Category Archives: Work Comp Changes

Wisconsin Law Changes: Retraining Benefits Made Better

Today’s post comes from guest author Charlie Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

Injured workers now have greater access to vocational retraining benefits. The new law changes, while providing a number of employer-friendly provisions, also contained pro-worker enactments—especially for those injured workers who need to go back to school.

A major public policy goal of the worker’s compensation system is to restore an injured worker’s pre-injury earning capacity, meaning get the worker back to the wages they made before getting hurt. To facilitate that goal, if an injured worker has permanent limitations that do not allow them to return to their injury job, the worker can pursue vocational retraining benefits. Under Wisconsin law, these benefits are meant to compensate a worker during the entire schooling period. The insurance carrier is responsible for weekly maintenance benefits (at 2/3 of the employee’s average weekly earnings) during every week the worker is in school, as well as tuition, book, travel and meal expenses during school. Many retraining programs are for approximately two-year associate degree programs, but, depending on the worker’s pre-injury wages, the paid-for program could involve a bachelor’s degree or beyond.

In a victory for workers, the 2016 new law allows for prospective vocational retraining benefits. Historically, when a vocational retraining claim was “ripe” for presentation at a hearing was uncertain. Some administrative law Judges indicated that a retraining program only became viable and ripe for hearing when the worker actually was attending classes. Unfortunately, many injured workers—who cannot return to their former employment and have no other source of income—do not have the financial ability to go to school on their own. As such, these workers could not enroll in or begin school unless the workers’ compensation insurance carrier was ordered to pay for prospective schooling.

The legislature clarified this issue, and effective March 2, 2016, Judges have the authority to issue prospective orders for vocational retraining benefits (Wis. Stat. § 102.18(1)(b)2., as amended by 2015 Wis. Act 180). Specifically, a carrier can be ordered to pay for a future course of instruction, along with the corresponding vocational retraining benefits/expenses, for either a DVR-sponsored or private rehabilitation counselor program.

Another pro-worker provision of the 2016 law is that injured workers are now allowed to work up to 24 hours per week while undergoing vocational retraining without those earned wages reducing their weekly worker’s compensation maintenance benefits (the 2/3 wages). Previous law required the reduction in work comp benefits for this part-time—thereby creating a disincentive to work. The new law (effective March 2, 2016) acknowledges the practical reality for a worker returning to school. The injured worker now can engage in part-time school and part-time work, maintaining the worker’s connection to the labor market.

Vocational retraining benefits can be difficult for an injured worker to pursue, but the new 2016 law makes it easier.

Citizens Pushing Back Against Attack on Work Comp System

Today’s post comes from guest author Charlie Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

Citizens are waking up to the potential legislative attack on the Work Comp System: Workers’ Compensation Bill an Attack on Our Rights.  This editorial is from the Wausau Daily Herald–right in the backyard of one of the legislators (Spiros) who has proposed this direct legislative attack.  We previously discussed the proposed legislation in a prior post: Legislative Alert: Worker’s Compensation Destruction Bill?

In Wisconsin, the stabilizing force–the Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council (WCAC)–is set to produce its agreed-upon bill in the upcoming weeks.  The Council is a group of labor and management that effectively “collective bargain” (yes, that’s not a bad phrase !) for biennial changes and common sense improvements to the system.The Council bill was unanimously agreed to by members of labor and management—which includes the WI Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC).

In direct contrast, the opposing bill (also known as the work comp destruction bill) was not considered by the Council.  It is a direct legislative attack on the work comp system.  The non-WCAC bill would tear down the whole system by exponentially increasing litigation, hindering access to medical care and recovery, and potentially creating a slippery slope to unlimited jury awards. 

As opposed to the work comp destruction bill, the WCAC bill will do what it always does—improve on the Worker’s Compensation Act.  Citizens are becoming aware.

 

Unemployment and Worker’s Comp

Today’s post comes from guest author Charlie Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

Interesting take on a provision in the newly proposed Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council (WCAC) bill: https://wisconsinui.wordpress.com/2016/01/15/substantial-fault-and-misconduct-principles-from-unemployment-law-to-come-to-workers-compensation/ 

One of the provisions in the new WCAC bill would allow denial of temporary disability/lost time benefits if a worker is terminated for “misconduct” or “substantial fault.”  These terms will be defined based on unemployment law standards.  Misconduct and substantial fault recently were brought into play with changes to the unemployment insurance laws in Wisconsin.  These legislative changes certainly were employer-friendly, allowing employers a greater ability and opportunity to deny unemployment benefits.

With worker’s compensation poised to adopt this standard for lost time benefit denials, workers definitely could face a rough spot when recovering from a job injury.  If the employer terminates a worker for alleged misconduct or substantial fault, they would be denied unemployment benefits and worker’s compensation benefits–until an administrative hearing is held to determine the legitimacy of the employer’s actions.  The possibility for many worker’s compensation hearings turning into “he said/she said” determinations like in unemployment cases is a strong possibility.

In the bigger picture, all sides must remember that this was a compromised agreed-upon bill by labor and management.  Both sides gained and gave up provisions–this produces the stability in the worker’s compensation system.