Some Debatable Issues
Most workers in the United States injured on the job have an absolute right to medical care for their injury and, in most states, cash benefits to compensate for resulting temporary or permanent disabilities.
Most US employers are required to carry either workers’ compensation coverage through a private insurer or prove they are self-insurable against benefit payments for their injured workers. Some states have their own workers’ compensation funds into which employers pay their fair shares.
Most states provide for substantial financial penalties when an employer fails to carry workers’ compensation coverage. States also make it illegal for a worker to make a false claim for workers’ compensation benefits.
Employers or their insurers may vigorously challenge workers’ compensation claims in cases where they dispute the level of disability workers are claiming. In a contested matter, an employer or their insurance company often hires private investigators to watch allegedly disabled workers in order to find evidence of their nondisability. Reportedly, disabled workers have been observed and videotaped playing sports or engaging in other strenuous activity. Such videotapes can be used against the worker, not only in the workers’ compensation case, but also in any prosecution for workers’ compensation fraud.
Workers’ Compensation Advantages and Disadvantages
On one hand, workers’ compensation programs afford workers some major advantages in that they provide a system where injured workers can more quickly receive medical treatment and may more quickly receive benefits to replace lost income. In addition, the process can be easier for workers to navigate than the court system.
On the other hand, opponents of the system argue that many workers do not receive adequate compensation. Workers, they say, who are severely injured or killed by the negligence and sometimes recklessness of their employers ought to be able to recover the level of compensation they might recover in personal injury lawsuits. In situations where workers are severely injured because employers are glaringly at fault, the employers, it is argued, ought not to walk away from that fault without greater consequences than the workers’ compensation law provides.
Furthermore, injured workers’ advocates claim that statutory schemes often fail to take into account the reality of injured workers’ lives and the status of the economy at different times or in specific locations. For instance, in a case where a worker loses the use of an arm or a leg, that worker may be eligible for only partial disability payments when the reality is that worker may not ever find a comparably paying job in an economically depressed area. Thus, opponents argue that these systems are flawed, providing only a bare minimum of benefits to the nations’ injured workers.
Nevertheless, proponents maintain that the work accident insurance systems have provided great benefits to society, such as reducing worker-employer conflict, improving work safety, providing assistance to survivors of fatal work accidents, and protecting the public coffers from the needs of destitute and disabled workers.
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