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Op-Ed | New York’s injured workers need support

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New York’s injured workers have long had to deal with a confusing system to find solutions that meet their needs. Further complicating matters, the Workers’ Compensation Board has continued implementing new rules and regulations that put injured workers into uncomfortable and risky situations during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As of Aug. 16, 2021, a New York State Executive Order expired, forcing partially disabled workers to seek employment just to receive their rightful compensation.

The Workers’ Compensation Board insisted that injured workers in New York resume job searches to receive ongoing lost-wage benefits, a practice that was suspended by the executive order due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Board recently recognized the risks associated with the labor attachment and has now clarified that they will accommodate current restrictions in mobility associated with the recent uptick of the COVID-19 delta variant and does not require injured workers to leave home to apply for work in-person.

While the Board may have clarified that job searches can be done virtually, they cannot control the employers’ review and interview process.

If an injured worker begins a virtual job search and employers then ask them to come in person for rounds of interviews, how does this injured worker deny an in-person interview when they must show a “good faith” job search effort? The injured worker must decide between receiving compensation and their health and safety.

The Board must provide the necessary protection and support to injured workers who are already struggling and dealing with a great deal of stress. 

From my firsthand experience of working with injured workers day in and day out, I urge the Workers’ Compensation Board to reverse its decision.

From March 7, 2020, to Aug. 16, 2021, the Board did not require injured workers to demonstrate that they were attached to the labor market to maintain partial disability payments. COVID-19 is still here and the Workers’ Compensation Board itself is still operating from home, so why must injured workers undergo a risky job search?

This rule has consistently impacted New York’s communities of color at a disproportionate rate.

This, coupled with the fact that our communities of color have also been impacted by COVID-19 at a higher rate, further underscores the need to fix New York’s inaccessible compensation system and show empathy and compassion towards injured workers.

New York’s injured workers deserve a system that prioritizes their health and safety as they recover from injuries received in the workplace. Requiring injured workers to jeopardize their health during a pandemic to get the benefits that many workers rely on while unable to work is unfair and unreasonable.

William Turley is the President of the Injured Workers’ Bar Association.

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