The State Industrial Commission is putting the finishing touches on its Utah Injured Worker Reemployment Act and expects it to be introduced in the just-started legislation session.
If the same objections voiced at the commission's last meeting are raised to legislators, the bill could be heavily debated during the session, especially by the Utah Manufacturer's Association.Larry Bunkall, UMA executive director, said he is concerned about the new bill because it is too costly for employers. Bunkall said the present system is working and many employers are spending thousands of dollars trying to get injured workers back into the work force.
Commission members think otherwise, saying there is more incentive for an injured worker to stay on a compensation program than attempt to be rehabilitated and get back to work.
According to information prepared by the commission and distributed during the last meeting, the intent of the new bill is "to increase the state's capability to return the injured worker to the work force as soon as possible in the most cost- effective manner and to define the employer's and employee's responsibility in achieving that end."
The goals of the act are to facilitate a quick return of the injured worker to the work force, reduce the cost to employers and insurance carriers by shortening the time the employee receives "temporary total" compensation and reduce the number of "permanent total disability" cases now being added to the Employer's Reinsurance Fund.
Another goal of the act, said Chairman Stephen M. Hadley, is to identify and limit the employer's responsibility and establish responsibility of the injured worker for returning to the work force.
One section of the bill allows employers to suspend payments to an injured worker when the worker has returned to work, if he refuses to participate in a re-employment plan or if the disabled worker is receiving temporary total or temporary partial compensation.
The proposed law also calls for the commission to hire a re-employment coordinator, and at the commission's last meeting Bunkall asked how much that would cost. Hadley said it will cost about $50,000, which includes the cost of secretarial help.
Some people have been saying the new bill will provide mandatory rehabilitation that will cost employers more money. Hadley said the only thing mandatory about the bill is the provision that after an injured worker has been off the job for 90 days, there is a mandatory evaluation and referral by the re-employment coordinator.
Bunkall also asked how much the new bill would cost employers. Hadley said that is difficult to figure. However, based on the average of $207,000 it costs for a permanent disability, Hadley said if one such case can be eliminated by early intervention and referral, it will save employers money.
Ed Mayne, president of the Utah AFL-CIO, applauded the commission for its work on the bill because this issue has been discussed for many years. He said getting injured workers back to work quickly is good for the economy and an investment by employers in the future.
Virginius Dabney, an attorney who represents injured workers before the commission, said, "If the proposed act is successfully enacted this year, no longer will Utah be criticized for spending more money to retrain felons than it does the handicapped and injured workers of our state."
"The cost for successfully retraining an injured worker is considerably less than the cost associated with failing to do so, which such costs commonly include unemployment compensation, welfare benefits, food stamps, and, in cases involving those most seriously injured in the work place, lifetime compensation."
Also approving of the proposed bill is the recently-formed Injured Workers Association of Utah, which sent a letter to the commission saying, "Utah's people are a resource and should be protected from injuries on the job and when injured should be compensated and rehabilitated to whatever extent is necessary to bring them back into the work force."