A Brief History of Workers’ Compensation

Today’s workers’ compensation system is quite complex. However, no matter how unwieldy these laws are, they are a major part of any industrialized society.

The modern workers’ compensation laws have gone through massive changes over the years. Let’s take you back in time and highlight some major events in the law’s evolution:  

The Ancient Roots of Workers

The roots of the modern workers’ compensation system can be traced back to Sumer (modern-day Iraq).

It was Ur, the king of city-state Ur, who had the laws outlined in 2,050 B.C. According to the document, workers would be provided monetary compensation for injuries to certain parts of the body. For instance, the loss of a thumb was equivalent to half the finger, and the affected person was compensated accordingly.

The ancient Roman, Chinese and Greek were also not far behind. Following the Arab tradition, their laws provided a set of schedules, that is, precise payments for precise injuries.

The Industrial Revolution and Common Law at the Time

The industrial revolution meant extreme working conditions for factory workers. At the time, there were three principles that could determine the compensability of an injury. They were:

Contributory Negligence

This condition posited that if the worker was responsible, in any way, for the injury, the employer will not be liable for any compensation.   

The ‘Fellow Servant’ Rule

If the injury resulted from negligence of the fellow worker, the employer will not be liable to pay for any compensation.

The ‘Assumption of Risk’

This principle was the most outrageous of them all. It implied that when the worker signed the contract, he knew of all the hazards that would be involved. Although employers were required to provide safe working conditions, they were not enough to prevent injuries.

A Look at the Workers’ Compensation in the United States

It was in the first half of the 20th century that populist sentiments began to emerge in the United States.

The social change was ignited by a group of authors who started writing about the plight of common man.

One example that is worth mentioning here is that of Upton Sinclair. His novel The Jungle proved to be groundbreaking, as it described the terrible horrors that a Lithuanian immigrant faced in Chicago’s slaughterhouses.

Although the effects were not immediate, the sentiments of reform were ignited in the general public.

At the Federal level, there were steps to regulate interstate commerce. The first official workers’ compensation system in the United States was proposed by President Taft. It was passed in 1908.

Today, the United States has a robust workers’ compensation structure. Many states require the employer to have workers’ compensation insurance for their employees.

The Fitzgerald Law Firm, a firm in New York City, completely understands the workers’ compensation landscape. Their workers’ compensation lawyers help employees get benefits for the losses incurred at work.