Rhode Island: Attorney says fear of job loss affecting comp claim filings
Mark Gemma, a workers' compensation attorney and partner in Gemma Law Associates Inc. in Providence, R.I., said a recently released judiciary report suggests a disturbing trend of fewer employees reporting workplace injuries and illnesses out of fear they might lose their jobs.
"It's disturbing to me because, regardless of economic conditions, employers have a duty to provide a reasonably safe workplace for their employees, and employees have a right to make sure employers fulfill that legal obligation," he said. "Given economic conditions, I certainly understand workers' concerns, and I realize that some workers may be misinformed about what can happen if you report an injury or illness. The truth is that the law entitles you to compensation if you are harmed at work, and the law strictly prohibits your employer from retaliating against you."
According to the Judiciary of Rhode Island's 2009 Annual Report, the state's Workers' Compensation Court saw a 7 percent decrease in petitions during the past year, dropping from 2,589 new filings in 2008 to 2,413 in 2009. The report indicated that the economic recession has contributed to the decline. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Rhode Island has the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the country at 12 percent.
"Fear about the response to such reports and a perception that a work-related injury could jeopardize the employment relationship tends to depress the number of injury claims and therefore, the number of cases filed with the court," the Workers' Compensation Court stated in the report.
Gemma said many workers may not know that the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 protects them from discrimination based on a "protected activity," which includes reporting work-related injuries and illnesses. The act also provides for heavy fines and penalties if an employer actively discourages employees from filing such report.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
September 7, 2010
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