- The workers’ compensation system is under attack across the nation. Lawmakers are in the process of altering the system by passing “reforms” –significantly changing how benefits are paid.
These so-called reforms benefit employers – not injured workers. Legislators claim that the reforms were necessary to attract new businesses, retain the current companies operating in the state, and increase employment.
In the past decade, there have been significant cuts to workers’ comp benefits. Changes in many state systems now make it much more difficult for injured workers to get benefits for some injuries and occupational diseases. As these systems are state-run, the amount a worker could expect for a specific injury varies widely.
Employers and insurers are gaining more power in medical decisions, and in 37 states, workers have lost the ability to choose their own medical provider to treat the illness or injury. North Carolina lawmakers have also taken steps in this direction and have limited the period benefits can be paid to a disabled worker.
Put NC Back To Work: Changes in NC Workers’ Comp Law
House Bill 709, or the “Put NC Back to Work,” passed in 2011, put several changes in place that significantly impacted those who were injured while performing their work duties. Some of the changes in the workers’ compensation system included:
- A limit to the number of weeks of wage replacement, regardless of the degree of seriousness of the disability.
- An employer can gain access to the medical records of a claimant and communicate with their healthcare providers without authorization from the employee.
- A change in the definition of “suitable employment” for an injured worker who cannot perform his or her earlier duties. Higher wage earners can now be forced to accept minimum wage jobs – any job within the employee’s physical and mental limitations within a 50-mile radius of the employee’s home. There is no longer the right to refuse certain types of work.
- The addition of a “fault-based” defense for employers for some claims.
- Employees are forced to attend an Independent Medical Exam (IME), and benefits will be suspended if they refuse.
- The commission is required to either completely disregard or give less weight to a second opinion about the injured worker’s medical condition.
- If the employee wishes to change their healthcare provider, the injured person must submit proof that the treatment will reduce the recovery time.
- It is much more difficult for an employee to be considered permanently or totally disabled.
- Temporary Total Disability (TTD) payments are limited to 500 weeks from the first date of the injury leading to the disability.
- Temporary Partial Disability (TPD) payments are limited to only certain catastrophic injuries: burns, head injuries, spinal cord injuries, or loss of two body parts.
- Death benefits are limited to 500 weeks of compensation.
More reforms to the workers’ compensation system may be on the horizon, and unfortunately, are likely to benefit employers rather than protect injured workers. Our workers’ compensation system in North Carolina is under attack. Injured workers need legal help to navigate the system and be paid benefits, now more than ever. Protect your right to the benefits you deserve and get help from a workers’ comp attorney.
- ProPublica: The Demolition of Workers’ Compensation
- NC Legislature: House Bills
- Travelers: NC House Bill 709 Technical Bulletin
- NPR: Injured Workers Suffer As Reforms Limit Workers’ Compensation Benefits