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Workers Compensation: an overview

Workers' Compensation laws are designed to ensure that employees who are injured or disabled on the job are provided with fixed monetary awards, eliminating the need for litigation. These laws also provide benefits for dependents of those workers who are killed because of work-related accidents or illnesses. Some laws also protect employers and fellow workers by limiting the amount an injured employee can recover from an employer and by eliminating the liability of co-workers in most accidents. State Workers Compensation statutes establish this framework for most employment. Federal statutes are limited to federal employees or those workers employed in some significant aspect of interstate commerce.

The Federal Employment Compensation Act provides workers compensation for non-military, federal employees. Many of its provisions are typical of most worker compensation laws. Awards are limited to "disability or death" sustained while in the performance of the employee's duties but not caused willfully by the employee or by intoxication. The act covers medical expenses due to the disability and may require the employee to undergo job retraining. A disabled employee receives two thirds of his or her normal monthly salary during the disability and may receive more for permanent physical injuries, or if he or she has dependents. The act provides compensation for survivors of employees who are killed. The act is administered by the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs.

The Federal Employment Liability Act (FELA), while not a workers' compensation statute, provides that railroads engaged in interstate commerce are liable for injuries to their employees if they have been negligent.

The Merchant Marine Act (the Jones Act) provides seamen with the same protection from employer negligence as FELA provides railroad workers.

Congress enacted the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA) to provide workers' compensation to specified employees of private maritime employers. The Office of Workers' Compensation Programs administers the act.

The Black Lung Benefits Act provides compensation for miners suffering from "black lung" (pneumoconiosis). The Act requires liable mine operators to pay disability payments and establishes a fund administered by the Secretary of Labor providing disability payments to miners where the mine operator is unknown or unable to pay. The Office of Workers' Compensation Programs regulates the administration of the act.

California's Workers' Compensation Act provides an example of a comprehensive state compensation program. It is applicable to most employers. The statute limits the liability of the employer and fellow employees. California also requires employers to obtain insurance to cover potential workers' compensation claims, and sets up a fund for claims that employers have illegally failed to insure against.


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