By: Anne-Marie Storey
Some significant changes have been made to the Workers’ Compensation Act this session. The following are a few of those changes:
1. Previously, an employer/insurer who wanted to reduce or discontinue benefits that were being paid to an employee through an order or award of compensation were required to petition the board for permission and could not take final action until the matter was resolved all the way through any appeal process. This portion of the law has been changed to allow the reduction or discontinuance upon entry of a decree by a hearing officer, regardless of whether an appeal is filed by the employee.
2. The portion of the law addressing payment of partial incapacity benefits to employees with dates of injury prior to January 1, 2013 remains generally the same: partial has to be paid for the duration of the disability if the permanent impairment is in excess of 15% to the body and otherwise it is limited to 260 weeks of benefits absent proof of extreme financial hardship. There are some changes to permanent impairment thresholds, though. They will now be as follows: 11.8% for injuries between 1/1/93 and 12/31/01; 13.2% for injuries between 1/1/02 and 1/1/06; 12% for injuries between 1/1/06 and 1/1/13. For employees with injuries on or after January 1, 2013, benefits are limited to 520 weeks, absent proof of extreme financial hardship. For those newer injuries, if the whole person permanent impairment is in excess of 18% and if the employee is working and his/her earnings are 65% or less of the pre-injury average weekly wage, the benefits will continue. However, if the employee’s earnings (with rules about the relevant timeframe) are equal to or greater than the pre-injury average weekly wage, the employee’s entitlement to partial incapacity benefits terminates permanently.
3. For injury dates on or after January 1, 2013, the time for an employee to give notice of a work-related injury is 30 days, as opposed to the current 90 days.
4. The law added a section to the rehabilitation provision to provide that if an employee is participating in a rehabilitation plan ordered by the board, there is a presumption that work is unavailable to the employee as long as he/she continues to participate in the rehabilitation.
5. One of the most significant changes is the creation of an Appellate Division. Each actual panel will consist of at least three full-time hearing officers. The board is charged with adopting rules to implement the division but generally the law provides for an appeal of legal (not factual) issues to the panel by either party. The division will have the authority to reverse or modify a decree.
There are other changes as well and, of course, those listed above are much more involved than the summary provided here. Several of the changes are positive for employers/insurers.
If you have questions about these or the other changes to the law, please feel free to call any member of our workers’ compensation department.