New legislation is being introduced in California that will hopefully ban reductions to workers’ compensation awards for gender-based reasons. The Assemblywoman introducing the bill, Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, claims that women are having their workers’ compensation awards reduced for reasons such as menopause, pregnancy, breast cancer, sexual harassment, and osteoporosis.
About a decade ago, the workers’ compensation system in California adopted a system to apportion responsibility for employee workplace injuries. Though the system is a good idea to save workers’ compensation funds, there is evidence that it has also been misapplied in a way that demonstrates gender bias.
Apportionment is based on whether a former employer or the worker himself or herself bear some responsibility for the injury. Pregnancy, menopause and obesity are among the factors considered in reducing awards to workers. A Bay Area mechanical designer suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome said she had her workers’ compensation reduced because she was postmenopausal. Apparently there are all too frequent cases of women who were injured in the workplace being penalized for gender-related factors like pregnancies and menopause.
According to the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association, a group sponsoring the proposed bill, a female police officer who undergoes a double mastectomy for breast cancer linked to hazardous materials she encounters on the job would be considered 0-5% disabled, depending on her age. Compare that to a male police officer with prostate cancer linked to hazardous materials exposure, who would be considered 16% disabled.
Similar considerations are given to firefighters. One female firefighter from San Francisco was denied any permanent disability compensation after undergoing a double mastectomy, despite the fact that her breast cancer was linked to hazardous materials she encounters on the job.
Both Federal and California state law make discrimination based on gender illegal, and Federal specifically does not allow gender bias in healthcare premiums. Supporters of the legislation, AB 305, hope it will stop the system from discounting a female worker’s claim based on conditions that predominantly affect women.