Building a human rights framework for workers' compensation in the United States: Opening the debate on first principles


  • Jeffrey A. Hilgert PhD

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Industrial Relations, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Québec, Canada
    • Assistant Professor, École de Relations Industrielles, Université de Montréal, C.P. 6128, Succursale Centre-ville, Montréal, Québec, Canada H3C 3J7.
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  • Disclosure statement: The author does not have any relationships, conditions, or circumstances that present a conflict of interest or a potential conflict of interest.



This article introduces the idea of human rights to the topic of workers' compensation in the United States. It discusses what constitutes a human rights approach and explains how this approach conflicts with those policy ideas that have provided the foundation historically for workers' compensation in the United States.


Using legal and historical research, key international labor and human rights standards on employment injury benefits and influential writings in the development of the U.S. workers' compensation system are cited.


Workers' injury and illness compensation in the United States does not conform to basic international human rights norms.


A comprehensive review of the U.S. workers' compensation system under international human rights standards is needed. Examples of policy changes are highlighted that would begin the process of moving workers' compensation into conformity with human rights standards. Am. J. Ind. Med. 55:506–518, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.