NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Legislation that reforms Tennessee’s workers’ compensation system to make the state more attractive to job creation, while protecting injured employees, topped a busy week on Capitol Hill. Senate Bill 200 would cut costs to businesses, create more predictability, improve the efficiency of claims management, simplify the physician selection process for injured employees and reduce benefit delays to workers. The legislation comes as a result of two comprehensive studies tasked with identifying possible recommendations for improving the program.
Tennessee is one of only two states in which workers’ compensation cases are settled primarily in the courts. In following, the state’s workers’ compensation premium costs are higher in Tennessee than in bordering states.
Highlights of the bill include:
- employees would file their claims in a newly created Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims, rather than going to a trial court;
- provides neutral application of the workers’ compensation law so that neither side has an unfair advantage;
- gives a clearer standard for causation to require that the injury arose primarily out of employment rather than non-work related activities;
- provides disability benefits for injured workers based on a maximum of 450 weeks instead of the current 400 weeks;
- modifies requirements for medical panels through development of advisory medical treatment guidelines by January 1, 2016 that are based on best practices in medical care for work-related injuries and / or illnesses; and
- creates a new Ombudsman program to help employees and employers who are unrepresented get the assistance they need.
In other workers’ compensation action this week, the Senate Finance Committee approved a bill to allow the Department of Labor to access fines on unscrupulous construction employers who are found guilty of workers’ compensation premium fraud. The bill seeks to assist legitimate construction employers who compete against contractors who have insurance but intentionally underreport their payroll or nature of their work to insurance carriers in order to lower their premium payments.
Currently, premium fraud enforcement can only come from criminal charges by district attorneys general or civil suits by the state’s Attorney General. However, due to scarce resources, those charges rarely occur.
Senate Bill 833 is the result of the recommendations of the Department of Labor’s Employee Misclassification Advisory Task Force and only applies to the construction industry.
Finally, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee approved legislation to ensure Tennessee workers injured while temporarily on a job out-of-state are covered under Tennessee’s workers’ compensation law. Senate Bill 432 provides reciprocity for employees from other states who are temporarily on a job in Tennessee.