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Illinois Workers’ Compensation Bill: Reform or Assault on Workers’ Rights?

In the continuing effort to confront mounting budget shortfalls, states across the country are making deep cuts in important government programs, including workers’ compensation.  The Bill passed by the Illinois Senate recently is worth examining as it contains many proposals that are being debated to bring down costs here in Washington State as well.

The Illinois bill is touted as “reform,” but many critics and labor rights activists see it as a giveaway to Big Business with workers bearing the cost.  Touted by many pro-business Democrats, Senate President John Cullerton argued “This reform package is the single most important thing we can do to improve our business climate and ensure our economic recovery continues.  Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also backed the bill as essentially job-creation legislation.

At the heart of the legislation is a 30 percent reduction in fees that businesses are required to pay doctors who treat injured workers. Proponents of the bill argue this would save Illinois businesses up to $700 million.  Of course, what is not addressed is how this gap in coverage will be addressed.

Other features of the bill include establishing a medical network for workers compensation claims and cutting the duration when a worker can receive payments for carpal tunnel syndrome from 40 weeks to 28 weeks.  Perhaps most troubling, the measure places the burden of proof on workers when proving that drugs or alcohol did not not contribute to a workplace accident.

Predictably, while these features certainly represent major change, Republicans did not feel the Bill went far enough.  Hyperbole and rhetoric abound when state Republicans complain that Bill does not go far enough:

“The person who plays football on Sunday afternoon gets hurt and goes to work on Monday and says he has a workers compensation injury, we don’t address that, the very meat and potatoes of what we need to do,” complained House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego).

Attorney Michael Helfand notes the dishonesty at the heart of such a statement: “That sounds outrageous and would be if it was true.  But the truth is that any injured worker has to prove that their injury arose out of and in the course of their employment.  In the course of means while they were working or doing something for the benefit of the employer.  So if the scenario that Tom Cross describes happens then the case can and will be fought and in fact the worker can be charged with fraud.”

Helfand is on point when he notes that such statements play into old, dangerous stereotypes of the “scamming” injured worker. As any worker who has been injured on the job can attest, being forced to seek medical care that prevents one from working is not a pleasant experience, and can often be trying and fraught with obstacles.

We will continue to watch this bill and others as they make their way through state legislatures.  Workers’ Compensation law is complex and dynamic, but an attorney who specializes in such cases is an injured workers’ greatest ally.  An expert Washington workers’ compensation lawyer at Emery Reddy is standing by to help with your very important claim.

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