Is it a Race to the Bottom for Workers’ Compensation Benefits?



Austin Personal Injury Lawyers

Austin Personal Injury Lawyers - Perlmutter & Schuelke, PLLC

Austin, TX (Law Firm Newswire) August 17, 2015 – There are a number of large U.S. employers striving, through lobbying efforts, to make it harder for injured workers to recover lost wages and obtain medical assistance resulting from on-the-job accidents.

“The impact of changes of that nature would be catastrophic for workers,” said Brooks Schuelke of Perlmutter & Schuelke, PLLC, an Austin personal injury attorney who regularly handles workers’ compensation cases. “According to several recent reports, major corporations such as Safeway, Lowe’s, Walmart, Macy’s, Sysco Food Systems, Kohl’s and Nordstrom will be the primary beneficiaries of these changes.”

The concept of a decent workers’ compensation system is that if a worker is injured or killed on the job, the employer pays for medical bills and a part of the disabled worker’s wages while he or she is on the mend. In trade for the employer’s support, the worker forfeits the right to sue for negligence.

The lobby group, formed barely a year ago, is known as the Association for Responsible Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation (ARAWC), and is allegedly receiving funding from the nation’s largest retailers to spearhead a drive to have worker’s compensation laws changed in all states.

Despite the name of the group, which may sound as though it is promoting responsible changes, in reality, it is not pursuing options to make things easier for injured workers.

The proposal that raises the greatest concern in the legal community is one that compels opt-out employers to buy workers’ compensation plans in which they are allowed to write their own rules relating to when an injured worker gets wages and benefits, what reasons qualify an injured worker to get them and for how long. “When an employer is granted such leeway, they are likely going to opt for severely restricting access to benefits for injured workers,” Schuelke said.

Texas permits employers to opt out of mandated worker’s compensation, and Walmart has scripted its own plan that mandates workers must see a doctor of the company’s choice. Furthermore, if a dispute proceeds to arbitration, Walmart chooses the arbitration company to hear it. Overall, Walmart’s options relating to workers’ compensation are vague and designed to eliminate virtually all claims based on the company’s definitions, whatever they may be.

Considering that Texas has been built on the backs of thousands of laborers, it is difficult to understand why those employees are not accorded more respect in the form of protection, benefits and compensation for on-the-job accidents. Unprotected workers are well within their rights to question their job security if they are injured at work. “Injured workers are always welcome to come to our firm for assistance,” Schuelke said.

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