Democratic Senators Joe Manchin, West Virginia, joined Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelley, Arizona, and 50 Republicans to torpedo the nomination of Professor David Weil to the head of the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division.
Weil, who held the same position during the Obama administration, was a critic of gig economy firms like Uber who misclassify workers as independent contractors. Independent contractor status exempts companies from having to comply with wage and employment laws such as workers’ compensation.
Readers of this blog, likely know state workers’ compensation laws determine whether a worker is an employee and that is a separate analysis about what constitutes an employee for purposes of federal law. Readers of this blog also know that Weil likely would have ran into a steel re-enforced concrete wall of the federal judiciary in trying to enforce federal wage and hour laws for the benefit of workers.
But the failure of Weil likely signals that there is likely no substantive federal legislation that will address deficiencies in state workers’ compensation laws. In 1970, Congress established OSHA and authorized National Commission on State Workers’ Compensation Laws in response to concerns over the sufficiency of state workers’ compensation laws. The recommendation of the Commission lead many states to improve workers’ compensation laws for the benefit of workers.
But if the Senate can’t even confirm someone like Weill to the Department of Labor, then it seems unlikely that the federal government will do anything to improve state workers’ compensations laws.
Many lawyers who represent injured workers take Ronald Reagan’s adage about the government to heart in their practices when it comes to federal law. Whether it’s the byzantine workers’ compensation laws for federal employees, the difficulties of ERISA liens, headaches with Medicare in settling cases or what Professor Michael Duff describes as empty pre-emptions around nuclear workers and air ambulances, workers’ compensation plaintiff’s lawyers are often among the most vehement supporters of state’s rights.
But as evidenced by OSHA and the National Commission, the federal government can be a positive influence on workers’ compensation. But for most workers’ compensation lawyers in practice today, federal law and federal agencies are just another hurdle to overcome in getting justice for client’s injured at work. Unfortunately, that reality doesn’t look to change anytime soon.