Workers’ compensation premiums add significantly to the labor costs of businesses across the US today.
However, this was not always the case. Workers’ compensation is a relatively new concept in America; it was not until 1948 that every state had its own laws on workers’ comp.
Read on to learn more about the history of workers’ compensation.
Early Forms of Workers’ Compensation
While workers’ compensation as we know it today arrived in the 20th century, the concept has been in existence since ancient times.
The Ancient Sumerians adopted a system whereby injuries to specific body parts could be compensated by a given award. Other ancient civilizations, such as the Roman Empire, had similar systems in place.
The Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution is often credited with the establishment of workers’ compensation in a modern context.
The factories of this era were highly dangerous places to work. Injuries were therefore common.
While injured workers could take a case in court, the laws at the time made it easy for employers to escape liability. Many workers also did not have the necessary resources to bring a case before the courts.
The observation of the unfair conditions made by writers and commentators at the time created a public appetite for better protections for workers.
Workers’ Compensation in America
In response to public unrest about workers’ welfare, American legislators started to take steps towards a system of workers’ comp in the early 20th century.
Congress passed the Federal Employers’ Liability Acts of 1906 and 1908, which addressed concerns about the unfair doctrine of contributory negligence which was prevalent in courts at the time.
However, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Montana were all unsuccessful in their attempts to legislate for workers’ compensation around this time.
Workers’ compensation was successfully established for the first time at the state level in Wisconsin in 1911. The state legislature passed comprehensive legislation in relation to workers’ compensation.
These laws required employers to compensate workers for medical expenses they incurred as a result of an injury at work. They were also required to provide them with wage replacement.
This system also prevented workers from suing their employers once they had carried out their duties in this regard.
A similar set of laws were adopted in every state over the course of the following three decades.
The system is essentially similar to the one in place in America today.
Nowadays, it is relatively easy for injured workers to get the help they need. Workers comp doctors and other such services are readily available to those who have been hurt in the workplace.
The History of Workers’ Compensation in a Nutshell
The history of workers’ compensation is a fascinating topic. Looking back on it gives us an appreciation of how lucky we are to have strong protections in place as workers in 2020.
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