"High Court Strikes Down Narrowly Tailored Workers’ Compensation Law"


Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 21, 2022 ruling in United States v. Washington, Crystal McElrath provided insight to the Society for Human Resource Management’s coverage on the decision and its implications for workers’ compensation law. In its unanimous ruling, the court found that a Washington state workers’ compensation law applying only to federal contract workers at one federal facility in the state is unconstitutional under the Supremacy Clause because it makes it easier for federal contractors to obtain workers’ compensation than for state or private employees.

Under the intergovernmental immunity doctrine, state laws may not increase costs to the federal government of performing its functions unless the laws impose those costs in a nondiscriminatory way, McElrath explained. “As we enter another charged election cycle, this ruling may impact the kinds of campaign promises that would-be state legislators make. State legislators may not target and penalize the federal government in order to right a perceived social wrong without the federal government’s consent,” she said.

“States that wish to expand workers‘ compensation coverage to include specific conditions must do so at the expense of both private and federal employers, or be sure that any law targeting federal workers falls within the narrowest reading of a congressional waiver of intergovernmental immunity,” McElrath concluded.

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