in Houston, Texas
Auditors slams state's management of worker's comp
Thursday, Jul 29, 2010, 02:58PM CST
By Steve Miller

Being an employee in Texas has for years been a desired status. Available jobs, no state income tax and relatively affordable costs of living have drawn folks here for years.

But if you hit some hard times, the place isn't so hospitable, a recently released audit shows. In fact, one could say the state is in no hurry to police employers who might abuse the rights of employees injured or otherwise compromised.

 

punch clock

According to an audit of the division of worker’s compensation, which is operated under the aegis of the state Department of Insurance, pending workers’ comp enforcement cases have been open for an average of 467 days. That's about a year and three months.

Fifty-eight of those cases have been open since 2007, and one lingers from 2006, when oversight for worker’s comp moved from the dismantled Texas Worker’s Compensation Commission to the insurance department. The division of workers’ comp issues disciplinary orders when providers and carriers have not complied with the law.

Among the audit’s findings:

  • Workers’ comp enforcement cases assigned to staff attorneys should be reviewed monthly to make sure they are moving forward. But between March 2009 and March 2010, the division conducted two such reviews.
  • Reports monitoring workers’ comp enforcement cases contained inaccurate or duplicate case information.
  • As of February, 61 pending cases were assigned to individuals who had left the workers’ comp division in 2009.
  • When compared with other enforcement teams at the Department of Insurance, the workers’ comp enforcement team closes a higher percentage of cases with a warning letter and no monetary penalty – 82 percent – than other enforcement teams, such as property or casualty insurance, at 45 percent.

It’s almost as if the state were favoring business interests over those of employees.

When we read that another state agency is spending public money on conferences that counsel business owners on how to avoid paying unemployment, it all makes more sense.

According to an account in the Houston Chronicle, Jonathan Babiak, then-deputy director of appellate services at the Texas Workforce Commission, advised a gathering of employers on such last month.

"Say you're the boss and you're going to fire one of your employees. Instead of booting the employee out the door, the Texas Workforce Commission recommends giving your employee the option to resign.

Employees given that choice are more likely to conclude they aren't eligible for benefits, said Jonathan Babiak, who spoke before 800 Houston area employers recently at a seminar sponsored by the Texas Workforce Commission.

It's not the employer's obligation to correct that misunderstanding, said Babiak, deputy director of appellate services for the Texas Workforce Commission in Austin. If employees resign, he said, "chances are they won't file a claim."

Babiak, who was making $83,586 recently, is now, ironically, with the human resources department of the Texas Workforce Commission.

Reached by phone, Babiak refused to speak to a reporter about his comments. We also wanted to know if his new position at the commission was related to his recent advice to employers. But all we had was dial tone by that time.

Across the hall from Babiak at the Texas Workforce Commission sits the office of Ronald Congleton, the commissioner representing labor in Texas.

"We certainly were not happy with those comments," said Bob Stewart, an attorney in Congleton's office. "Counseling employers how to avoid paying unemployment? We aren't in favor of that."

The event in question is part of a series of gatherings called the Texas Business Conference. They are being held in various parts of the state. Next one is in San Angelo Aug. 13 -- get your $85 ticket here.

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

Comments
Daniel
Saturday, 09/04/2010 - 01:59PM

The Division of Workers' Compensation has been broke for a while. Injured workers in our state have lost any voice that they had in the system. The division of Workers' Compensation accepts grants from insurance carriers to run investigations on doctors providing treatment, but ignores clear violations from insurance carriers.

We love that companies are moving to our great state. However, at some point our politicians will discover that they need to remember that many of our injured workers are becoming wards of the state.

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