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Ohio Workers’ Compensation: The Historical Compromise


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The Ohio worker’s compensation law has had a major impact to business and society throughout its history. Just as any law it has been refined and polished numerous times. The law has gone through many changes in its evolution to what your worker’s compensation lawyer at Malek & Malek has become today.

Worker’s compensation sprouted in Ohio, after a nationwide investigation into industrial injuries. After the results of the investigation became known a constitutional amendment was passed by Ohio voters in 1911. This amendment created a voluntary worker’s compensation program for employers. If the employer decided to participate on the program they were held liable to pay 90% of the employee’s premium while the employee had to cover the remaining 10%. There were two built in exceptions that would cause the employer to be held completely liable; they were: if the injuries were caused by the employer’s failure to comply with an ordinance, lawful order, or statute for the protection of the lives or safety of employees (lawful requirement), and also injuries caused by the willful act of the employer. This created a very lenient program for the employer if they decided to even join the program at all.

In 1912 Ohio called for a Constitutional Convention to be convened during this meeting the General Assembly unanimously adopted a proposal to make the compensation law mandatory for employers who employed 5 or more workers and eliminated the employee’s contribution to the premium making the employer completely cover it. The amendment also eliminated the lawful requirement and replaced it with the violation of a specific safety requirement. This amendment was sent to the polls to allow the public to vote on the matter and passed with 60% of the votes endorsing the amendment. This amendment was adopted into the Ohio Constitution in 1914 now required any employers with 5 or more employees to participate in the program. During the time this amendment was being debated on the General Assembly’s floor the Ohio Industrial Committee was formed to help implement these new laws.


Worker’s compensation law laid by the wayside for a few decades as other employment issues were addressed until a report submitted by the National Commission on State Workmen’s Compensation Law in 1972. This report recommended a set standards to govern state workmen’s compensation laws. This standards consisted of the elimination or arbitrary limits on the duration or total benefits awardable, include the formerly excluded domestic and farm laborers, full coverage of work related diseases, a maximum weekly benefit that rose from an immediate 66.6% to an eventual 200% of the average weekly wage in the state, and full medical and physical rehabilitation services. Ohio took the commissions advice and adopted these standards in 1973.


In 1979 a bill was presented on the Ohio General Assembly floor that set out to minimize political activity and influence, blunt favoritism and outside influence, facilitate the impartial, orderly, and timely processing of claims, and changed the name from workmen’s compensation to worker’s compensation. In order to do this it separated the Industrial Commission and the Bureau of Worker’s Compensation (the BWC that your worker’s compensation lawyer know and love today). This bill gave the BWC the power to process claims when filed and decide uncontested matters.

Since 1979 some changes have implemented to the Worker’s Compensation Laws such as adding wage loss as a type of compensation, and increasing the threshold for BWC’s $1,000 medical-only claim program to $5,000. These changes have made Worker’s Compensation Law into the one that your worker’s compensation lawyer at Malek & Malek know so well today.