In a time when workers’ compensation claims are going down it is unfathomable that some workers injured on the job are not being treated fairly and not receiving their full benefits. At the same time, employers are being let off the hook for not carrying workers’ compensation insurance and their fines are not being enforced.
A report recently released by the Office of the Legislative Auditor found that the state’s workers’ compensation program is inefficient, short-staffed, overly complex and in need of reform. The lack of oversight is harming workers and costing the state money. Workers who are entitled to benefits are stonewalled by a complex system and too many people simply give up. Many that do reach a settlement are short changed by insurance companies pushing to keep their costs down.
The report concluded the lack of oversight is depriving workers of money they are owed for getting injured or sick on the job. The program routinely underpays benefits by about $3 million a year for the last five years and as many as a quarter of the denied claims by insurance companies were later reversed. It is no surprise that more workers are ending up in costly settlement hearings.
Businesses are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance in Minnesota. The coverage pays benefits to workers who are sick or injured on the job. But because of budget cuts, the state doesn’t have enough staff to investigate companies that don’t have insurance and does a poor job of collecting and recording the money that should be coming in. According to the report, there is as much as $26 million that is either uncollected or unaccounted for from businesses fined for not having workers’ compensation insurance. If the Department of Labor and Industry did a better job collecting money, there would be enough to hire back the investigators who could stay on top of the companies to make sure they are in compliance with the law.
This lax attitude in the program is unfair to workers who are injured on the job, companies who are following the rules and all Minnesota taxpayers. Reform is needed and now. It is time for more oversight to mandate employers are compliant and to ensure workers receive their full benefits. In many cases workers cannot return to the job after the injury. Workers’ compensation is a safety net and workers shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to collect the benefits they are rightly owed.
Steve Sviggum, the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry, said the auditor’s findings are “on point” with the future direction of the program and he vowed to implement some of the recommendations in the report. That’s a good start, but not enough. We owe it to our workers to guarantee that if they are injured on the job they will be fairly compensated. And we owe it to all Minnesotans to guarantee that their tax money is being spent wisely.
Tim Mahoney, a DFLer from St. Paul, represents District 67A in the Minnesota House. He also is a pipefitter and member of Pipefitters Local 455.