Unexpected Greed Leaving Workers in Pain

September 05, 2017

For low-wage workers, benefits after being hurt on the job seem to be anything but guaranteed. Last year, MassCOSH assisted a woman who had slipped and broken her wrist the first day working at a restaurant. Her employer had workers’ compensation insurance, but to avoid and increase in costs, denied she ever worked for them. Shockingly, the Workers’ Compensation Trust Fund (WCTF), a special revenue fund in the state treasury to aid injured workers, notified her attorney that they would not be offering the worker an interpreter or transportation to challenge this injustice. In another case, a worker approached MassCOSH after he was hurt on the job working at a local fish processing factory. Even though his employer and his doctor agreed he deserved benefits, the workers' compensation insurer denied his claim, stating undocumented workers are not entitled to benefits when hurt on the job.
Keches Law Group Attorney and MassCOSH board member Sean Flaherty sees this kind of injustice all too frequently.
“Often, these large insurers deny injured workers, who are in desperate need, just to save even the smallest about of money. They are not accepting claims that absolutely should be paid, using immigration status, incorrectly classifying workers – anything they can to deny claims,” says Flaherty.
MassCOSH’s Workers Center and the Immigrant Worker Center Collaborative have been experiencing these problems with the Workers Compensation System and certain insurers more frequently, seeing these problematic, bad-faith claims practices leaving injured workers without pay and medical care.
“We have had many issues with workers and it seems that our complaints to the Department of Industrial Accidents are not taken seriously,” explained Erika Sanchez, an organizer with MassCOSH’s Worker Center.
MassCOSH has also found that low-wage and immigrant workers face barriers to accessing benefits they have earned, including being unable to provide a near endless stream of paperwork on working conditions to the WCTF, their employer disagreeing with the claim, and WCTF’s unclear protocol on providing transportation for low-wage workers and translation for those who do not speak English.
“What we really need is for our elected officials to pass An Act Increasing Injured Workers’ Access to Medical Care Benefits,” says Sanchez.
The legislation, sponsored by Senator James Eldridge and Representative Robert Koczera, would streamline low-wage workers access to badly needed wage benefits and medical treatment. The bill would also reduce barriers and help workers obtain workers compensation and medical care more quickly by:

  • Letting workers request a faster hearing if the worker was denied benefits solely because the employer either denies that the worker was an employee or they disagree about the wage amount.
  • Requiring the WCTF to pay for medical and wage replacement benefits when multiple employers and insurance companies disagree about who is responsible, so workers do not go without needed care and pay.
  • Making it the official policy of the Department of Industrial Accidents to pay for and provide qualified interpreters for conciliations, conferences, hearings, and independent medical exams.

For the time being, MassCOSH will continue advocate for individual workers who are being unjustly denied the benefits and care they rightly deserve.