2014 Legislative Session
The Utah Legislature enacted several bills during the 2014 session that impact the Labor Commission. These bills include changes to the workers’ compensation system and the adjudication of those claims as well as new requirements for the payment of wages in the construction industry. The Legislature also passed a bill dedicating a week in June of each year to public awareness of workplace safety.
Workers’ Compensation Changes
Most of these changes were enacted fairly early and quickly during the session. These bills were vetted by the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council and received the Council’s support, which in turn allowed the bills to advance quickly.
HB 10, Injured Worker Reemployment Amendments
Addresses the changes necessitated by the sunset of the Injured Worker Reemployment Act. The bill keeps the language from the Reemployment Act that encourages the rehabilitation and reemployment of injured workers and clarifies that such acts remain voluntary on the part of employers and insurance carriers. The bill enacts a new section of the Workers’ Compensation Act, §34A-2-413.5, and does away with the reporting obligations previously required under the Reemployment Act. Under this new section, employers and insurance carriers are no longer required to submit reports on their rehabilitative and reemployment efforts to the Industrial Accidents Division and are no longer required to seek a waiver when not making a referral for reemployment activities.
SB 127, Labor Commission Decision Amendments
Clarifies when Commission decisions are considered final. There had been some confusion as to when Commission decisions are final and when a judgment may be docketed for enforcement in district court. SB 127 provides that Commission decisions awarding permanent total disability benefits are considered final unless set aside by the Court of Appeals. Abstracts may be issued and these awards docketed for enforcement in district court unless and until set aside by the Court of Appeals. All other Commission decisions are final unless further appeal is initiated within 30 days of the date the decision is issued. The distinction is necessary to ensure that injured workers who are totally and permanently disabled are not denied benefits during a lengthy appeal process.
First substitute SB 44, Workers’ Compensation and Employee Misconduct
Alters the payment of disability compensation to injured workers when the injured worker is impaired on the job site and impairment is a contributing or major cause of the injury.
Under the current law, if an injured worker is found to be impaired it is presumed the impairment was the major contributing cause of the injury and disability compensation is denied if the worker cannot overcome the presumption.
SB 44 establishes a preponderance of the evidence standard for rebutting this presumption. If an employee is unable to rebut the presumption that impairment was not the major contributing cause of the accident, the employee is still denied disability compensation. If the employee is able to show impairment was not the major contributing cause, but unable to show impairment was not a contributing cause, the employee’s disability compensation will be reduced by 15%.
If an employee can show impairment was not the major or a contributing cause of the injury, the employee is eligible for disability compensation in the full amount.
SB 160, Workers’ Compensation Amendments
Extends the Commission’s authority to approve settlements in which an employee’s medical claims are allowed but the employee’s disability claims are barred by the statute of limitations. The bill also clarifies that a full and final settlement extinguishes an employer’s obligations unless specifically preserved and gives the Commission explicit authority to approve settlements that provide for the payment of benefits in cash or cash equivalents, through an insurance contract, or by a third party.
HB 94, Workers’ Compensation and Community Based Services
Modifies the definition of “employer” and removes the workers’ compensation exemption in certain domestic employment settings and for certain types of domestic employees. Under this bill, domestic employees who provide home and community based services for more than seven hours per week and who are paid from state and federal money received by an individual with a disability or that individual’s designated representative are no longer exempt from workers’ compensation coverage.
“Home and community based services” are defined as those services provided to an individual with a disability or the individual’s family that help keep the individual in the home rather than being placed in a more restrictive setting.
Payment of Wages
SB 87, Contractor Employee Amendments
Modifies the pay statement requirements in the construction industry. This bill provides that a licensed contractor is required to give an employee a detailed pay statement that includes the employee’s name, base rate of pay, the pay period dates, the number of hours the employee worked if the employee is paid hourly, the amount of and reason for any withholdings made in accordance with state and federal law, and the total amount paid to the employee. The bill also provides for the Commission to administer penalties for an employer’s failure to meet these requirements.
An employer may be fined $50 for an initial violation, $100 for a second or third violation within a one-year period, and $500 for a fourth and any subsequent violations within a one-year period.
Finally, SB 106, Workplace Safety Week Designation
Designates the third full week of June as Workplace Safety Week. Based on the success of last year’s SCR 9, which resulted in designating June 23-29, 2013, as Workplace Safety Week, the third week of June will now be dedicated each year to encouraging Utahns to recognize the importance of safety in the workplace.
by Jaceson R. Maughan, Deputy Commissioner and General Counsel