The challenges local employers face with regard to workers’ compensation is not a new topic — or one usually eager to be addressed by Illinois legislators.
In what has been considered a closed subject for some time, leaders of the Southwestern Illinois Employers Association (SIEA) and key legislators have re-opened the conversation about the impact of workers’ compensation legislation on employers.
This initial meeting, according to SIEA Executive Director Mike Walters, took place several weeks ago and included 12 business leaders who employ thousands of Southern Illinoisans. Participating legislators included Senate President John J. Cullerton, Senate leader Christine Radogna and House Leader Jim Durkin.
“By all accounts the meeting was a success,” said Joe Wickenhauser of Olin Brass. “Business leaders captured the attention of senior-level legislators on a matter that has unfortunately been ignored in past years — an encouraging outcome.”
The meeting is expected to launch additional dialog about the subject over the next few months. Walters said in the United States, Illinois has the seventh-highest rates of workers’ compensation insurance.
Walters explains that employers have long recognized the importance of caring for employees injured performing their job duties. Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that provides wage replacement and medical benefits to employees injured in the course of employment. In the United States, federal provisions requiring employers to participate in workers’ compensation have long been in place. State-specific legislation dictates more specific conditions in which workers’ compensation is due to an injured employee.
What distinguishes Illinois from other states is the percentage of responsibility placed on the employer and resulting medical treatments, wage replacement and monetary settlement for the injury. Illinois employers need greater parity with other states so they can remain competitive with neighboring states with more reasonable statutes. Although an uphill battle, SIEA leadership is committed to bringing together employers and legislators to make the case for these critical changes.
Several SIEA members point out that the extraordinary workers’ compensation insurance rates Illinois employers incur doesn’t apply just to businesses. Education entities and nonprofit organizations, no matter their size or revenue stream, also face the unreasonable burden of funding workers’ compensation insurance in their operating budgets. This essentially lessens the availability of funds that would otherwise be directed toward mission-based programs.
Walters said he is excited that “while the door is now open for future meetings and expected debate, my top priority is making sure it doesn’t get closed. I have asked member employers of SIEA to regularly follow up with these legislators throughout the spring while I will continue to provide relevant data about workers’ compensation practice in southern Illinois, as well as reasonable suggestions to reasonably adjust the disproportionate burden of causation on our employers.”