By its very definition, the Workers Compensation Board is an agency which is responsible for reviewing disputes between workers and their employers when it comes to compensation. The board is responsible for enforcing the law governing worker's compensation. It also makes decisions based on the situation and works as an arbiter between parties to settle disputes.
Many people also refer to the Workers' Compensation Board as a commission. Though they are both one in the same thing. For the sake of clarity we will be using the terms ‘board' and ‘commission' interchangeably throughout this article.
What is Workers' Compensation?
To understand what the board is responsible for it is essential to understand workers' compensation. Workers' compensation is mainly mandatory for employers in often dangerous industries like construction, transportation, energy, forestry, etc. Keep in mind that by hazardous industries we mean where the chance of getting injured on the job is higher than usual.
Workers' compensation law goes beyond just handling matters of payment for medical expenses but also time off for recovery from an injury or illness. The role of the board is to ensure that workers are awarded rightful compensation. To ensure rightful compensation the workers' compensation law is the basis for each decision made by the board. The law also provides a set of rules within which employers and organizations can deal with injuries and other physical issues to avoid lawsuits.
What Does the Workers' Compensation Board Do?
The workers' compensation board or commission works in each one of the 50 American states. Each board is governed by its respective state laws. Under these laws, they hear and arbitrate disputes. Also, the board is responsible for administering workers' compensation law and applying it to each instance of a dispute.
Most disputes (between employers and employees) arise owing to the disparity between the claim made by the employee and the employer's perspective of what they are entitled to. The board evaluates each dispute, settles and draws agreements between both parties to ensure that the right amount of compensation funds is delivered.
The functions of the worker's compensation board include:
- Settling dispute relating to the amount and right to claim compensation
- To administer and collect the compensation funds
- To supervise settlements or agreements between parties
- The board also regulates and oversees matters of compensation insurance
There have been many documented cases of orders by the Workers' Compensation Commission being found valid and binding by the appellate court. However, there needs to be enough evidence to support the decision. If there is evidence that convinces the appellate court to the opposite of what was decided, then the order by the Workers Compensation Commission can be reversed. That said instances of it happening are rare.
State Workers' Compensation Laws
Apart from the general, often blanket federal laws regarding workers' compensation, there are many often subtle differences from one state to the next. According to the Federal Employment Compensation Act, all non-military employees of the federal government or those employed in important parts of interstate commerce are covered. According to the law, the dependents of workers killed, sick or injured as part of doing their job are also entitled to benefits. Furthermore, some laws protect the employer by limiting the amount or number of claims that an injured employee is entitled to. They may also restrict or eliminate the liability of co-workers involved in major accidents.
- Injuries Caused by Employer Negligence: There are also statues which protect employees in the event of injuries that are caused by an employer's negligence. Case in point being railroad employees who are protected by the Federal Employment Liability Act, as well as those at sea who are protected under the Merchant Marine Act also called the Jones Act. Then you have the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act which compensates employees who work for the private maritime sector. Miners who become ill with pneumoconiosis are protected by the Black Lung Benefits Act.
- Employer Negligence Protection: Some employers may not be aware that their employees may be in danger when performing duties unless the right safety measures are implemented. Though the employees may be mindful of the likelihood of an injury but fail to take the right precautionary measures which is willful misconduct. When an employee is found to be involved in willful misconduct, they could be barred from receiving workers' compensation. Willful misconduct is determined by looking at all the facts which are case dependent. Generally, it may amount to more than gross negligence and could be defined as quasi-criminal.
What Type of Compensation Does the Commission Award
Depending on the state and the case the compensation awarded may differ. However, in most cases employees can expect the after-mentioned set of compensation. Keep in mind that the commission may decide to grant one but not the other claim based on the circumstances and existing state laws. So, while we have listed all the types of compensations that the commission may award, they all may not be awarded to every injured worker.
Medical Expenses and Benefits: The compensation awarded is as per the worker's compensation law. Generally, it involves paying medical costs associated with helping the victim recover from injuries. However, it may also include payment to the tune of a similar amount to the wages they are losing each day, week or month. Most states provide weekly wage payments in addition to benefits to dependents or the employee.
Additional damages apart from lost wages and medical costs, such as damages for general pain and suffering, or penalties like damages (i.e., punitive damages) for an employer's actions, are usually not available via workers' compensation claims. State workers' compensation regulations mainly base benefit calculations on the employee's average weekly wage and set minimum amounts, maximum amounts and, if applicable, maximum time periods.
Wage Replacement Benefits: The amount and duration of this type of compensation are determined by state law for Temporary total disability; Permanent partial disability; Permanent total disability; and Death benefits.
Scheduled Awards: Most of the states pay a fixed or scheduled award to compensate injured employees for specific work-related injuries or illnesses. Scheduled awards mainly provide compensation for injuries resulting in a loss or loss of use of certain body parts.
Some states do not use scheduled awards at all but pay compensation based upon the actual degree of impairment, which varies on a case by case basis.
The job of the worker's compensation board or commission is to settle disputes between employers and their employees regarding compensation. The right to compensation may also be settled by the court of law. However, the commission is the first place that both parties may go to help resolve differences.
While not all claims may make it to the worker's compensation commission, many do especially in cases where the employer may suspect willful negligence or where employees may be deprived of their dues. Even though worker's compensation is part of federal law, it does not cover contractors and temporary employees. It also does not cover those working illegally in the United States. So, companies like Uber and Lyft are under no obligation to make sure that their contractors, i.e. the drivers are covered by any kind of compensation.
Obviously, there is a statutory limitation to who is covered under the law and under what circumstance. That said it is imperative for employers to always have solid worker's compensation insurance to make sure that they are always covered in the event of a claim. Employees on the other hand should file a claim ASAP, without wasting any time. Most insurance providers don't allow claims to linger for longer than what is needed. Plus, they make sure that the workplace is safe to reduce claims making it a win-win situation for both employers, and employees alike.