Thanks to recent changes to Mississippi law, insurers and employers in the state now have more power to conduct alcohol and drug tests on employees following a workplace accident and reduce benefits for workers with pre-existing conditions. Those changes were among those that went into effect with the recent round of updates to workers’ compensation laws.
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant said the changes are a great thing for the state and will help attract new jobs. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be much worry expressed by the Governor’s Office about how these new laws could harm those people already employed in the state.
Under the new laws, all benefits can be offset regardless of whether the pre-existing condition is related to the occupational injury that occurred. This means that things such as obesity, arthritis or even diabetes could be used to offset benefit payments of unrelated work injuries such as carpel tunnel or back problems.
Experts that represent employees worry about the danger that employers and insurers may use the provision to reduce benefits even though the pre-existing condition has nothing to do with an injury.
Under the prior law, an employer had to prove that drugs or alcohol were the cause of the accident if an injured worker tested positive. The new law shifts that burden of proof so that it is presumed that the misuse of alcohol, illegal drugs or prescription drugs is the cause of the accident unless otherwise proven by the injured worker. Employee advocates again worry that employers may become too aggressive in testing employees even when it is obvious that the nature of the injury could not have been caused by alcohol or drug use.
Other changes contained in the new laws make clear that once injured workers are treated by a doctor for six months they no longer have the right to change doctors. Additionally, workers who decide to challenge a case in court have 60 days to produce all their medical records.
Along with new regulations, the new laws also include some changes in benefits. The maximum benefit for serious facial and head injuries that result in permanent disfigurement was increased from $2,000 to $5,000. The amount set aside for funeral benefits was raised from $2,000 to $5,000. Finally, an additional compensation payable to an injured worker during vocational rehabilitation was increased from $10 to $25 weekly.
If you have questions about the workers’ compensation process or if you have been injured on the job and think you may need representation, please contact the Jackson workers’ compensation attorneys at Kilpatrick & Philley PLLC at (601) 856-7800.
Source: “Mississippi Workers’ Comp Drug Testing, Benefits Changes Go Into Effect,” by Michael Adams, published at InsuranceJournal.com.
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