MassCOSH: Workers’ Rights Advocates Call on Lawmakers to Close Workers’ Comp Loopholes that Allow Employers to Threaten and Retaliate Against Injured Workers


Boston, MA ( - Workers’ rights organizations, union leaders, injured workers, and workers’ compensation and anti-discrimination lawyers joined forces to call on lawmakers to pass An Act to Protect Injured Workers, H. 4174/S. 2401. These bills would protect workers who seek their rightful access to medical care and workers’ compensation from retaliation from their employer. 
Workers’ compensation benefits are crucial for employees injured on the job, providing them with medical care and wage loss benefits when they are unable to work. Yet the law leaves workers largely unprotected when employers retaliate against them or try to stop them from reporting a workplace injury, seeking medical care, or filing a workers’ comp claim. At a briefing today hosted by the bill’s sponsors, Senator Jamie Eldridge (Middlesex and Worcester, lead sponsor of S. 2401) and Representative Tram Nguyen (18th Essex, lead sponsor of H. 4174), legislators heard injured workers tell their stories of the employer threats and retaliation that prevented them from obtaining medical care or workers’ comp benefits.
“When bad-acting employers can get away with threatening and mistreating workers who have been injured on the job, that’s a serious problem. I’m pleased to sponsor this bill to address this pervasive problem and protect vulnerable workers,” said Representative Tram Nguyen.
“As a community-based worker center, we hear story after story of workers whose employers have told them not to go to the doctor, have told them to lie about where an injury happened, or threatened them with losing their job, being blacklisted, or being reported to immigration. Right now, the law doesn’t protect these workers, or put a stop to this kind of employer behavior -- it needs to change,” said Diego Low, Director of the Metrowest Worker Center.
“When a worker is denied access to the workers’ compensation benefits they deserve because of retaliation, or fear of retaliation, they are forced to work in pain,” added Milagros Barreto, Director of the Immigrant Worker Center at MassCOSH in written remarks.  “Adding insult to injury, often these workers don’t even have paid sick time to allow them to stay home and heal.”
Worker center organizers and legal advocates also explained why they believed that we need to strengthen the current, inadequate workers’ compensation anti-retaliation law. 
“Injured workers face frequent retaliation from their employers. The law has to be stronger, and this bill will give much better protection to people who are hurt at work,” said Emily Spieler, Northeastern University law professor and workers’ compensation expert.
"A right -- like the right to workers' comp -- that isn't asserted out of fear of the consequences is effectively no right at all. This bill tells workers that the Commonwealth has their back when they report a workplace injury or make a claim for comp benefits the law promises them.  It gives their right to workers' comp teeth it currently lacks,” added Michael Felsen, Former Regional Solicitor, U.S. Department of Labor.
Chrissy Lynch, Legislative Director of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, the umbrella organization for more than 750 local unions and intermediate, also spoke about the need for the law.
“When unscrupulous employers deny their workers insurance coverage and then prevent those injured workers from getting medical care and workers’ comp benefits, critical labor and safety standards for all workers and our communities are eroded, and responsible employers who play by the rules are undercut. The Massachusetts AFL-CIO strongly supports strengthening the anti-retaliation law to stop this widespread problem.”
At the briefing, Lidia Ferreira, an organizer with the Brazilian Women’s Group, shared the story of Felipe, a member who at the age of 17 fell off a ladder while working, fracturing his tailbone and pelvis. Felipe’s boss told other workers not to call 911 and insisted on driving Felipe to the hospital himself, where he “translated” for the emergency room staff, telling them that Felipe had an accident at home. As a result, Felipe experienced great difficulty and delay in getting the workers’ compensation benefits and insurance coverage that he needed.
Currently, no state agency has any power or ability to investigate retaliation complaints or to enforce their right to be protected against retaliation. A worker may bring a lawsuit in court, but the scope of the lawsuit and the potential remedies are limited and ineffective. Too often, as a result of employer misconduct, workers remain unaware of their workers’ comp rights, are deterred from seeking medical care and benefits, or suffer greatly from delays in obtaining coverage.  An Act Protecting Injured Workers strengthens the anti-retaliation law, provides for an administrative complaint and investigation mechanism for enforcement, and otherwise addresses employer misconduct that prevents workers from receiving timely medical care and benefits.
*Affiliation provided for identification purposes only.

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