(c) 2010-2024 Jon L Gelman, All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Illinois Punishes Workers for Employer Deceit

The efforts by employers, insurance carriers and the Chamber of Commerce in Illinois, to take away the rights of injured workers and strip them of benefits may have all been based on Industry fraud. Recently obtained documents, secured under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), reveal that the employer’s own doctor had in-fact validated the causal relationship of the medical claims of the injured workers to work. 

A campaign in Illinois by Industry to dismantle the State’s workers’ compensation system was triggered and flamed by a story appearing in a local newspaper asserting that several correction officers had filed fraudulent claims for repetitive motion trauma to their hands. The local news report insinuated that the claims could not have been credible. 

The story, for some suspicious reason, was disseminated in a viral manner on the Internet. Concurrently, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce went on the attack claiming that the workers’ compensation system in Illinois was loaded with fraudulent activities. The Chamber and employers lobbied for legislation to strip injured workers of what little rights they still had under the law. The statutory changes they sponsored reduced ill workers access for benefits, reduced medical treatment expenditures by 30%, and set up a series of hurtles that left the injured without remedy to cure and relieve conditions caused by work. 

Even that wasn’t enough. Supporters of the Industry’s draconian legislative effort, have now vowed to return to take away the basic promises granted workers a century ago, that injured workers could obtain the limited and capped scheduled benefits, under a no-fault system. The workers’ compensation system was intended to provide a remedial and expeditious benefit to injured workers in a summary and efficient fashion, without the element of fault being considered. 

A hidden report reveals that Anthony E. Sudekum, MD, a Board Certified Hand Surgeon, retained by the employer, State of Illinois Department of Corrections, on March 30, 2011, after and extensive review of the facts, circumstances, inspection of the premises and equipment, and examination of the employees, concluded that, on the job activities contributed to their illness. He wrote, “…I feel that ….work activities at Menard Correctional center served to aggravate…bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and left ulnar neuropathy.” 

Furthermore, some contend that the neurological illnesses that appeared at the Menard Correctional Center may have been the result of a mysterious disease cluster that warrants much further investigation instead of a knee-jerk denial. Similarly, a mysterious outbreak of disease in Philadelphia ultimately resulted in the discovery of Legionnaires Disease. Today the US Centers for Disease Control continues to investigate worldwide clusters of gastro-intestinal conditions to determine their potential causal relationship. It is through continued medical research and investigation that we make the workplace healthier, safer and more productive. 

We should learn from history. In the past, employers and manufacturers were also caught intentionally concealing the hazards of asbestos, tobacco and lead paint. That left a legacy of disease and death, and billions of dollars of economic loss. One would think that everyone learned from those tragic mistakes. For our nation to survive, employers must take an active roll in improving the health of our workers, and build a stronger system, rather than just deny the hazards of the workplace and blame the injured.