The Michigan House of Representatives has passed a bill to overhaul workers’ compensation in the state. Touted by supporters as helping business get out from under unnecessarily high workers’ comp insurance costs, its critics say that it will be devastating to people hurt on the job.
We reported on the bills on Oct. 10. In that story, Southfield attorney Joel L. Alpert said that it’s a complete rewrite of workers’ comp.
He said one of the reforms he finds most troubling is a virtual wage-earning capacity that could reduce the amount of benefits paid to an injured worker, something that would leave minimum-wage workers unable to collect compensation for lost wages unless they’re totally disabled. The proposed reform would deduct the wages of a job that an injured worker could be doing, whether the worker is doing that job or not, from his or her benefits.
“So, if you’re in an accident, and you suffer a crushed hand, and it’s determined that you could do this other minimum-wage job, you would only get benefits paid on the difference between that minimum-wage job and your former wage,” Alpert said.
Michigan Radio reports:
[The bill’s proponents] say a leaner and less-expensive system is still needed to make the state more employer-friendly. Representative Bradford Jacobsen (R-Oxford) sponsored the bill.
“We’re not talking about someone driving 50 miles looking for a lawn-mowing job. But we do ask, if you’re on work comp that if you’re able to go back even in a marginal job to get back on some earning capacity to go ahead and do it,” said Jacobsen.
State Representative Vicki Barnett (D-Farmington Hills) opposed the overhaul. She says it will reduce benefits for injured workers and force some of them to take lower-paying jobs before they are fully healed: “What we do here matters to people and to families every day. This particular bill will be hurting families, workers, and the very people we came here to protect,” said Barnett.
Democrats also say the changes are not needed because Michigan’s unemployment coverage rates have gone down in 12 of the past 16 years. They say the changes could become harder for employees to file claims or receive benefits they deserve.