Wisconsin Workers’ Compensation Law Changes
The Wisconsin State Legislature passed some sweeping workers’ compensation law changes during the recent legislative session through workers’ compensation agreed bill. The bill was signed by Governor Scott Walker on February 29, 2016. A summary of four key changes to Wisconsin workers’ compensation laws and what they mean for employers follows:
Employees Suspended or Terminated for Misconduct or Substantial Fault
If an employee is suspended or terminated from employment due to “misconduct” or “substantial fault”, the employee’s temporary disability benefits may now be denied. Historically, if an employer suspended or terminated an injured employee, the employee would receive temporary disability benefits during the healing period. However, with the new law change, the employer will no longer be liable for temporary disability benefits during the healing period, when an injured employee’s suspension or termination is found to arise from misconduct or substantial fault. The most common situations in which employers and insurers may choose to deny benefits for misconduct or substantial fault may include: safety violations, violations of drug or alcohol policies or insubordination by ignoring specific employer directives.
Statute of Limitations for Traumatic Injuries
The statute of limitations for traumatic injury will be reduced from the current 12-years to 6-years from the date of injury or from the date that workers’ compensation benefits were last paid. *Occupational exposure conditions and cumulative/repetitive-type injuries will still have a 12-year statute of limitations.
Violations of Employer Drug or Alcohol Policies
If an employee violates an employer policy against drug and/or alcohol use and such violation causes the employee’s injury, then neither the employee, nor the employee’s dependents may receive any compensation under the workers’ compensation law. *The provision does not reduce or eliminate an employer’s liability for the cost of medical treatment for the employee’s injury; however the employee cannot collect any benefits for temporary or permanent disability. Historically, employers and insurance carriers could only reduce workers’ compensation benefits by 15% for drug and alcohol policy violations that led to workplace injuries; therefore the impact of enforcement of such policies was minimal. However, with the new law change, denial of benefits for such violations will be able to be enforced with greater impact.
Apportionment of Permanent Disability
If an injured employee has incurred a permanent disability, but a percentage of that disability was caused by an accidental injury sustained in the course of employment and a percentage of that disability was caused by other factors, such as a pre-existing condition before or after the time of the accidental injury. The employer is only liable for the percentage of permanent disability that was caused by the accidental injury sustained in the course of employment. Historically, employers have been responsible for an entire injury or disease sustained by an employee, even if the employee has a known and documented pre-existing condition, as long as the employee’s work “precipitated, aggravated and accelerated the condition beyond its normal progression”. The new law change will allow the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) to accept evidence that an employee’s permanent disability was only caused partially by a work-related, accidental injury. An employer is only liable for the percentage of permanent disability that was the result of an accidental injury sustained while in the course of employment and not for any pre-existing disability from prior injuries or pre-existing conditions.
It will be more important than ever for employees to review thier employee handbook, employment policies and procedures and thoroughly document the accident as well as talk to thier doctor about how the injury occured.