Workers’ Compensation in the United States and Europe

This week’s post comes from London, so instead of wracking my brain for odd tidbits about Ohio workers’ compensation law, I decided that I would just put together a brief post about the differences between the workers’ compensation systems in Europe as opposed to the U.S.

I have been too busy learning things like the fact that Yorkshire pudding is NOT a dessert item to spend a lot of time on this, so I took this post almost verbatim from an article I found from a California law firm, Dimarco, Araujo, Montevido.  Here’s a link to their article and the firm website.  Thank you all at Dimarco, Araujo, Montevido for allowing me to forget about workers’ compensation for a while.

Workers compensation benefits started in 19th century Europe with the advent of industrialization. Germany was the first to introduce a legal doctrine for employer liability, followed by Switzerland and England. The U.S. didn’t enact its first workers’ compensation laws until the early 20th century. The last state to enact workers’ compensation laws (Mississippi) did so in 1948—more than 75 years after Europe’s first legislation was introduced. Since US workers’ compensation laws have been heavily influence by Europe, here’s a brief comparison:


Workers’ compensation laws in Europe vary by country. They fall generally into two categories: Bismarckian and Beveridgean. Bismarckian workers’ compensation systems are based on employer contribution to the insurance program. Beveridgean systems are financed through taxes. Eastern Europe primarily follows the Bismarckian approach, whereas the UK and southern European countries such as Italy, Portugal, and the Scandinavian countries lean more towards the Beveridgean approach.

The US approach to workers’ compensation at the federal and state level descends largely from the Bismarckian approach.


  • Injury and illness coverage. In most European countries and in the US, all occupational injuries are covered under workers’ compensation insurance. Most European countries have a set list of occupational-related illnesses associated with workplace hazards. The US has a list of common occupational illnesses, but any American employee who can prove a direct association between an illness and the workplace can typically secure benefits.
  • Commute-related accidents. The treatment of commute-related accidents is a notable difference between most European countries and the US. Aside from the UK and Denmark, most European countries compensate employees injured in transit to and from work.
  • Fault and the extent of coverage. In both the US and Europe, coverage is provided regardless of fault, and most claims compensate employees for economic loss (medical expenses and living costs) rather than non-economic loss, such as pain and suffering.
  • Public vs. private insurance. Another significant difference is the source of insurance. In the US, insurance is provided either directly through the employer or through a private insurance provider. The federal and state governments dictate terms for workers’ compensation but leave the actual insurance policy purchasing to the employer. In many European countries (and in Ohio), public organizations control workers’ compensation insurance policies (except for self-insured employers in Ohio of course).

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