Nonprofit agencies left out of workers' compensation deal

Author Subject: Nonprofit agencies left out of workers' compensation deal
Chris M Posted At 21:02:00 06/15/2001

Nonprofit agencies left out of workers' compensation deal

The new plan doesn't require injured workers to volunteer at not-for-profit organizations in order to receive benefits.

Statesman Journal
June 15

Oregon labor and business negotiators struck a deal Wednesday that protects both employers and employees in workers’ compensation disputes, but nonprofit agencies say they only stand to lose.

The compromise, now headed to a Senate committee, deals with the state’s workers’ compensation insurance program. The deal, which is laid out in the amended Senate Bill 485, would create a “no fault” system so workers could get benefits, even if their accident wasn’t caused by their employer’s negligence. And employers would be less likely to have to pay large punitive damages for accidents when the company’s negligence may have been a factor.

But nonprofit agencies say they don’t like it. That’s because under the current system, employers can require an employee receiving workers’ comp benefits for an on-the-job injury to work at nonprofit agencies. For example, a roofer who injured her back roofing may not be able to perform heavy labor, but she may be able to enter computer data.The employer pays the employee and the nonprofit agency gets a volunteer. If workers refuse the volunteer work, they could lose the amount the employer was willing to pay them for doing that volunteer job.

But under SB 485, the worker could refuse to work and still receive compensation. Labor negotiators agreed to the compromise, citing the potential for abuse under the current system. They say employers could use the program as retribution against the injured employee.

The preferred option is always to bring the employee back to his or her company to work, but in a less demanding job. Many smaller companies, however, often don’t have lower-impact jobs, said Chris Davie, government affairs coordinator for State Accident Insurance Fund, which also endorses SB 485.

The current arrangement was implemented two years ago, and nonprofit managers say they don’t know what they would do without it.

“It is like a godsend for us,” said Cindy Benton, district manager for the Southern Oregon District of the American Diabetes Association. Benton currently has two volunteers on workers’ comp putting together packets for an upcoming fund-raiser.

“If we didn’t have them, I don’t know what we’d do,” she said. “No, I do know, we’d all be putting in a lot of hours. It’s really difficult to get clerical volunteers during the day.”

The Community Action Agency in Salem currently has six volunteers working through the program.

“If we lose them it will have a large impact on us,” said Jon Reeves, program director of child care information service at the agency. “They are doing work that is very important to this agency as whole. They do everything from filing to updating information on our child care database.”

Reeves, who started utilizing the program eight months ago, estimates that his agency has already benefitted from an additional 5,000 hours of volunteer help through the program.

Approximately 500 injured workers volunteer through the program in Oregon every year resulting in about 50,000 hours of labor, according to Davie.

If the bill is approved, workers would still have the opportunity to volunteer if they wanted to, according to Dave Schilts, administrator of the state’s Workers’ Compensation Division, which also supports SB 485.

Nonprofit agency administrators worry that if injured workers aren’t required to volunteer they won’t.

“If it wasn’t mandatory I doubt we’d get as many people,” Reeves said. “The reason being that some are comfortable not doing anything and they are always leery at first. But once they get here, they realize that this is great. There hasn’t been a negative thing on either side of the game here.”

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