Dozens of injured San Jose firefighters have been denied workers compensation claims. Over the past several months, firefighters in the San Jose area who have been injured on duty have been denied workers compensation. These firefighters complain that they are not given the proper treatment and care that they deserve.
Workers compensation is an essential component of the work force dynamic. It acts as a safety net for workers who are hurt on the job. Without such a system in place, millions of workers will be left to support themselves and pay for their own insurance plans. Workers compensation acts as a substitute for insurance coverage. It is a form of insurance that compensates workers that are hurt on the job.
Under the California Labor Code, employers must purchase workers compensation on behalf of their employees. Similarly, public agencies such as the Fire Department and the Police Department must provide workers comp for their employees. However, public employees are sometimes treated as contractors rather than actual employees. As a result, these public employees are denied workers compensation when they need it.
Generally, workers compensation is an agreement between the employer and employee. The employer will provide for injuries and other related costs but, the employee will not have the right to sue the employer for negligence. This seems like a fair tradeoff. However, if the employer is mandated to provide workers comp and they do not, then they can be in legal trouble. The deprived employee can seek damages through a civil court beyond the compensation that the employee was originally entitled to.
Moreover, the employee can go through their respective state fund to recover damages. As mentioned before, a lawsuit cannot be commenced against the employer for grounds of negligence. The exceptions are if workers comp was not provided or if it is on discrimination grounds.
A Flawed System
The City of San Jose has wronged the San Jose Firefighters through Athens Administrators. The city contracted out its workers comp disbursement system to Athens Administrators, which has not provided for these brave firefighters in a number of instances. This is no good. These people are constantly putting their life on the line and the least the city could do is repay the favor. Some of the issues with the workers comp systems in place are logistical and not a question of outwards denial of the individual.
Logistically, it is sometimes difficult to keep track of every incoming claim. As a result, these claims are left out of the system and not tended to. The automated databases that collect and input the claims have flawed mechanisms that don’t always keep track of every incoming claim, resulting in unattended claims.
Additionally, Athens has outright denied workers comp to firefighters because they didn’t feel the harm or injury was extreme enough. As one staff member put it, the “treatment was not medically necessary.” That’s not the point. Under workers comp, regardless of severity of injury, treatment should be given. It is absurd to think that a firefighter who has come in with bruises is denied because it does not come off as severe enough. Someone does not have to end up in the emergency room before assistance is given.
There need to be ground rules as to what is covered and what isn’t. Furthermore, the system needs to keep better track of each claim. As a number of firefighters have complained, the system neglects to even look at certain claims. Under state and federal law, workers comp is a right that belongs to workers. If this right is not upheld, then all is for naught. At the end of the day, the system is dictated by rule of law. If these laws are broken, then there have to be measures in place that will trigger a reaction that will ensure that the system is abided by.