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New York Workers' Compensation Blog For Small Business Owners

Understanding sovereign immunity

There are some who might argue that people are more hesitant to bring claims against government or municipal agencies because the thought of battling it out with such organizations may seem daunting. On the other hand, as the representative of such an agency, your experience may have shown you that people see state and local governments as easy targets. Many in your same situation often come to us here at Stockton, Barker & Mead, LLP questioning exactly what rights their employees have when bringing claims against their agencies. They often cite a legal principle that is widely misunderstood: sovereign immunity. 

The idea of sovereign immunity comes from Old English times, when making claims against the ruling body was not allowed. The same principle was applied with the establishment of democratic governments. However, the right to recognize sovereign immunity has been left to the individual states. According to the New York City Bar, New York has officially waived the right to sovereign immunity, meaning that people can bring claims against government and municipal agencies (including workers' compensation claims). However, such claims must often be managed differently than a traditional workers' compensation case. 

When might an employee not be covered?

The general assumption regarding workers' compensation benefits is that all eligible employees have access to them, regardless of fault. This offers you (as an employer in Troy) an added sense of security in knowing that not only is your workforce protected, but so are you. Yet could there be situations where an employee is excluded them receiving workers' compensation coverage?

The New York State Workers' Compensation Board identifies those types of employees not eligible for coverage. Some of the more common groups include: 

  • Volunteers for non-profit organizations 
  • Clergy members
  • Real estate and insurance agents operating as independent contractors
  • Participants (including coaches and players) in amateur athletic events 

Slip and fall injuries can happen in summer

You may think that customer slip and fall injury concerns have passed along with the winter. While it’s great to have your parking lot plowed and salt the sidewalks of your property during the winter, that vigilance should be continued into the warmer months. Unfortunately, slip and fall season is year-round.

OSHA reports that slip and fall injuries are the second-leading cause of accidental deaths behind motor vehicle accidents nationwide. These injuries comprise one-fourth of all reported injury claims and can affect your insurance costs and the productivity of your employees.

A closer look at workers' comp fraud

Workers' compensation benefits are meant to help employees who have sustained job-related injuries and are struggling with the consequences of these injuries, such as financial problems due to missed work and medical costs. Unfortunately, some people take advantage of the system and attempt to pursue benefits that they are not entitled to. There are a number of reasons why people try to obtain workers' comp benefits that they should not be entitled to and our law office believes that this is unacceptable. Unfortunately, many people have gotten away with fraudulent workers' comp claims and received benefits that never should have been awarded.

Workers' comp fraud may occur in a number of ways. In some instances, an employee may file a claim over an injury or illness that has been completely fabricated. Or, an employee may be struggling with a relatively minor injury or illness, but they may exaggerate the extent of their suffering in order to become eligible for these benefits. Furthermore, a worker may sustain an injury that took place outside of the workplace and they may try to claim that they were hurt on the job in order to qualify for workers' comp.

Workers' comp claims over slip-and-fall accidents

Workplace injuries take place in many different ways, and it is important for employers to consider various preventative measures to keep employees safe and avoid some of the consequences of workplace accidents. Unfortunately, workplace accidents cannot always be avoided, no matter how much a company focuses on employee safety. Moreover, there are times when workers falsely claim that they were hurt on the job and attempt to pursue workers' compensation benefits that they should not be entitled to. Sometimes, these cases may involve an alleged slip-and-fall accident.

An employee may falsely claim that they were hurt in a slip-and-fall accident, or they may purposely create a scenario which leaves them injured in order to gain access to benefits. For example, an employee may pretend to fall down due to a slippery surface, and claim that they were hurt when they were not injured in the accident. Or, they may have suffered an injury in another manner (such as an accident that took place outside of the workplace) and decide to place the blame on a slip-and-fall accident that never occurred.

Technology and the workers’ comp sphere

One trend that the U.S. has recently seen when it comes to workers’ comp claims is a drop in claims frequency. Such drops can have many different effects within the workers’ compensation market, including having the potential to push down rates.

Why are claims going down in frequency? One thing some are pointing to is technology. There are a range of technologies that insurers and employers can utilize to try to help bring down the level and severity of worker’s comp claims. Below are some examples:

What are the criteria for independent contractors?

As a New York small business owner and employer, one of the most important things you must understand is the difference between your actual employees that you hire and the independent contractors you engage to do various pieces of work for you.

The New York State Department of Labor provides a comprehensive list of the differences between employees and independent contractors, and reminds you that you must provide unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation benefits to your employees, as well as pay the employer’s share of FICA taxes. You need not do any of these things for independent contractors you engage.

Independent medical exams and your injured employee

Do you know how an Independent Medical Exam (IME) can affect your employee's workers' compensation claim? If you are a self-insured small-business owner, you have a right to request that an injured employee is examined by a board-certified doctor of your choosing for a second opinion. 

Misclassification can lead to workers' compensation issues

Workers' compensation insurance premiums depend on employee classifications and payroll.

In the past, this fact led many New York small business owners to classify employees falsely as independent contractors. It was a tactic to avoid high premiums and save money. Or make no insurance payments at all.

Minimum Compensation Rate

Workers' Compensation Law § 15 [6] [a] sets the minimum rate of compensation for disability - $150 per week since May 1, 2013. There are three scenarios, however when payments may be made at less than the minimum rate.

First, if the claimant's average weekly wage is less than the minimum rate of compensation the claimant's total disability rate will be equal to the average weekly wage - even if that is less than the minimum rate.

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