33 States Have Rolled Back Benefits in Recent Years- and Many Others Before That

This graphic is color-coded to show the best (green) and worst (red) states for workers.

This graphic is color-coded to show the best (green) and worst (red) states for workers.

So-called “reforms” have been enacted in 33 states. From limiting compensation to swapping prosthetics for hooks, states have been systematically dismantling workers’ rights across the board. What else stands out is that Washington is still one of the best states for workers, despite several attempts in the Senate this session to repeal our rights, including:

  • Occupational Disease (SB 5509) – Virtually eliminating occupational disease claims by creating new burdens of proof for workers who suffer occupational diseases, and giving new legal arguments to employers that provide them with near immunity for any illnesses or condition that might possibly be partially caused by any non-work factor, or even for claims arising in multiple workplaces over the years, while also dramatically restricting the time frame for filing claims.
  • Wage simplification (SB 5510) – As introduced and moved from committee, this bill would have “simplified” wage benefit calculations by simply lowering the amounts and the percentages of wages that the wage loss is based on. This bill also overturned a unanimous Supreme Court decision requiring that the value of health benefits be recognized and included in those calculations.
  • Overturning Tobin (SB 5508) – Overturning a Supreme Court decision in the Tobin case. The bill would allow employers and the state to confiscate percentages of injured workers’ (and their survivors’) court awards for pain-and-suffering and loss of consortium claims in wrongful death and other workplace injury cases, even though no benefits were paid for those damages. This also runs afoul of a case in the US Supreme Court, where Justice Scalia said the state does not have a right to take money away for benefits they never paid (Ahlborn.).
  • Group Self-Insurance (SB 5331) – Legalizing the risky practice of multiple employers banding together to self-insure. In other states, such groups have become insolvent and passed major costs onto other employers and/or abandoned injured workers. This also gives employers the ability to handle their own claims with virtually no oversight and where every dollar saved is a dollar in their pocket.
  • Reporting Injuries (SB 5576) – Dramatically shortening the statute of limitations for filing claims and requiring that claims be filed with the employer, which opens the door to intimidation to discourage claims. This could also eliminate claims if the employer filed the notice of claim before the worker, even if the worker is, say, in critical condition or hospitalized.
  • “Three-Way” (SB 5420) – Allowing the private sale of industrial insurance in Washington, a concept overwhelmingly rejected by voters by a 60-40 count in I-1082 in 2010, and that failed in every county and legislative district.
  • Structured Settlements (SB 5513) – Lowering the age limit for lump-sum buyouts from 50 to 18, and eliminating certain protections for workers in the current law.

All of these bills aimed to cut employers’ rates by: a) having dramatically fewer injured workers be able to run the gauntlet and access workers comp benefits, and b) cutting the benefits for those who do.

WSAJ is very proud of our work defending this system over the years and very pleased with the Senators who listened to us and rejected these attacks. This year numerous Republicans joined a unanimous Democratic caucus in rejecting every single one of these draconian measures, and instead created a fairly modest workers’ comp package. WSAJ appreciates those Senators of both parties for standing up for injured workers and keeping our system strong.


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