Worker’s Compensation Rule Changes May Impact Area Employers

On Wednesday, January 11th, 55 members of the Waukesha Area Safety Council gathered for their monthly meeting. The group welcomed Attorney Charles Palmer from the law firm of Michael Best & Frederich, who discussed updates to Wisconsin’s Worker’s Compensation Laws that were passed by the State legislature earlier this year.  The lunch and learn format lent itself to a succinct presentation and opportunities for questions.  Attorney Palmer reiterated the importance of these laws and their need to balance the interest of both Labor and Management.

Specifically, three major changes to these laws impact Human Resources & Safety Professionals and how they should handle specific worker’s comp situations.  The areas impacted by the changes include:

  • Violations to the Drug and Alcohol Policies
  • Misconduct or Substantial Fault
  • Pre-Existing Conditions

Violations to the Drug and Alcohol Policies

Under the changed laws, if any employee violates an employer’s policy against drug and alcohol use AND the violation causes the employee’s injury, THEN the employee nor the employee’s dependents may receive any compensation under law, including no benefits for temporary or permanent disability.  (This had previously read that they would receive a 15% reduction in benefits).  In order to make the law work effectively, Attorney Palmer suggested that employers need to make sure that their policies are clear, that they can prove the injury was caused by a violation of the policy and that documentation is done correctly.  He also suggested that an employee’s behavior prior to and after the injury should be clearly documented, as well as having adequate documentation that the employee was aware of and had received written documentation of the policy.  Finally, he encouraged that all employers make sure their policies are clear and up to date, including verbiage concerning illegal and legal (over the counter and prescription) drugs.

Misconduct or Substantial Fault

Under the changed laws, any injured employee could be denied temporary disability benefits if they’ve been suspended or terminated due to their own misconduct or substantial fault.  (Previously, a terminated employee would be paid disability while not working until end of healing.)  If an employee is suspended or terminated for safety violations, ignoring employer directives or has a post-accident positive drug test, the employer may deny him/her benefits.  Attorney Palmer encouraged members to be sure that their disciplinary rules and procedures are up to date, and enforced consistently – do not discipline or terminate only the employee who is injured, while not applying the same discipline to those who commit the same violation without being injured.

Pre-Existing Conditions

Under the new rule, an employer may submit evidence that an employee’s permanent disability was only partially caused by an injury sustained at work.  Old laws held an employer responsible for an employee’s full disability, even if they had a pre-existing condition related to the new injury.  So long as the pre-existing injury was aggravated beyond normal progression, the law had held the employer fully responsible.  Under the new law, in order to separate the pre-existing disability from the disability caused by the current job, a doctor must determine the percent of disability assigned to each.  Again, Atty. Palmer encouraged employers to work with their insurers to make sure that documentation is clear, and supplied to the doctor including: prior work history and medical records, specifics of the current injury claim, witness statements regarding the current claim, details of the current job, and other information that will allow the doctor to compare the level of exposure in the current job, to past exposure, and compare the pre-existing medical information to the current medical information.

An award-winning staffing expert in Southeastern Wisconsin in manufacturing, clerical, professional and light industrial placements, Nissen Staffing Continuum is proud of our commitment to safety.  We maintain an active role as the Outreach Coordinators on the Waukesha Area Safety Council and welcome the opportunity to learn from the great speakers that present to the organization.  As your strategic partner, we’ll help you take your staffing initiatives to the next level, whether it’s onsite programs, direct hire placement, temp-to-hire programs or temporary staffing. Our recruiters are supported by a full-time sourcing department dedicated to finding great employees for our clients. For more information about how we can help you find great employees, contact us today and allow us to help you with your HR needs so you can focus on your company’s success!

 DISCLAIMER:  This article is meant to be a brief summary of the major points covered in the meeting presentation and is not meant to provide legal and/or medical advice.  As always, we suggest you consult with your medical or legal professional when dealing with any workplace injury or worker’s compensation issue.  Don’t have legal representation and need to retain an expert?  Atty Charles Palmer (Michael Best & Frederich) can be reached by email at cbpalmer@michaelbest.com.

Interested in joining the Waukesha Area Safety Council and taking advantage of learning from our great speakers, while networking with other HR and Safety Professionals?  Please contact Jean at Jean@nissenstaffing.com for more information!

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