Workers’ Compensation Insurance is a state mandated insurance coverage required by nearly every state in the country. The basic purpose of Workers’ Compensation Insurance is to assure that injured workers get medical care and compensation for a portion of the income they lose while they are unable to work. Workers receive benefits regardless of who was at fault in the accident. In most cases if a worker is killed while working, workers comp (as it is often abbreviated) provides death benefits for the worker’s dependents. Also, Workers’ Compensation Coverage prevents the employer from bearing the costs of injuries that occur during normal business operations.
In the United States, Workers Compensation Laws were implemented throughout the first half of the 20th century. In 1908 President Taft signed the first legislation requiring mandatory employer coverage for employees working in multi-state commerce. Over the next 40 years each state enacted their own state specific workers’ compensation programs. Wisconsin was the first state to adopt such legislation and Mississippi was the last state to adopt a formal workers’ compensation program.
One of the most important legal concepts with regards to workers’ compensation insurance is that it is the “exclusive remedy” when an employee is injured on the job. This means that employers who purchase coverage can not be held liable for employee injuries in most states, except under narrow circumstances where the employer intended to cause injury to the employee or was willfully negligent. The idea behind the exclusive remedy clause is to force compromise between employers and employees. Employees give up the ability to to win large suits against employers in order to receive fast and limited financial return. Employers exchange liability regardless of fault, for legal protection from potentially devastating tort judgments in court.
In most states, employers are legally required to carry this insurance coverage. Each state has certain exemptions to the requirement. Two states (Oklahoma and Texas) have laws that allow certain employers to opt-out of the workers’ compensation requirement, if they qualify. Tennessee and South Carolina Legislatures are also proposing similar opt-out provision’s. This opt-out provision has been in the news a bit as of late. Oklahoma is in its second year of allowing companies to opt-out and fewer than thirty businesses have applied for and been granted the privilege. Unlike Texas’s system, Oklahoma employers must meet certain financial and other requirements to qualify, including a written benefit plan that provides coverage and benefit levels that meet or exceed the minimum requirements set forth in the law.
Most states and employers are taking a wait and see approach to these changes to the opt-out provision.