The difficulties faced by injured workers in California and throughout the country are highlighted in a new report from the Department of Labor. The report calls the workers’ compensation system inadequate and estimates that only 21 percent of medical costs and lost wages are paid by workers’ compensation. Workers are left trying to pay for the rest while making ends meet.

Several forces contribute to the low benefits. According to the labor department, numerous state laws have made it more difficult for someone to collect injured worker benefits. The rise of temporary and subcontracted workers, especially in manufacturing and warehousing, has actually increased the incidence of injuries. These workers tend to have less experience and less training in safety protocols. They also might be afraid of reporting injuries for fear of losing their jobs.

The prevalence of companies classifying people as independent contractors and therefore self-employed acts as a disincentive to safety promotion. This happens because the company is not liable for the injuries of the self-employed. High costs both from medical bills and lost future income also burden workers. In the decade following injuries, workers’ earnings go down by about 15 percent.

A worker who has suffered an injury on the job may not even be fully aware of what benefits to which he or she has a right. Even when a claim is filed, insurance companies may try to limit compensation or deny it completely. In this situation, a worker might contact an attorney for help appealing a denied workers’ compensation claim. An attorney could explain the workers’ rights and assist in negotiations with the insurance company.

Source: The Huffington Post, “Workplace Injuries Are Adding To Income Inequality: Labor Department,” Dave Jamieson, March 4, 2015