I spoke with two Sikeston businessmen this week who both voiced concerns over the growing cost of workers' compensation expenses. One large company spends more in workers' comp premiums than 99 percent of all local businesses generate in revenue each year. The other smaller company pays over $5,000 each month despite an excellent history of an accident-free working environment. Both businesses said that the spiraling expenses will force them to make cuts in their workforce or other areas of employee benefits.
The Missouri legislature is currently debating changes in the workers' compensation laws in the state to more accurately reflect the purpose of the insurance coverage. All workers' comp claims are decided by special judges who have full power to decide whether a claim is legitimate or not.
Under current law, benefits are provided if work is "a substantial factor" in an injury and that gives the special judges broad leeway to dole out money to workers. A Senate bill would change that wording so that a work accident must be the "dominate factor" in the injury. That small change will weed out some of the bogus claims that drain businesses of millions of dollars.
I know of countless cases where workers file claims that are non-work related. Ask any businessman and they will tell you the same story. The change in the wording will serve to provide benefits to legitimate claims - as well it should - while reducing the bogus claims that are abundant.
Administrative law judges who decide on workers' comp claims now "liberally construe" the wording of the law and that means that if work was in any way a factor the benefits are paid. A word change would allow for the judges to "impartially construe" the law with no bias toward employee or employer.
The day will come soon if it hasn't already when businesses will reduce their workforce because of runaway insurance premiums. Anyone injured as a result of work should always be paid benefits. Those who suffer a weekend injury on the basketball court and then go to work on Monday and claim it was work related should not be paid. It's as simple as that.
We can only hope the legislature alters the wording to bring fairness to the business world.