Friday, July 6, 2012

North Carolina, Hardware Stores, and Compliance

North Carolina is working with a new law that it hopes will help the state deal with illegally uninsured employers more effectively.

House Bill 237 was widely supported after its introduction this year and was signed into law by Gov. Bev Purdue last weekend. But the measure became controversial as some state lawmakers and news outlets realized in the 11th hour the bill would close public access to the kind of information that allowed the Raleigh News & Observer to expose the problem of uninsured employers, which led to the bill's introduction in the first place.

The bill amends the state's workers' compensation laws to require the North Carolina Rate Bureau, which maintains policy data for insured employers in the state, to provide workers' compensation coverage information to the Industrial Commission, which enforces the state law requiring employers to be insured. It exempted information shared between the Rate Bureau and Industrial Commission from public record laws.

The intent of the exemption was not to close access but to prevent "orphans" in the system, as was the case before, when the Industrial Commission often learned a company was uninsured only after a worker was hurt on the job, according to Rep. Dale Folwell, R-Winston-Salem. A new bill was passed out of the legislature on July 3, Senate Bill 847, comprised of technical amendments to various laws, including the newly adopted workers' compensation bill, which allows for certain public access.

Sue Taylor, director of insurance operations for the rate bureau, said the technical amendment will keep employers' policy effective dates, cancellation dates and reinstatement dates public information. However, other information shared between the two agencies, such as companies' proprietary information, Social Security numbers, payroll information, names and addresses, will be exempted from public disclosure under the new law.

The draft regulations propose new requirements for employers to submit proof of insurance to the Industrial Commission and post workers' compensation insurance carrier information at work sites. There are other requirements intended to keep workers informed about their employer's compliance.

A statement by a workers' compensation attorney in that state though highlights the disconnect between us in the industry and those on the street, and why our our hopes that new laws to deal with industry issues may not have the impact that is intended.

Larry Baker, attorney for Cranfill Sumner & Harzog law firm and president of the North Carolina Association of Defense Attorneys (NCADA), said, "As an employee, I think you want to know your employer is covered. But most workers probably don't look up their company's insurance information in the Industrial Commission's website."

Actually, my guess is that most workers don't even think about workers' compensation until after they are injured and even then may not realize that there is supposed to be coverage.

I certainly didn't as a young college student working in a hardware store in Lemon Grove, CA.

The best job I ever had (well, not monetarily...) was my introduction to workers' compensation. Working as a retail clerk selling hardware included fixing things that people brought into the store. Lots of fun.

Part of fixing things was repairing screen doors - basically installing new screen material. I had installed new screening material on a door and was trimming the excess when I missed and inflicted a nice clean laceration on my hand with a box knife.

Ouch. There was blood all over the place. My employer was very concerned. It was a decent sized cut. He shuttled me to the store's vehicle to take me to the hospital to get me sewn up.

I didn't have my medical insurance card, nor cash to cover the deductible and expressed that to my boss. He gave me that "Mr. Crabbs" look and said the bill would be covered by workers' compensation. Being the good employee that I was, I didn't understand the whole complex arrangement and didn't want to cause any problems for the store - after all this was the best job in the world!

I got repaired, I assume the hospital got paid, and likely there wasn't much impact on my boss' workers' compensation premium since it was a minor medical only claim - but I suspect at the age of 20 that I was like most workers are today: completely oblivious to workers' compensation insurance and laws.

So with all due respect to Mr. Baker - as an employee, not only did I not care that my employer was covered, I didn't even know what workers' compensation was, and still didn't understand anything even after I was treated.

All I knew was that I got hurt, everything was paid for and taken care of without any money out of my pocket, and I thought that was pretty cool because my employer took care of me.

I suppose the lesson is that we can all wish for better compliance and put into place laws that we hope will accomplish that, but unfortunately employees will not have an appreciation for workers' compensation until an injury occurs, and then it might be too late.

2 comments:

  1. I agree the average worker probably doesn't even know workers' comp exists. I didn't until I worked for a workers' comp insurance company!

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