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Are State Worker’s Compensation Laws Failing to Protect Employees?

Dangerous accident in warehouse during work - wounded workerA former Macy’s employee in Texas has learned firsthand the difficulty of receiving worker’s compensation after a workplace injury under the state’s worker’s comp laws.

The man, who sustained a serious head injury while working in a supply closet in a Macy’s department store, has since been unable to work or collect benefits due to the flawed system. He says he has been reduced from earning $80,000 per year in a happy job to relying on Social Security and food stamps.

Currently in Texas and Oklahoma, employers are allowed to “opt-out” of the state regulated workers’ comp system, which means they are able to write their own plans. This has created a system in which injured employees must pursue other means to get what they need.

The victim was officially diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, resulting in chronic migraines, light and sound sensitivity, memory loss and cognitive impairment. However, despite this diagnosis, Macy’s has said that it believes the man to be either faking or psychosomatic, and cut him off from all benefits.

Appealing Unfair Worker’s Comp Plans

As of now, it is possible for workers in Texas and Oklahoma to appeal their case at a federal level under ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act), but it’s not easy.

First, a judge has to rule that the employer either violated his or her own rules or acted extremely unfairly.

Also, if an employee does manage to win an appeal, they will only be entitled to the benefits they were denied. It is not possible to pursue the employer for damages, such as pain and suffering.

There is talk about extending this opt-out plan to other states, since employers and advocates are adamant that opting out allows employers to “better care for injured employees.” However, NPR and other reporting agencies have found that it is far more likely that employees will be completely screwed by the opt-out worker’s compensation system.

Fortunately, it is possible for workers injured on the job to sue employers that do not carry worker’s comp insurance for damages. It is much harder to sue employers in states that require employers to carry worker’s comp.

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