Previously, we began looking at the topic of workers’ compensation costs, and some of the legitimate ways employers may seek to contain and reduce their workers’ compensation expenses. These strategies can include, as we noted, improving worker training, carefully monitoring for fraud, implementing return-to-work programs, and maintaining a safe work environment. Employers and their insurers may also, of course, negotiate special arrangements with health care providers to help keep costs down.
It is important, however, for workers to be aware of illegal ways employers may attempt to reduce their workers’ compensation costs. Because most employers are aware of their legal obligations, these tactics are usually subtle rather than obvious. For example, employers may attempt to negotiate a settlement with an injured employee outside the workers’ compensation system in order to avoid insurance rate increases.
Another possible tactic is for employers to misclassify workers as independent contractors when they really should be classified as employees. Because employers don’t have to provide workers’ compensation benefits to employees, making liberal use of contractors can help reduce these expenses. It should not be assumed, however, that employers always classify their workers correctly.
Another possibility is for employers to keep their employees uninformed about their workers’ compensation rights and the specific steps that must be taken to seek out benefits, or to set up unnecessary requirements for injured workers to meet.
Retaliation is another strategy employers sometimes try to use against injured employees who attempt to exercise their workers’ compensation rights. Retaliation is almost always subtle, masquerading as a response to poor job performance or misconduct, or as a necessary restructuring of job duties and personnel.
Injured workers who feel their employer may be attempting to short-cut their right to compensation need not only to understand their rights under workers’ compensation law, but also to work with a zealous advocate to ensure their rights are protected so that they are fairly compensated for the on-the-job injuries.