Author Subject: "THIS SAYS IT ALL"
John C Posted At 20:11:50 06/27/2001
Scranton Times Tribune June 26, 2001
Letters to Editor

Workers' comp, isn't

Editor: Scranton's attempt to return injured workers to work brings up an important but little known topic. There is no system to protect an injured worker.

The majority of the employment and workers compensation rules in Pennsylvania lean heavily towards the employer. Pennsylvania laws in 1997 greatly reduced the rights of injured workers by placing a whole new set of burdens on them, making it much easier for companies to deny benefits to injured workers.

Workers compensation was supposed to be a contract where injured workers gave up their right to sue their employer in exchange for the promise that employers would be required to compensate them for work-related injuries. But the state changed that contract to the detriment of workers.

Workers compensation is effective if you have a medical-only claim and are not required to miss much time. But if you are seriously injured, workers compensation will not provide what it originally was intended to provide.

Employees are vulnerable due to an immovable 110-year-old precedent that makes all workers in Pennsylvania "at-will" employees unless a contract exists between them and their employers. That means either side can terminate the employment relationship for no reason. Employers are allowed to use policy-manual violations for cause of discharge, but can legally ignore manual provisions that protect an employee.

When an employee is injured, businesses have good intentions in their attempts to bring injured workers back to work. But the businesses need to avoid attempts to bring an injured worker back before he is medically fit to return. Many times it becomes the insurance carrier looking out for its own bottom dollar, and not the well-being of the injured worker.

Often the urgency of return turns into harassment by the claims adjuster in hopes of intimidating, pressuring the injured worker, or starving them out to return to work as soon as possible.

Often the diagnosis and treatment by the injured worker's treating physician are not respected. An injured worker must go for an independent medical evaluation by doctors who do perform thousands of them each year on the behalf of the insurance companies. Just one examination is enough for the insurance company to force the injured worker to either return to work or face litigation. Litigation requires the injured worker to hire an attorney who gets 20 percent of each paycheck and future payments.

Pennsylvania needs to audit the workers compensation system to see if it's too restrictive and tighten deadlines for decision, fine parties and actually make the parties pay for their delays.

Everyone in Pennsylvania needs to be aware of their rights and the employer's rights. And if you're not satisfied, then ask questions, write down the answers and refer back to them when the time comes to vote for our elected officials. Only as a party will workers ever change the current employee and workers compensation laws in Pennsylvania.

David D. Harte Scranton

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