Workers compensation is a form of insurance providing wage replacement and medical benefits to employees injured in the course of employment in exchange for mandatory relinquishment of the employee’s right to sue their employer for the tort of negligence. The trade-off between assured, limited coverage and lack of recourse outside the worker compensation system is known as “the compensation bargain”. One of the problems that the compensation bargain solved is the problem of employers becoming insolvent as a result of high damage awards. The system of collective liability was created to prevent that, and thus to ensure security of compensation to the workers. Individual immunity is the necessary corollary to collective liability.
While plans differ among jurisdictions, provision can be made for weekly payments in place of wages (functioning in this case as a form of disability insurance), compensation for economic loss (past and future), reimbursement or payment of medical and like expenses (functioning in this case as a form of health insurance), and benefits payable to the dependents of workers killed during employment (functioning in this case as a form of life insurance).
General damage for pain and suffering, and punitive damages for employer negligence, are generally not available in workers compensation plans, and negligence is generally not an issue in the case. These laws were first enacted in Europe and Oceania, with the United States following shortly thereafter.
In 1855, Georgia and Alabama passed Employer Liability Acts; 26 other states passed similar acts between 1855 and 1907. Early laws permitted injured employees to sue the employer and then prove a negligent act or omission. (A similar scheme was set forth in Britain’s 1880 Act.)
The first statewide worker’s compensation law was passed in Maryland in 1902, and the first law covering federal employees was passed in 1906. (See: FELA, 1908; FECA, 1916; Kern, 1918.) By 1949, every state had enacted a workers compensation program.
At the turn of the 20th century workers compensation laws were voluntary. An elective law made passage easier and some argued that compulsory workers’ compensation laws would violate the 14th amendment due process clause of the U.S. Constitution. Since workers’ compensation mandated benefits without regard to fault or negligence, many felt that compulsory participation would deprive the employer of property without due process. The issue of due process was resolved by the United States Supreme Court in 1917 in New York Central Railway Co. v. White which held that an employer’s due process rights were not impeded by mandatory workers’ compensation. After the ruling many states enacted new compulsory workers’ compensation laws.
In the United States, most employees who are injured on the job receive medical care responsive to the work-place injury, and, in some cases, payment to compensate for resulting disabilities.Generally, an injury that occurs when an employee is on his or her way to or from work does not qualify for worker’s compensation benefits; however, there are some exceptions if your responsibilities demand that you be in multiple locations, or stay in the course of your employment after work hours.
Insurance policies are available to employers through commercial insurance companies: if the employer is deemed an excessive risk to insure at market rates, it can obtain coverage through an assigned-risk program. In many states, there are public uninsured employer funds to pay benefits to workers employed by companies who illegally fail to purchase insurance.
Various organisations focus resources on providing education and guidance to workers’ compensation administrators and adjudicators in various state and national workers’ compensation systems. These include the American Bar Association (ABA), the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC), the National Association of Workers’ Compensation Judiciary (NAWCJ), and the Workers Compensation Research Institute.
In the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2010 National Compensation Survey, workers’ compensation costs represented 1.6% of employer spending overall, although rates varied significantly across industry sectors. For instance, workers’ compensation accounted for 4.4% of employer spending in the construction industry, 1.8% in manufacturing and 1.3% in services.
Clinical outcomes for patients with workers’ compensation tend to be worse compared to those non-workers’ compensation patients among those undergoing upper extremity surgeries, and have found they tend to take longer to return to their jobs and tend to return to work at lower rates. Factors that might explain this outcome include this patient population having strenuous upper extremity physical demands, and a possible financial gain from reporting significant post-operative disability.