Louisiana workers’ compensation fight could be easily solved

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One of the most curious loopholes in the NFL/NFLPA relationship flows from the concept of workers’ compensation benefits.  The labor deal allows players to pursue state-administered payments for injuries suffered at work, even though the labor deal provides them with a clear right to ongoing pay in the wake of serious injuries.

For the players, it’s the ability to double dip.  For the teams, it’s the ability to funnel cash to employees in a way that is at least partially subsidized by the government.  (Even in states where all of the workers’ compensation benefits are paid by the employer, the mechanism for resolving the claims is publicly funded.)

In Louisiana, a fight has emerged at the legislative level regarding the calculation of workers’ compensation benefits.  The Saints and the NFL want the players’ benefits to be determined based on the players’ earnings at the time of the injury.  The players (including Drew Brees) and the NFLPA want the players’ benefits to be determined based on the average annual salary, projecting those earnings into the future and (for injuries suffered from March through early September) encompassing the players’ regular-season game checks.

But the issue isn’t a new one.  Saints outside counsel Chris Kane explained to PFT by phone on Saturday morning that the dispute initially arose via the litigation process in 2000.  With one exception, all cases decided by an Administrative Law Judge and then finalized by a three-person appeal panel resulted in a conclusion that the benefits paid are determined by the wages earned at the time of the injury.  The Louisiana Supreme Court consistently has declined opportunities to put the issue to rest by providing what would be (or at least should be) the final word on how benefits are calculated.

Starting in 2010, a lawyer who represents employee interests opted to pursue a different strategy, introducing a bill to the Louisiana legislature that would have overturned the prevailing judicial rulings.  The Saints and the league countered with their own bill, and that bill currently has gathered steam.

Currently, the bill that would limit benefits to earning at the time of the injury has been passed by the House, and it will be considered by the Senate Labor and Industry Committee on Thursday, May 22.  If the bill makes it to the Senate floor and passes via a formal vote, a harmonized version of the House and Senate Bills will be tendered to Governor Bobby Jindal for signature or veto.

The NFLPA has mobilized to beat the bill.  Saints quarterback Drew Brees has spoken out against it, and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has sent an email to agents suggesting that they “consider the Saints’ efforts given your representation of our players and the advice you would have to give to any free agent player considering an opportunity to play for the Saints.”

Kane emphasized that the effort would simply codify the prevailing rulings from the appeals courts that have addressed the issue. If the bill doesn’t become law, the current precedent from the court system would provide for benefits based on earnings at the time of the injury.  Kane also pointed out that, for players who suffer serious injuries in the preseason or training camp, they still get their full salary for the year under the labor deal.

The problem arises from the inability to know with certainty that a player injured in the offseason or training camp would have made the team and earned his much higher regular-season wages. For some, like quarterback Drew Brees, it’s a given that he would still have made the roster and received $10.75 million in base pay. For plenty of players on the current roster, however, the reality is that they won’t make the team and won’t earn the regular-season salary and thus shouldn’t get workers’ compensation benefits based on pay they’ll never actually earn.

A fair compromise would seem to be the creation of a system that requires the Saints to designate in March (and possibly to update monthly) a certain number of players as likely to make the 53-man roster. Those players, if injured, would get benefits based on the wages they’re due to earn in the coming season. The rest would get benefits based on their specific wages earned at the time of the injury.

That would be the best outcome under these specific circumstances — which means it’s the one least likely to actually happen.

16 responses to “Louisiana workers’ compensation fight could be easily solved

  1. No where in the article did it state that a team can’t cut a injuried player without agreeing to a injury settlement once training camp starts. I’m sure the avg injuried player gets paid far more than the avg person makes in Louisiana. Looks like a money grab by the players and the NFLPA.

  2. All players should have to opt either for the collective bargaining injury solution or worker’s comp (not both).

    It certainly should also be considered to count the cost of Worker’s Comp premiums against a team’s cap. This would make players have some skin in the game to keep the premiums down so there would be more cash available for team’s to pay them.

  3. it’s like this:
    1. if you earn the same paycheck every two weeks then this legislation does not effect you at all because whenever you get hurt, your salary will always bee the same and thus the workers comp will be the same.

