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Workers’ compensation changes signed into law

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Gov. Susana Martinez signed legislation Monday aimed at protecting employers from unreasonable demands made by workers injured on the job.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque, amends the workers’ compensation system in New Mexico to clarify that an employer can fire an injured worker who returns to work — if the person is terminated for misconduct unrelated to the injury.

The measure also makes it clear that an injured worker isn’t entitled to full disability benefits if he or she rejects a reasonable offer to return to work.

Martinez, a Republican in her second term, said the bill restores balance to the workers’ compensation system.

“It protects someone who is legitimately injured on the job, but it also protects the employer,” she said at a news conference in Downtown Albuquerque.

Candelaria, a lawyer, thanked Martinez for signing the legislation, which passed with bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate.

“It’s commonsense,” he said of the changes. “It’s not about political party or ideology.”

Senate Bill 155, Candelaria said, ensures that employers aren’t penalized if they bring a worker back after an injury, only to have the employee engage in misconduct.

The employer, however, would face legal penalties if a judge determines that the termination was actually a result of the injury, not unrelated misconduct.

Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, where the governor addressed reporters Monday, said the bill “will make a huge difference, even a sea change” for New Mexico businesses.

Martinez, who was injured while skiing earlier this year, wore a knee brace during the news conference and moved gingerly.

It could be a busy week for the governor and her staff. She has until Friday to sign bills passed by the Legislature this year, or they’re automatically vetoed.

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