Wisconsin has the distinction of being the birthplace of the Worker's Compensation system.
Approximately 100 years ago, labor and management struck a "grand bargain" where if a worker gets injured at work, the worker cannot sue their employer for damages—even if the injury is clearly the employer's fault.
Instead, a system was put in place where the pay for any particular injury is dictated by law and simple to figure out, and where any injury that occurs at work, regardless of whose fault it is, is compensated. The benefit for the worker is that they don't have to go to court if they are injured, and the benefit for the employer is that they never get dragged to court for injuries that occur to their workers. Instead, employers simply have a worker's compensation insurance policy that pays out, at a very meager rate, compensation for the injuries that happen at work.
For example, if you're at work, and the hydraulics fail on the loader and smashes your pinky finger and 1/3 of your ring finger—they have a formula for what you will be compensated. For losing your pinky finger you get a single disability payment of $7,084 and for losing 1/3 of your finger you get $1,932 for a grand total of $9,016 for losing those fingers. Lost wages under workers comp are paid at 2/3 the employee’s average wage. For comparison, a non-work comp court case for a person who lost fingers could easily result in a million dollar award for loss of use, pain and suffering, disfigurement and lost time from work.
This trade off, exchanging large payouts for the simplicity of a no fault injury system, has been viewed as a fair deal by both employees and employers for generations.
Next week, Wisconsin Republicans plan to throw all that out the window. According to memo sent to all legislators late Wednesday afternoon, Rep. John Spiros in the Wisconsin Assembly and Sen. Duey Stroebel in the Senate, plan on jointly introducing the legislation on October 29. (The Legislative Reference Bureau's review of the legislation is below.)
Under the new system, worker's still will not be allowed to sue their employers for workplace injuries, but will be required to prove that the workplace injury wasn't their fault to receive their full compensation-- which is still codified at the meager rate.
Wisconsin Republicans have actually figured out a way to make things worse for workers than before Worker's Compensation came along-- because at least in the bad old days of the Gilded Age, a worker might get justice in court.
Now, workers have the worst of both worlds.
And if that wasn't quite enough, the Assembly Republicans really beat a dead horse with measures that:
- Allow the employer to choose the treating doctor for workers who don’t have group-health insurance coverage. This means they can send you to an unskilled “company doctor” for low quality treatment and a certain denial of your claim.
- Allow the employer to avoid paying lost wages for a legitimate, conceded, claim by firing the employee while they are recovering.
- Require an employee to tell an employer, when they are hired, about any medical conditions they may have, or risk being denied benefits later on for any work injuries.
If this legislation passes, workers' compensation in Wisconsin will join many other achievements of the Progressive era that have been effectively destroyed over the last four years by Wisconsin Republicans.