    2. if you are an interment laborer, or have weird schedules like oil workers and other manual labor jobs like working on a fishing boat then this helps you enormously because you earn a lot more any given week you are working than you do if your yearly salary was prorated because the nature of the work is somewhat intermittent. and lets face it, these people working these difficult jobs like roofing or fishing, or on oil rigs are thousands of times more likely to get hurt on any given day of work than you or I desk jockeys.

    3. if you have a sales job and you slip and fall somehow and hurt yourself, then this legislation might help, or might hurt, it’s a crapshoot. depends how well you have been selling lately.

    4. if you are a filthy rich nfl player this hurts if you get hurt in the preseason I guess, but I don’t understand how this jives with injury settlements.

    so in summary, this legislation appears to be very beneficial to the working man.

  4. “A fair compromise would seem to be the creation of a system that requires the Saints to designate in March (and possibly to update monthly) a certain number of players as likely to make the 53-man roster.”

    Bad idea, it promotes unreal expectations subject to many variables that lawyers and agents will try to use to their advantage.

    Better idea, negotiate a set amount for them all – period. Said amount to perhaps be adjusted annually by some formula.

  5. Double dips. Taxpayer money, my money. These guys makes far more than I do but still get to game the system, WHY?? Up says OK screw the taxpayer (you). Down says enough is enought, no more double dippers.

  6. You can’t have your cake and eat it too when it comes to benefits… Like the rest of society we have rules and regulations…. Abide by them

  7. Well these owners simply aren’t making enough. If they pay out the benefits they should be they might not be able to afford their 4th yacht or 8th vacation mansion.

  8. @harrisonhits2
    I don’t think this is about the owners, they pay anyway. This seems to be about the amount of public money that the player will get on top of what they get from the team.

    If the courts have already decided this way multiple times, then I really don’t see the big deal.

  9. Unless Louisiana is different than a number of states taxpayer money only pays for the administrative costs of running the system. Employers pay into an insurance fund that pays the benefits and the rate depends on the type of industry and frequency of injury. Some states dont allow double dipping and credit from any outside payments against paid benefits. This is really more about treating the little guy fairly vs. more profits for the owner.

  10. If you designate players in March, you’re going to end up with a team or teams that designate based more on salary than actual likelihood of making the roster. It will be like the injury report and all the shenanigans that go on there (looking at YOU, Patriots).

    I understand the dilemma, but I have an extremely difficult time feeling any sympathy for the Saints’ situation. You’re out a few pennies when the amounts are placed in contrast with the $9 BILLION business you own 1/32 of. Hardly breaking the bank.

    And that’s the same bank that raids the tax payer coffers every time they need a lightbulb changed in their PUBLICLY FUNDED palaces.

    Boo freakin’ hoo hoo.

  11. Or they could do what most states do. Set a max State AND based on all earners in the state and then set a max TTD and PHD rate. Then use the 52 weeks prior to the injury to determine the wages. (All NFL players would hit the max rates.) For rookies, base it on their Draft place and earnings. If undrafted, base it on similar players for other teams.

    This whole thing is much to do about nothing. Workers’ comp benefits continue to be a battle every year in every state as business rightfully want a cost savings and workers rightfully want to be paid as much as possible when off of work.

    Frankly, professional athletes should be exempt from workers’ compensation benefits because their pay continues and usually they continue playing their sport, so permanency seems unnecessary. Furthermore, those that are permanently incapacity likely are paid a certain guaranteed amount for injury, so the extra hundred thousand doesn’t meant much.

    Finally, while the cases go through government funded courts or administration hearings, it is disingenuous to claim a public burden. These courts are there anyway and one case is not hogging many resources.

  12. First off, the employers are not paying workers’ compensation benefits. Their insurers are paying these benefits. Further, in Massachusetts for example, insurers pay the entire cost of the workers’ compensation system. None of the system is financed by public funds.

    Adopting the date of injury to determine the rate of workers’ compensation payments is virtually universal. The calculation is: determining the employee’s average weekly wage over the 52 weeks immediately preceding the date of injury. Therefore, this wage calculation encompasses the full high-wage earnings that are realized by a pro football player during the regular season. So this is really a false issue put forth by the players.

    Finally, most, if not all, state workers’ compensation laws have weekly maximum benefit caps. Given their salaries, virtually all pro football players would be capped at these amounts. So, again, this argument about how to calculate a pro football player’s workers’ compensation benefits is like debating how many angels can dance on the point of a needle. It’s nonsense.

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