Michigan unemployment rate for disabled workers tops 70%

Workers comp lawyer in Michigan explains how House Bill 5002 will save insurance companies and self-insured employers huge sums of money at the expense of the disabled.

An interesting guest commentary appeared in the Detroit Free Press last week. It encouraged employers to end the bias on hiring people with disabilities and cited some fairly sobering statistics. Specifically, that the Michigan unemployment rate is 70.5% for people with disabilities.

This article got me thinking about workers comp reform and how it will affect disabled workers and their families. We have been sounding the alarm about House Bill 5002 for months but this statistic really hit home.

House Bill 5002 was written by special interest groups who want to pay less on workers comp claims. It has been passed by the Michigan House of Representatives and it is anticipated that it will be passed by the Michigan Senate before the end of the year. It is expected that Governor Snyder will sign the bill into law.

House Bill 5002 includes a controversial provision that creates a new category of partially disabled worker. It will allow an insurance company or self-insured employer to reduce wage loss benefits based upon a hypothetical wage earning capacity. This means that workers comp benefits can be cut using imaginary wages from a job that is not actually offered. This is a big change from the current law that only allows for a reduction of benefits based upon wages actually earned in other employment.

Partial disability and workers comp

The idea is to make a distinction between individuals who are totally disabled and those who could perform some other work. This sounds fair but will not operate as promised.

Just because an insurance company or an employer says a job is available does not make it so. This is especially true considering that partially disabled workers will have to compete with individuals who have no impairments whatsoever.

To reduce workers comp benefits based upon a hypothetical wage earning capacity and imaginary wages is repugnant to public policy. Most disabled workers are not totally disabled but have some restrictions that prevent them from doing their job or another that pays equivalent wages. It is not so easy to switch careers or find another job in this economy. The majority of people require retraining and additional education to make the transition.

Insurance companies and self-insured employers will now be given the power to reduce wage loss benefits based upon pretend jobs and the burden will be on the worker to go to court and prove entitlement to full benefits. Workers comp cases typically take a year or longer to resolve and partially disabled workers will find themselves in the position of having their wage loss benefits cut or eliminated. This will ruin people’s lives and destroy families.

The right approach to workers comp reform

Nobody is advocating for partially disabled workers to stay home. Workers comp only pays about 60% of gross wages. The vast majority of people simply want to recover from their injury and get back to gainful employment.

The current workers comp law already allows for benefits to be stopped if a partially disabled worker declines reasonable employment or takes themselves out of the labor market.

We should be focusing on strengthening the vocational rehabilitation provisions in the law and helping partially disabled workers get retrained for other jobs. This would be a win-win for Michigan employers and injured workers.

How you can help the partially disabled

We must take a stand against special interest money and corporate greed. House Bill 5002 is the worst example of law making gone wrong.

Most of our state representatives have good intentions but are not fully informed of these complex issues. Contact your state representatives and tell them to protect workers comp benefits for partially disabled workers.

Call (855) 221-2667 to speak with one of our workers comp lawyers. We believe that all injured workers deserve to know their legal rights and will make sure that your workers comp benefits are protected.

Alex Berman is the founder of Michigan Workers Comp Lawyers. He’s been representing injured and disabled workers exclusively for more than 35 years.  Alex has helped countless people obtain workers comp benefits and never charges a fee to review a case.

Related information:

House Bill 5002 (2011)

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