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Federal Workplace Laws are Failing Injured Employees

Construction Workers

Kevin Schiller is one of millions of workers who don’t have state-regulated workers’ compensation to turn to when they are injured at work.

After more than 20 years on the job as a building engineer for Macy’s department stores, Schiller’s career unexpectedly ended when a mannequin fell on him from the top of a 12-foot high shelf, causing him to hit his head first into a shelf and then into the concrete floor. Five years later, he is still struggling with memory loss, persistent headaches, disorientation, and extreme sensitivity to loud sound and bright light. He has hardly been able to work since the accident, and now describes himself as “next to poverty.”

Kevin is one of many employees left out of the workers’ compensation system who has been failed by federal workplace law, and many more may join him if more states choose to opt out of state workers’ compensation laws. While states considering this option argue that state laws result in costly litigation, delays in treatment, and expensive long-term benefits, the truth is that it makes it easier for companies to cut and deny benefits and limit appeals of their decisions.

Proponents of state opt-outs contend that the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) still protects injured workers. Schiller, however, said that he was unable to get valuable help by going this route, claiming that the people he spoke with and the doctors he saw doubted the legitimacy of his accident and injury. Then, in legal filings, Macy’s even claimed that the accident never happened, or was staged, and cut off all benefits for lost pay and medical care. This devastating loss caused him to lose his house and truck.

Schiller spent $90,000 out of pocket to visit specialists, who concluded that he suffered from a traumatic brain injury. He has been declared disabled by a Social Security judge.

In mandatory arbitration, he was awarded only $713,000 to pay for his lifetime care. “Thank God for Social Security Disability,” he says, but the truth is that Mr. Schiller did not receive any justice at all in this case. Instead of protecting workers, as ERISA was originally intended to do, it has turned into a shield for employers operating their own plans.

To read more on Mr. Schiller’s story, please click here.


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