Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.
Anti-worker changes could be coming to Iowa workers compensation. To me the cruelest reform would be the proposal to end permanent total disability benefits at age 67 and limit workers who are over 67 who become permanently and totally disabled to 150 weeks of benefits. One memorable client of mine demonstrates the callousness of the proposed Iowa reforms.
My client Doris Newkirk was 83 years old when she was injured working as a hostess at Lone Star Steakhouse in west Omaha in June 2006. She was near a bathroom door when a large male co-worker came barreling into the bathroom and caused Doris to fall back and injure multiple parts of her body. Like many retirees, Doris worked because she needed the money. After her injury she was unable to work. Fortunately Doris was able to receive permanent total disability benefits to make up for the income she lost because she wasn’t able to work. Those permanent benefits started in September 2007 and continued for five years and 10 ½ months until her death on July 21, 2013.
If Nebraska law limited those injured over the age of 67 to 150 weeks of permanent total disability benefits, Doris wouldn’t have been paid anything for the last three years of her life. To her credit, Doris travelled from Omaha to Lincoln in her late 80s to testify against similar legislation when it was proposed in Nebraska. According the Business and Labor committee clerk at the time, the state Senator who introduced the bill at the behest of insurance interests made a motion to kill the bill after listening to her testimony.
Workers compensation is a cost of business. But according to CNBC, Iowa has the second lowest cost of doing business in the country. Iowa, like Nebraska, generally ranks well in national surveys of business climate. Iowa’s weakest area when it comes to business climate, according to CNBC, is quality of workforce. Unlike Nebraska, Iowa lacks vocational rehabilitation for injured workers. If Iowa is looking to reform its workers compensation system, they should consider investing in vocational rehabilitation so injured workers can fully regain their ability to contribute to the economy in Iowa.
The U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division and Iowa’s Department of Workforce Development have joined in a memorandum of understanding on January 17, 2013,to protect the rights of employees by preventing their misclassification as independent contractors by employers.Iowa is the 14th state to form this type of partnership with the Labor Department.
The DOL in August 2009 determined:
- In FY 2007 states uncovered at least 150,000 workers who did not receive the benefits to which they were entitled because their employers misclassified them as independent contractors; and
- Approximately 10.3 million American workers, or 7.4 percent of the employed workforce, are classified as independent contractors, although it is not clear how many of these are misclassified.
Although legitimate independent contractors are an important part of our economy, the misclassification of employees presents a serious problem, as these employees often are denied access to critical benefits and protections – such as family and medical leave, overtime compensation, workers’ compensation benefits, minimum wage pay and Unemployment Insurance – to which they are entitled. In addition, misclassification can create economic pressure for law-abiding business owners, who often find it difficult to compete with those who are skirting the law. Employee misclassification also generates substantial losses for state Unemployment Insurance and workers’ compensation funds.
Memorandums of understanding with state government agencies arose as part of the department’s Misclassification Initiative, which was launched under the auspices of Vice President Biden’s Middle Class Task Force with the goal of preventing, detecting and remedying employee misclassification. California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Utah and Washington have signed similar agreements.
Workers’ Compensation has traditionally been a primary remedy for injured workers throughout Iowa. My firm has proudly participated in assisting injured workers’ and their families in obtaining benefits following industrial accidents and occupational exposures. This blog, as well as our newly launched, and client friendly, social media network, is yet another effort to provide modern quality service to our clients and the community that we serve. We hope that you take the opportunity to participate in our new adventure in provide helpful and important information.