Op-Ed: Fair Return to Work Law Means Return to Dignity for New York’s Injured Workers

Injured Woman Filling Work Injury Claim Form
Photo via Getty Images

The construction industry is New York’s backbone and is beginning to re-emerge after getting battered by the pandemic for the last two years. This boom is noticeable across the five boroughs, especially in Brooklyn. Construction workers are constantly putting themselves in harm’s way; we must ensure that those injured or disabled on the job have every meaningful opportunity to return to work when ready, along with continued compensation and benefits for those who cannot.

But the current workers’ compensation system is failing to do just that.

New York’s workers are the fuel that ensures a smooth run of the economy. Now is the time to return the favor and pass Senator Andrew Gounardes’ Bill S768/A1118, which defines temporary total disability as the inability to return to the job in which you were injured. The current workers’ compensation law simply doesn’t do enough for injured workers. 

Today, if a worker gets injured on the job and is only able to return to work in a lighter capacity, they may be out of a career no matter the circumstances. In the current system, an employer has no obligation under the Workers’ Compensation Law to provide any type of work to a partially disabled employee. To put it simply, if we passed Senator Gounardes’ bill, partially injured workers would receive up to two-thirds of their normal wages until they can return to the work in which they were injured. No longer would partially injured workers, even if they are ready and willing to work, be forced to live on a much smaller wage, or “partial” wage under the law as it stands today. 

This legislation will help ease the burden for workers and ensure that they receive an adequate weekly compensation benefits by defining a temporary total disability as the inability to do the job they were doing at the time of their injury if the employer does not offer them a light-duty job within their restrictions and limitations.

Amending the Workers’ Compensation Law gives back what some workers feel as though they lose when injured; the dignity to work when able and the assurance of livable wages and benefits if not. Adjusting this law is the only way to properly support these workers, their families, and their communities following an on-the-job injury.

The current system is demoralizing and heavily contingent on luck. Our workers need to know that we have their back and that they will have every opportunity to make a full return to work if able. As a state that is heavily reliant on its workers, it’s imperative that we take care of them when they are injured.

New York is currently lagging nationally on injured workers’ rights. It’s time we change that and pass Senator Gounardes’ bill. It’s not only critical for our workers and their families, but it is essential for New York and its economy.