It’s been called a “watershed moment” in America’s attitude toward government social programs. The workers’ compensation system provides medical and wage replacement benefits for individuals who get hurt on the job. Workers don’t have to prove their innocence and employers don’t have to defend themselves in court. “We call it the grand compromise. Workers basically gave up their right to sue their employers for injury and employers, on the other hand, agreed that they were going to pay their injured workers for any accident that caused disability and medical costs” regardless of fault.
Gregory Krohm is executive director of the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions in Madison. He says the no-fault insurance is the result of a compromise between organized labor and merchants and manufacturers. Wisconsin made history 100 years ago by enacting the first constitutionally valid worker’s compensation law. “People from Madison — the University and state government — played a pivotal role, not only in workers compensation but in the invention of unemployment insurance and Social Security. So Wisconsin has a very distinguished role in social insurance generally.”
Each year in Wisconsin, roughly a quarter of a million medical bills are paid and income maintenance checks are sent to over 30,000 workers with newly covered injuries. Krohm says the system is solvent and does not cost taxpayers anything. Claims are made by injured workers and benefits are paid by the employers. Krohm says workers’ compensation is often mistaken for unemployment benefits.
The first constitutional state workers’ compensation law was signed on May 3, 1911 in Wisconsin. The first insurance policy to be issued under the new law took effect on September 1, 1911. Eight other states passed similar workers’ compensation laws by the end of 1911. Colleagues from across the nation gathered in Madison Wednesday to commemorate the anniversary at a Workers’ Compensation Centennial Celebration.