does not actually require a worker to find work before benefits will be reduced; it simply states that workers are "able to work." If an injured worker cannot find a job, he or she is still considered to have a "capability of earnings" that would allow for a reduction or elimination of benefits.

The final version of the bill also states that if an employee refuses a position without good cause, or if the employer terminates the employee for fault of the employee, that the employee will be considered to have voluntarily removed themselves from the workforce. This means that the injured worker would not receive any workers' compensation benefits during the time that he or she was out of work.

Another major change would greatly restrict how injured workers can receive medical care for their injuries. Michigan allows injured workers to seek out their own doctors 10 days after starting treatment. Under the proposed legislation, this would change to 45 days. This could greatly impact the amount of time it takes for an injured worker to get back to work.

What These Changes Would Mean for You

While the bill has several hurdles to clear before it can be enacted into law, the very fact that these changes are under consideration is troubling to Michigan workers. The main purpose of the workers' compensation system is to make it easier injured workers to receive compensation for their injuries. Before workers' compensation statutes went into effect, employees would be forced to sue their employers. Employees would need to show that employers were at fault for the injury. Workers' compensation laws removed this requirement, and instead focused on methods of rehabilitating the injured worker.

This proposed legislation removes some of the protections offered to workers. Those who cannot find work after suffering an injury could wind up having their benefits slashed because they are deemed to be qualified to do other jobs.

Perhaps more concerning, the new rules would greatly impede upon an injured worker's right to decide how his or her injury should be treated. Often, workers turn to their own physicians because the treatment plan prescribed by their employer's doctor is not effective. Forcing an employee to wait 45 days before being able to do this would greatly interfere in an injured worker's ability to decide the type of care that he or she receives.

Proponents of the bill claim that it is simply a way to make Michigan's outdated laws more current. Business leaders insist that the rules scare employers away from the state, and if these changes are made, more jobs will come to Michigan. However, this seemingly does not address the concerns of the employees across Michigan who depend upon the system when they are injured while working.

It will be important to watch this bill's progress closely. If you have been injured on-the-job, contact an experienced workers' compensation attorney in your area to understand the options that are available to you. It can be a challenge to make ends meet while you are injured, and you may be entitled to compensation while you recover.