If you sue your employer after getting injured on the job and fail to win your case, you might end up as a felon under a fraud case thanks to the bill Senate Republicans passed last night.
Senate File 2305, floor managed by Senator Jake Chapman of Adel, would create a new unit within the Iowa Insurance Division to prosecute workers compensation fraud. It also makes committing such fraud a felony – a Class C felony if its for a claim more than $10,000 and a Class D felony if its for a claim under $10,000. Workers would also have to repay to their employers’ insurance agency any costs from their claim.
Democratic senators who voted against the bill feared it could create a chilling effect on Iowa workers filing workers compensation claims in the first place. If there’s the possibility you might now get charged with a felony for reporting your injury – or you may just have to go through a legal process in the first place – you might not want to attempt it.
Cases of actual workers compensation fraud are exceedingly rare to nonexistent, and there already exists criminal statues against insurance fraud. Establishing this new division to prosecute it might interfere with other law enforcement agencies.
Several Democratic senators pointed out during debate that the state was not also creating a special division to investigate cases of fraud perpetrated by employers upon their employees. This legislation would lead the state to specifically search out potential workers compensation fraud above other, more pressing crimes. The prosecuting attorneys’ funding would probably end up dependent on the amount of convictions and pleas they got, giving them extra incentive to go after more workers. They could even intentionally target and harass specific workplaces to subdue a company’s workers.
Hispanic workers at places like Tyson packing plants could be particularly at risk for new intimidation from a confusing process that puts them at risk of becoming a felon.
Here’s a real-life situation that could play out:
A worker at a meatpacking plant suffers a shoulder injury from the repetitive tasks she does at the plant that keeps her from coming into work, thus stopping her paychecks. She fills out a workers compensation claim alleging the injury was due to workplace conditions. However, those forms are dense and complicated, and many workers at large meatpacking plants may not have great English or computer skills. She may fill out a form about what dates she worked at a certain part of the production line wrong, and the employer could use an error like that to accuse her of fraud.
The special prosecuting attorney from the state steps in to investigate, which halts the worker’s compensation claim. During that time she has no income and now no compensation from her workplace for her injury, making it tough to impossible to pay the mortgage or buy groceries.
There are situations where employees may not realize what all they can request from a workers compensation claim and submit something wrong. But just like in cases of voter fraud, just because you unknowingly mess up doesn’t mean you committed fraud – you have to actually have had intent to do so.
Proving fraud with this new legislation would likely still be difficult in many situations. However, a prosecuting attorney tasked with bringing about fraud cases could still go after people for any number of ways to try to show fraud. Just the threat of that legal process could frighten many injured workers.
The law is also written in a way that the felony prosecutions could apply to the attorneys who are representing workers. State Senator Nate Boulton, a Democratic candidate for governor, just so happens to practice that particular law. However, any attorney who engaged in fraud (and those in Iowa say they’ve never heard of such a situation) would get disbarred anyway.
“I don’t understand why you hate workers so much!” Senator Bill Dotzler shouted at Republican lawmakers. “That’s what this bill says to me! … I don’t know how you can look yourself in the mirror in the morning if you vote like this.”
Boulton, who attempted to add about a dozen amendments to the bill to drag out debate, argued that the workers compensation system was already rigged against workers.
“I’ve talked to workers who have called me on the phone, crying in desperation for how they are treated in this system in terms of choices about their medical care and their future,” Boulton said. “I think this is an incredibly insulting and unfair bill to working Iowans who have the misfortune of suffering a serious injury on the job. I don’t think it has been thought out, I certainly don’t think it offers real protections for people who are being defrauded.”
The Iowa Senate passed SF 2305 by a 28-22 vote last night. Republican Senator Jim Carlin, who recently won his seat through a special election in Plymouth and Woodbury counties, joined the Democrats in voting against it. It’s unclear whether House Republicans plan to take up the bill.
by Pat Rynard