The Workingmen's Compensation Act: Definition & Significance

Instructor: Ashley Miller

Ashley works in Higher Education and holds a Masters degree in Organizational Leadership

Throughout history, the federal government has passed several pieces of legislation to compensate workers who are injured on the job. Once such piece of legislation is the Workingmen's Compensation Act, which we will explore in this lesson.

What is the Workingmen's Compensation Act?

Sandy has been a coal miner in rural Pikeville, Kentucky, for the past 18 years. Her family isn't well-off - she works hard to provide for her family, and they live paycheck to paycheck. One day at work, Sandy was mining and the cable on her car snapped, causing it to roll over her foot and break her ankle. How is she going to provide for her family now that she's injured and can't work? Sandy is covered under the Workingmen's Compensation Act (WCA) of 1916.

The WCA is formally known as the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA), and it provides financial assistance to federal employees who have been injured at work. It also gives injured workers access to medical services and rehabilitation, if needed, as well as providing help to their families.

Initially, the WCA was developed as a program for federal employees only, but states have gradually adopted the principle to include workers in all industries. In fact, as one of the first regulatory changes to provide workers with compensation upon injury, the WCA has since brought about new compulsory workers' compensation laws that span the entire U.S. workforce.

The rules and regulations for workers' compensation vary by state. However, most businesses purchase workers' compensation insurance policies to help pay employee claims for workplace injuries. These policies not only assist businesses in paying claims, but also help give workers access to treatment that helps them recover and return to work sooner.

Workingmen's Compensation Act: A Brief History

During World War I, several pieces of ground-breaking labor legislation were passed through Congress, an effect of the growing role that organized labor began to play in the political realm. One of those pieces of legislation was the Workingmen's Compensation Act. This program was established to help protect workers and those who depend on them from suffering hardships in times of workplace injuries or death.

Until the act passed through Congress in 1916, any employee who was injured on the job and was not able to work was simply not paid. Think about it - if you're not able to work, you can't make money. If you can't make money, you can't afford the doctor bills to get better. If you can't your doctors bills to get better, you can't go back to work. It was a vicious cycle that left many employees unable to provide for their families.

Today, the WCA is upheld by the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP), which is divided into four major branches of disability compensation:

  • Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation program
  • Federal Employees' Compensation Program
  • Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Program
  • Coal Mine Workers' Compensation Program

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