Drop in Workers’ Compensation Filings Indicates Disturbing Trend, Rhode Island Attorney Says

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Providence, R.I., workers’ compensation attorney Mark Gemma says fewer workers are seeking compensation for on-the-job injuries due to fears of losing their job in a down economy.

The truth is that the law entitles you to compensation if you are harmed at work, and the law strictly prohibits your employer from retaliating against you.

A recently released judiciary report suggests a disturbing trend of fewer Rhode Island workers reporting workplace injuries and illnesses out of fear they might lose their jobs, Providence, R.I., workers’ compensation attorney Mark Gemma says.

“It’s disturbing to me because, regardless of economic conditions, employers have a duty to provide a reasonably safe workplace for their employees, and employees have a right to make sure employers fulfill that legal obligation,” says Gemma, a partner in the Rhode Island law firm of Gemma Law Associates, Inc.

“Given economic conditions, I certainly understand workers’ concerns, and I realize that some workers may be misinformed about what can happen if you report an injury or illness. The truth is that the law entitles you to compensation if you are harmed at work, and the law strictly prohibits your employer from retaliating against you.”

Since 1999, Rhode Island employers with one or more employees have been required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Under the state-mandated workers’ compensation program, workers who suffer work-related illness or injury are entitled to benefits that include medical care, lost wages, disability payments and death benefits.

However, according to the Judiciary of Rhode Island’s 2009 Annual Report, the state’s Workers’ Compensation Court saw a 7 percent decrease in petitions during the past year, dropping from 2,589 new filings in 2008 to 2,413 in 2009.

The report indicates that a down economy has contributed to the drop. According to the most recent statistics compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures, Rhode Island has the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the country at 12 percent.

“Fear about the response to such reports and a perception that a work-related injury could jeopardize the employment relationship tends to depress the number of injury claims and therefore, the number of cases filed with the court,” the Workers’ Compensation Court states, according to an article in The Providence Journal.

Gemma says many workers may not know that the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 protects them from discrimination based on a “protected activity,” which includes reporting work-related injuries and illnesses. The Act also provides for heavy fines and penalties if an employer actively discourages employees from filing such reports.

“Even in tough economic times, we have to make sure our Rhode Island employees are working in a safe environment,” Gemma says.

About Gemma Law Associates, Inc.

Gemma Law Associates, Inc., is a Providence law firm that has represented the people of Rhode Island for more than 48 years while earning a reputation for success in several practice areas, including workers’ compensation, personal injury, Social Security disability, divorce, criminal defense and bankruptcy law. The law firm’s staff works as a team to ensure success in cases is backed by a state-of-the-art collection of resources, including an advanced computerized case management system and extensive legal library.

The firm represents clients throughout the state of Rhode Island, including Providence, Pawtucket, Warwick, Washington County and Newport County. To learn more about Gemma Law Associates, Inc., call (800) 677-9030 or use the firm’s online contact form.

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