The Early History of the Minnesota Workers Compensation Statute

Today in all American states, injured workers can be compensated for work-related injuries. This is the Workers Compensation Statute. This has not always been the case. In Minnesota, such legislation was a long time coming.

Early Beginnings

Although Workers’ Compensation legislation originated in Germany in 1880, it did not come to America until Maryland in 1902. Through the force and determination of the Minnesota Employees’ Compensation Commission, the Workers Compensation Statute was passed into law by the state legislature in 1913.

Until then workers were forced to rely on four unreliable sources of compensation:

  • The Courts: By suing the employer for damages, the injured worker could hope for some financial recompense
  • The Employer: It was hoped the employer would accept responsibility and tender some form of financial aid
  • Private, government or community institutions: Might offer some type of help
  • Insurance Policy or Benefit Policy: Sometimes unionized workers were part of a mutual benefit plan; sometimes companies offered an insurance plan

Only options three and four offered any real hope. In the 19th century, courts tended to side with the employers and employers often regarded workers as disposable. The other two options, for various reasons, were often not obtainable or insufficient to address the needs of an injured worker.

The Result

The legislation passed in 1913 was among the weakest of its time. It did, however, lay the basis for future amendments. Looking back at the history of the Workers Compensation Statute provides the incentive to continue to argue for improvements.