In 2010, there were few significant changes in the workers' compensation realm. But, trends reveal certain issues that are likely to be hot topics in workers' compensation in the new year. According to Preston Diamond, Director of the Institute of WorkComp Professionals, the following are key matters expected to affect employers and employees in 2011.
- Frequency of Claims Leveling Off: In past years, the number of workers' compensation claims filed per employer has been decreasing. This decline helped employers balance the cost of increased use of workers' compensation programs and an increase in the severity of injuries claimed. But, for the first time since 1991, the long-term trend of claim frequency has leveled off.
- Injured Workers Away From Work Longer: According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), employers are funding temporary total disability benefits for longer periods of time. This may be because of the current economic downtown, in which there are fewer opportunities to return to work. Injured workers may find it difficult to obtain transitional positions while their employers are laying other workers off; others may not return to work because they have been laid off for reasons other than their injuries.
- Increased Medical Costs: The NCCI reported that medical costs for workers' compensation claims are growing at a faster rate than the medical consumer price index. A study by a team at Johns Hopkins Hospital found that common work-related injuries and diagnoses do not have clearly-defined treatment pathways, which can lead to higher costs for a variety of treatment options. For example, a broken bone has a predictable treatment path, but joint injuries have a wide range of medically-appropriate responses. This makes workers' compensation benefits even more important for employees.
- Increased Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Enforcement: OSHA received additional funding and staff in 2010, and it also increased the fines for workplace safety violations. Workers and employers can expect enhanced enforcement of OSHA regulations in 2011 to help ensure safe working conditions.
- Increased Telecommuting: More employees are working remotely, creating challenges for workers' compensation. Employees may be exposed to potential hazards while working at home that do not exist in traditional work settings. Although employers have less control over the design of a home office, they are still responsible for providing safe and healthful work conditions for employees working remotely.
If you have questions about a work-related injury, workers' compensation or how these trends may affect you, contact a knowledgeable workers' compensation lawyer in your area.