Roch proposal benefits state’s sober workers

If employees show up to work drunk or high, then get hurt or worse, should they or their survivors still get 90 percent of the workers’ compensation benefits to which they normally would be entitled?

Because right now in New Mexico they can and do, even if there is no question the impaired state is what caused the injury.

That’s unfair to New Mexico’s employers, who saw their workers’ compensation insurance premiums increase 4 percent last year while rates in 19 other states dropped. It’s unfair to New Mexico’s sober employees, who are often put at risk by wasted co-workers and then have to pick up the slack when an accident reduces staffing levels.

And there’s little question it’s happening, as New Mexico has a claim frequency 20 percent higher than the national average.

Eastern New Mexico Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, is introducing legislation to reduce workers’ compensation payouts by a minimum of 35 percent up to a maximum of 85 percent in such cases. He explains that “being high or drunk on the job puts lives at risk. This legislation will help protect our workers and hold violators accountable for their actions.”

While they’re at it, lawmakers should consider enacting other reforms to workers’ comp, necessitated by 15 years of court rulings that have turned it into non-worker compensation.

Consider that, by ruling of the appellate courts, there is no cap on “temporary total disability.”

That a temporarily disabled worker who is accommodated with a different job and then fired for cause can then resume temporary and later permanent benefits.

That an undocumented worker can get full benefits when his/her immigration status precludes him/her from legally returning to work after recovering from an injury.

That a retired union employee who gets a pension can get permanent benefits because returning to work at his/her unionized employer would affect pension payments.

That employers have to pay benefits to convicted criminals while they are in prison. And that they now have to pay for workers’ medical marijuana.

Roch’s proposal is a fair one that puts responsibility for an injury due to impairment where it belongs. His fellow lawmakers should consider it, and other reforms, to return workers compensation to real workers.

— Albuquerque Journal