BY DANA A. GUTIERREZ

Gutierrez

It’s an unusually cold day in Guam, and you ask your assistant to tape up the air conditioning vents in your office. Your assistant climbs up on a ladder and tapes up the vents. Unfortunately, on the way down, your assistant slips, falls off the ladder and hurts his back. The doctor prescribes bed rest for your assistant for a few weeks to heal and recuperate. What does your assistant get for all his hard work? Well, under Guam’s current Workers’ Compensation Law, a maximum of up to $250 per week in compensation plus coverage of his medical costs. Through Bill 200, Sen. Regine Biscoe Lee is hoping to increase your assistant’s maximum weekly compensation, as well as increase the amount of other benefits available under Guam’s WC Law.

The purpose of workers’ compensation laws is to provide wage replacement and coverage of medical expenses for injuries arising out of and in the course of employment. Employers are responsible for providing workers’ compensation benefits to their employees. With limited exceptions, workers’ compensation benefits provide the exclusive remedy an employee has against an employer for job-related injuries.

In September, Sen. Lee introduced Bill 200 and companion Bill 201. Bill 200 proposes to amend compensation rates in Guam’s WC Law to adjust for the increase in cost of living rates. According to Bill 200, the last major amendment to compensation rates occurred over 30 years ago in 1989. The following chart reflects rates under the current WC Law and proposed rates pursuant to Bill 200.

Based on information obtained from Sen. Lee’s office, the proposed compensation rates are the result of inflation adjustments calculated by her office in conjunction with a local economist. To get the final numbers, her office utilized the cumulative changes in the Consumer Price Index from 1989 to the CPI from 2018. 

Bill 201 proposes to amend the current composition of the Workers’ Compensation Commission in order to adjudicate cases more frequently and resolve claims in a timely manner.  The following chart shows the current members of the WCC against the proposed members of the WCC in Bill 201

As human resource representatives generally handle workers’ compensation claims in the workplace, the SHRM Guam Chapter welcomes the inclusion of a human resources practitioner to sit on the WCC.

 Further, the addition of a nurse practitioner or registered nurse in place of a Mayors Council appointee will add additional medical knowledge to assist in the adjudication of claims.

Bill 201 also proposes the inclusion of two public members at the director’s option. Instead of leaving the issue of public members as an option, it would appear best to set the number of commission members in the statute so there is no need for the director to exercise such discretion. Further, one public member appears sufficient to preserve the public’s trust in the WCC. Additionally, Bill 201 proposes to allow WCC members to be present at meetings and hearings through telephone or video conference, and to allow for the electronic recording of meetings and hearings without the need for stenographic recording. Although such participation by members may be common on private boards, it is not clear such proposals will withstand the meeting requirements under Guam law for public boards and commissions.

Sen. Lee hopes to bring Bill 200 and Bill 201 forward to the legislative floor in late November or early December. Though the fate of the two bills is not clear, after 30 years it is clear that it is time for a review of our workers’ compensation laws to account for the growing cost of living in Guam and to ensure that cases are adjudicated in an efficient and timely manner. mbj

 

— Dana A. Gutierrez is Of Counsel at Calvo Fisher & Jacob LLP and president-elect of the Society for Human Resource Management, Guam Chapter. She can be reached at mailto:[email protected]