Michigan’s workers’ compensation system protects employees who are injured on the job by replacing lost wages while they recover. The Workers’ Compensation Agency (www.michigan.gov/wca) administers the law.
The system works as a no-fault guarantee. Employees who can show they were hurt while working can receive a portion of their earnings and paid medical care for their injuries. They needn’t prove that their employer was negligent. In exchange for the no-fault guarantee, workers can’t sue for negligence to collect far more than just lost wages and medical payments.
Michigan’s workers’ comp program is generous to employees. Unlike in many states, even employees who injure themselves during horseplay at work can receive benefits. The only exception to coverage: employees injured as a result of willful misconduct.
However, if employers haven’t paid their premiums on time or in some other way aren’t in compliance, they lose the law’s “exclusive remedy” protection: i.e., employees can sue them directly. Further, unlike in many other states, employers are always responsible for the negligent actions of fellow employees and can’t use the so-called “fellow servant” rule as a defense.
The Workers’ Disability Compensation Act holds employers accountable for a variety of workplace injuries: for instance, those occurring in common areas, such as parking lots, or resulting from poorly designed or built machinery. In cases of product liability, employees may pursue litigation against equipment manufacturers for damages beyond those available under workers’ compensation. Employers can seek restitution from negligent manufacturers for workers’ comp benefits paid and other damages.
The state’s workers’ comp statute works in concert with other laws, such as child labor laws and the ADA. For example, an employer that illegally employs minors must pay double the normal workers’ comp payout.
Virtually all Michigan businesses must carry workers’ comp insurance. Certain large employers may apply to the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner for permission to self-insure. The agency calculates the maximum weekly benefit each year, which is 90 percent of the state average weekly wage. In 2007, the cap is $723.
Tips for reducing workers’ comp costs
One way you can reduce your workers’ compensation costs is to encourage employees to return to work as soon as they’re able.
You can, for example, make available light-duty positions for injured employees who may not be ready to return to more demanding jobs. Work with your insurance carrier to develop a light-duty program.
The ADA, and workers’ compensation
Employees injured at work may also be disabled under the ADA or Michigan’s Elliott- Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) and have a serious medical condition under the FMLA.
So, make sure you coordinate any unpaid leave and reasonable accommodations, such as light-duty work or ADA , in handling ELCRA, and FMLA claims with the insurance carrier. Nothing will sink a case faster than evidence that an employer acquiesced to a workers’ comp claim but denied an FMLA claim for the same condition.
Excerpted from Michigan’s 10 Most Critical Employment Laws, a special bonus report available to subscribers of HR Specialist: Michigan Employment Law.
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