Those of us representing injured workers were recently forced into a somewhat difficult decision regarding proposed changes to Wisconsin workers' compensation law. As discussed in prior posts, two parallel bills were proposed, one sponsored by the Workers' Compensation Advisory Council (SB-536 / AB-724) and one sponsored by Republican Representative Spiros (AB-501) The Spiros bill-aka the worker's compensation destruction bill -would have completely altered the nature of 100 years of workers' compensation in Wisconsin, adding the concept of "fault" back into a no-fault system that has been operating based on that premise for a century. Additionally, the work comp destruction bill would have reduced the Statute of Limitations for filing the claim and claiming medical benefits on the claim from the current twelve years to an incredibly harsh two years.
The agreed-upon Advisory Council Bill (WCAC bill) also contains benefits for injured workers as well as employer-friendly provisions, some coming at the expense of injured workers. For example, employees who are fired for misconduct or substantial fault could be denied workers' compensation benefits based upon a definition of misconduct imported from the Unemployment Compensation system. Unemployment Compensation law defines misconduct as a worker showing such a willful disregard of an employer's interest to be a deliberate violation, or carelessness or negligence showing wrongful intent suggesting an intentional substantial disregard of an employer's interests. Quite simply, under this provision, injured workers might lose their jobs because of misconduct or substantial fault, thus losing out on both Unemployment Compensation and Workers' Compensation benefits.
Additional provisions of the WCAC bill would deny benefits to those workers whose injuries have been caused by the use of alcohol or drugs. The Statute of Limitations reduced from twelve to a reasonable six years for traumatic injuries. Significantly, the workers' compensation insurance carrier can now ask for medical support to apportion pre-existing disability, which should trigger a substantial increase in litigation.
Some would suggest that the Advisory Council bill is not "worker-friendly." It is more appropriately viewed as a COMPROMISE. Labor and management representatives bargained for the changes. The Advisory Council bill is the result of give-and-take compromise and an acknowledgement by labor of the current political reality in Wisconsin. In any compromise, parties get and give up certain things. This compromise is the stabilizing force for the successful worker's compensation system in our state. Lone wolf legislation without consideration by the compromises of the Advisory Council should be rejected.
Support the Advisory Council process and Agreed-Upon Bill.