Some injured workers left waiting for compensation checks after GEF-1 fire

Attorney Kent Carnell explains that injured people's workers compensation checks have been delayed due to the fire in the GEF-1 building last week.

Some injured workers are facing delays in getting their workers’ compensation payments after a fire last week closed a major state office building in Downtown Madison.

About 60 to 65 people were affected, including 50 to 55 who recently reached workers’ compensation settlement agreements that have been approved by administrative law judges but whose orders still need to be processed by the state Department of Workforce Development.

There has not been an interruption in the automated payments issued to injured workers whose claims had already been approved, said Stephanie Marquis, spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration.

“Nothing good happens to injured workers by the passage of time,” Milwaukee-based workers’ compensation lawyer Tom Domer said. “We have been getting some information from representatives of the department, which has been helpful, but that information does not put any dollars in injured people’s pockets.”

“The worker’s compensation administrative law judge written orders that would have been issued this week will be issued and mailed next week,” Marquis added.

She added that all workers’ compensation payments made directly by DWD have continued to be processed and issued as scheduled, meaning the vast majority of the state’s injured workers have continued receiving their payments as usual.

Gov. Scott Walker said Friday his top priority in the wake of the fire is ensuring services are not interrupted.

“The bottom line, the most important responsibility I have and to the people of the state is to make sure there’s not a gap in services, that there’s no disruption in the services the people vitally depend on to get by in this state,” Walker said. “We’re going to go to great lengths to make sure that public employees who provide those services as many different ways to do that.”

The approximately 1,000 employees with the state DWD and the Department of Children and Families who were displaced by last week’s fire at the GEF-1 building will have a long-term alternate work location by Tuesday, Marquis said. She released a document Friday that said some employees will still be working from home next week but identifying numerous alternative office locations for the agency’s divisions and executive offices.

Also Friday, Marquis issued a statement saying employees were being allowed to enter the building to retrieve personal belongings or work items, though employees on floors three and four were asked not to remove work items because they were closer to the fire.

“There are NO hazards in the building,” she said in the statement, adding work files are not hazardous.

Madison-based attorney Kent Carnell said the workers’ compensation payment delay has brought hardship for one of his clients, a woman he said was “very seriously injured” on the job.

He added that her husband works, but said she has no other source of income.

“She’s totally disabled from working,” Carnell said.

He added that his client recently reached an agreement with a workers’ compensation insurance company, and that an administrative law judge signed off on the deal.

The delay was the result of the judge’s order needing to then be processed by employees with DWD’s Division of Worker’s Compensation, who have been displaced by the fire, he said.

The delay was due to either the law judge’s inability to access paper files to write orders, or the orders that had been issued could not be processed and mailed out until an alternate work site was set up, Marquis said. She said the orders will now be issued and mailed.

“Apparently, it’s going to slow the whole process,” Carnell said. “I understand there was a fire, but people are being adversely affected.”

Domer added that workers’ compensation hearings, which are typically held at GEF-1, have been postponed and are being rescheduled.

Hearings that would have been held in GEF-1 will instead be held in Fitchburg Municipal Court, said John Dipko, DWD spokesman.

The Madison Fire Department estimated that the fire caused $350,000 in damage.

— State Journal reporters Matthew DeFour and Dee J. Hall contributed to this report.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect new information received by by the State Journal from state officials.