By Caitlin Barbieri
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — Legislation aimed at protecting and improving employees’ worker compensation rights were struck down Tuesday by a House subcommittee.
Freshman Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, proposed three bills in an effort to reform the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act after he was inspired by his own experience filing a claim. All three bills were passed by indefinitely by a subcommittee of the House Commerce and Labor Committee, effectively killing them for the session.
One of the bills, HB 460, would have prevented employers from firing someone based on the belief that the employee had filed or was planning to file a claim for workers compensation. Currently, Virginia law only protects employees from being fired solely because they have made or are planning to make a claim. However, this bill would have protected employees from being fired for any reason that was motivated by the knowledge or belief that the employee was planning to file a claim.
Ryan Dunn from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce said the bill was too general.
“This is really a golden ticket to allow somebody, even after they are fired for due cause or decide to quit, (that) they can at any point come back and say that this was related to their workers’ comp claim that they put in in 1985,” Dunn said.
The second measure, HB 461, known as the timely notice bill, would have required employers to respond to a workers’ compensation claim within 10 days of the initial claim and explain why it was denied. The bill would cut employers’ response time in half; Joe Leahy of the Independent Insurance Agents of Virginia said that is not enough time to investigate a claim.
Carter’s third bill, HB 462, would have ensured that Virginia employees injured while working outside the state could still file for compensation from their employer in Virginia, increasing their employers’ liability.
Again this bill was met with opposition. Subcommittee Chairman Gregory Habeeb, R-Salem, agreed with Carter that “our system is not super-claimant friendly,” but disagreed with the proposed solution.
“I believe that there are some changes that Virginia could make to the benefit of the claimants that would be more than reasonable,” he said. “I just don’t think this is one of them.”
Carter was not available for comment after the subcommittee meeting.