How Federal Law Governs Workers' Compensation

State law governs the majority of workers' compensation situations. Federal workers' compensation laws are applicable to a few notable exceptions, such as workers participating in particular industries, such as certain railroad, maritime, mining and energy employees; certain workers exposed to radiation; and most civilian workers employed by the federal government.

Employers need to understand the intricacies of the particular laws that apply to them, whether federal or state. A workers' compensation attorney from The Law Firm of Peters & Wasilefski in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is an excellent resource for this information.

Federal Statutes

Usually state laws determine who is covered by workers' compensation, how much the covered person receives and the procedures that must be followed. There are, however, some industries and employers that are covered by federal law:

  • The Merchant Marine Act (Jones Act) and the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA) cover seamen and other maritime workers
  • The Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) covers railroad workers
  • The Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA) covers federal, non-military employees
  • Military and veterans' legislation cover military personnel
  • The Black Lung Benefits Act covers coal miners who contract pneumoconiosis, known as black lung disease
  • The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act covers certain workers in the nuclear-weapons industry
  • The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act covers certain workers who were exposed to radiation resulting in particular diseases

Occupational Safety And Health Act (OSH Act) And Workers' Compensation

The OSH Act is the primary federal health and safety law regulating workplaces. The Act and its regulations set out specific safety standards for particular work environments and impose on businesses a broad duty to keep workplaces safe for employees. The Act also has specific recordkeeping, notice, posting and reporting requirements to document hazardous conditions, injuries and OSH Act violations. Employers must educate their workforces about workplace dangers and remedies under the Act.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the primary federal agency charged with enforcing the Act. OSHA inspectors set up compliance plans and issue citations for health and safety violations that can impose both civil penalties and criminal liability upon employers.

Although workers' compensation and OSH Act and regulations are separate, there is some interaction and overlap. Employer adherence to the OSH Act and to OSHA safety standards and remedying violations promptly may reduce the number of work-related injuries and diseases, thereby reducing workers' compensation claims and costs. OSHA provides free consultation to some businesses in an effort to improve work conditions and administers voluntary protection programs (VPPs) to recognize employers who implement safety management systems. Taking advantage of these services allows an employer to proactively reduce the likelihood of employee injury and illness.

Both OSHA and workers' compensation laws protect employees from employer retaliation for exercising their legal rights. If a worker is injured because of an unsafe work environment and reports the danger to OSHA or files for workers' compensation, the employer cannot legally retaliate for either action by firing, demoting or otherwise penalizing the employee. It is an employee right to report dangerous situations and to seek workers' compensation benefits for work-related injuries or diseases. Employers should use caution when an employee may have disclosed a workplace hazard to a government agency.

Finally, some state workers' compensation laws provide for higher awards if the injuries or diseases in question are caused by work conditions constituting OSHA violations.

Call Us If You Have Concerns

To comply with myriad state and federal laws affecting workers' compensation and workplace safety, it is in an employer's interest to consult with a knowledgeable workers' compensation lawyer. The Law Firm of Peters & Wasilefski can help.

To learn more, call us at 717-260-3483 or 866-830-1116 or schedule an appointment online. Based in Harrisburg, we represent businesses and employers throughout south central Pennsylvania.