Workers’ Compensation Legislation in the Works
The General Assembly is currently considering three different Workers’ Compensation bills that may affect schools. These bills will most likely undergo changes during the deliberation process. The summary below describes the provisions of each of these bills as initially introduced. As of November 29, each bill has had two hearings in the House Insurance Committee. Stay tuned to Ennis Britton for updates on this and other legislation. Contact an Ennis Britton attorney if you have any questions regarding how these may affect your school district.
Requires the Administrator of Workers’ Compensation to waive a requirement that an employer have sufficient assets located in Ohio to qualify for self-insuring status if the employer holds a rating of B3 or higher according to Moody’s or a comparable rating from a similar agency. An employer that is granted self-insuring status through the waiver is subject to the same requirements that self-insuring employers are subject to under current law. This includes requirements to pay assessments based on the amount of the employer’s paid compensation as defined in continuing law and to provide a surety bond sufficient to pay claims, except that the employer must contribute to the Self-Insuring Employers’ Guaranty B Fund created under the bill (discussed below) instead of the Self-Insuring Employers’ Guaranty Fund (SIEGF) under current law.
Allows all self-insuring employers to purchase private workers’ compensation insurance to cover any workers’ compensation claim from an insurer that has an A.M. Best Financial Strength Rating of A or higher. Current law voids most contracts or agreements that indemnify or insure an employer against workers’ compensation claims. A self-insuring employer may, however, purchase an insurance policy that indemnifies against all or part of the employer’s loss in excess of $50,000 from a single disaster or event arising out of the employer’s workers’ compensation liability. But the insurer cannot, directly or indirectly, represent the employer in any settlement, adjudication, determination, allowance, or payment of workers’ compensation claims. The bill eliminates this prohibition.
Creates the Self-Insuring Employers’ Guaranty B Fund, which consists of contributions and other payments made by employers granted self-insuring status as a result of the waiver. The fund created under the bill secures compensation and benefits for employees of a self-insuring employer who is granted the waiver but who defaults on the obligation to make direct payments. The Administrator of the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation must establish a contribution amount each year and require every employer that is granted self-insuring status through the waiver to pay the established contribution to the fund. Contribution rates are to be as low as possible but must be sufficient to ensure enough money in the fund to guarantee the payment of any claims against the fund.
Requires employees who receive Temporary Total Disability (TTD) benefits to comply with a return-to-work plan. TTD is a wage loss benefit designed to compensate employees who are temporarily unable to perform the functions of their jobs due to a workplace injury. Employees receiving TTD essentially get two-thirds of their wages tax-free. This bill will require the BWC administrator to develop a return-to-work plan for each employee receiving TTD. The plan will have the goal of returning the employee fully to the former position of employment, to return the employee to the former position of employment on a part-time basis or on a full-time basis with modified duties, or retraining the employee to work in another position. The employees’ progress with the plan will be evaluated every 90 days. Evaluations will also determine whether the plan needs revision. If the administrator determines that the plan does not need to be revised and that the employee is not complying, TTD benefits may be suspended.
Employees in compliance with the plan will continue to receive TTD benefits until such benefits are terminated in accordance with law.
Incentivizes employers for participation in safety consultations and loss prevention programs. This provision will modify and enhance the incentives for employers to participate in safety and loss prevention training, including premium discounts and other measures.
Makes changes to Permanent Total Disability (PTD) and death benefits. PTD is a benefit designed to compensate employees who are totally disabled from working, on a permanent basis, due to a workplace injury. PTD benefits are paid for life to employees who cannot engage in any form of sustained remunerative employment using the employment skills that the employee has or may reasonably be expected to develop, and to employees who have lost multiple body parts or the use of multiple body parts.
Pursuant to the bill, employees who receive PTD benefits and who reach full retirement age will have their PTD replaced with Extended Benefit (EB) compensation. “Full retirement age” is defined as the age at which an employee is eligible for unreduced retirement benefit from a state retirement system (PERS, STRS, SERS, OPERS, etc.), or the age at which an employee reaches full retirement age for purposes of the Social Security Act. Employees who are at or within one year of full retirement age will receive PTD for two years before the benefit is converted to EB.
EB is paid as a percentage of the PTD benefit that the injured worker received prior to reaching full retirement age. For example, at least one year but less than two years of PTD will convert to an EB of 10 percent, whereas an employee with ten years or more of PTD will receive 100 percent. PTD is calculated by a formula that essentially works out to two-thirds of an employee’s wages, subject to certain caps and other rules. Employees who receive EB compensation will receive an annual 2 percent increase.
Additional death benefits are provided by the bill. In addition to the benefits under current law, the bill adds a $35,000 lump sum payment to be apportioned among dependents if there are more than one. The bill also provides for a $5,000 scholarship payable to dependents annually for up to four years. Dependents cannot receive the scholarship until they receive a high school diploma or GED.
Prohibits illegal and unauthorized aliens from receiving compensation and certain benefits. This bill adds to the definition of “employee” for purpose of workers’ compensation law. Under current law, employee is defined broadly as “every person in the service of any person, firm, or private corporation, including any public service corporation, that employs one or more persons regularly in the same business or in or about the same establishment under any contract of hire, express or implied, oral or written, including aliens.” This bill qualifies that definition to include only aliens authorized to work by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Under the bill, “illegal alien” means an alien who is deportable if apprehended because of one of the following: (1) The alien entered the United States illegally without the proper authorization and documents. (2) The alien once entered the United States legally and has since violated the terms of the status under which the alien entered the United States, making that alien an “out of status” alien. (3) The alien once entered the United States legally but has overstayed the time limits of the original legal status.
The bill defines “unauthorized alien” as an alien who is not authorized to be employed as determined in accordance with the Immigration Reform and Control Act.
On November 29, the House Insurance Committee adopted an omnibus amendment from the sponsor of HB 380 and then voted to accept the bill.
The amendment eases some of the policies that were controversial and contentious for opponents of the bill, such as employee advocates. One of the main provisions in the amendment allows a U.S. citizen who is a dependent of an undocumented worker to receive a death benefit in the event of the worker’s death, equal to the amount entitled to the dependent of a U.S. citizen.
The amendment also adds language that creates a rebuttable presumption that a worker was hired with legal working status.
Next, the bill will go before the full House for a vote and is expected to pass with ease.