The Assembly unanimously passed a bipartisan bill Tuesday that would alter workers’ compensation laws.
The bill, that passed 97-0, would increase employee compensation for workplace injuries, but would eliminate compensation if the cause of the injury was related to drug or alcohol use, Chris Reader, Health & Human Resources Policy director at Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, said.
Reader said the bill would fix a problem with current law that gives undeserving employees compensation.
“Even if someone was going off on their lunch hour and having a few too many beers and that caused them to get injured at work … they still receive benefits even though that’s clearly their fault,” Reader said.
The bill, Reader said, would increase the maximum weekly worker compensation rate from $322 to $342 for injuries occurring before Jan. 1, 2017. Workers injured on or after that date will receive $362, he said.
Another provision of the bill would allow the state to go more aggressively after cases of worker and employee fraud, Reader said. The Department of Workforce Development could invite the Department of Justice to investigate these cases of fraud, which are currently only investigated by prosecutors.
Right now, Reader said, prosecutors are busy investigating more serious crimes, and workers’ compensation cases are often not a priority.
Wisconsin AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Stephanie Bloomingdale said under the bill, DHS would be able to investigate fraud committed not just by employees but also involved employers, hospitals, medical providers and insurance companies.
“We want to make sure we don’t have any fraud from anyone in the system,” Bloomingdale said.
The bill would also decrease the amount of time workers have to make a claim for benefits from 12 years to six, Reader said. Workers should know within six years whether they have been injured, Reader added.
The only opposition the bill faced was from those who felt the bill should correct additional issues with worker compensation, Reader said.
Reader said there are two sides to worker compensation: one half of the money is paid to the hospital and the other half is paid to the worker. Costs paid out on the medical side have been rising in recent years and “getting out of control,” Reader said. Some have expressed disappointment that the bill should have addressed those rising costs, Reader added.
Drafting a bill to reform workers’ compensation is a process that happens every two years, Reader said.
Reader said the bill has been highly supported because it has been drafted as a compromise between management and workers, who are usually at odds. Bloomingdale said the process of compromise has been in place for approximately 50 to 60 years.
“It’s an important and traditional system that’s there for workers who are injured on the job,” Bloomingdale said. “Nobody goes to work to be injured or be disabled. We need to make sure that we have a system to take care of those workers.”
The bill will next head to the Senate.