Shift in Workers’ Compensation Set
The Jackson Sun
July 26, 2013
The system may not be perfect, but change has arrived for workers’ compensation laws in the state of Tennessee.
“In January 2012, the government got together with a workers’ compensation group and asked, ‘How do we get it right?'” Abbie Hudgens said on Thursday. “Sixteen months later, a law passed.”
Hudgens, the administrator for the Tennessee Division of Workers’ Compensation, conducted a seminar for business owners, human resource professionals, managers and those involved in compensation claims. Hudgens explained recent legislative changes to the workers’ compensation law at the Jackson Chamber on Thursday.
“There was a real sentiment in the General Assembly to make Tennessee a good environment for jobs,” Hudgens said. “A heightened awareness. Employers are dedicated to Tennessee, but they could expand in other states.”
Hudgens said an outcry existed about a system that was not working.
“That’s one reason the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce got behind it,” Hudgens said. “We’re not looking to make it perfect but to make it better, and we listened.”
Bradley Jackson with the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry hailed the decision.
“We think it’s huge,” Jackson said. “Mississippi had compensation reform last year and now Tennessee is aligned. The system is for employers and employees.”
Major changes in the bill, which becomes law July 1, 2014, include definition of the injury, change in the constitutional law, change in the administrative structure, a move from chancery and circuit courts to workers’ compensation court, an ombudsman program and change in medical provider panels.
Hudgens noted Tennessee joined Alabama as the only two states that used a trial court.
With the change in Tennessee, Hudgens said changes in legislation will include enhanced medication, determination of permanent or partial disability benefits, introduction of treatment guidelines, change in temporary total disability benefits, new penalties and new reporting requirements.
“This is a wonderful piece of legislation,” said state Rep. Jimmy Eldridge. “I look at it as a jobs bill. One of the most important things the government is stressing is education and jobs.”
Eldridge, R-Jackson, said the legislation also represents what the business community has sought for several years.
“Forty-eight states have dealt with this issue, and we were lagging behind,” Eldridge said. “We were not in a favorable position for jobs. Eight states around us were lower than us, and this is one way not only to attract industry in our state, but to help the industry here to grow.”