The NC Industrial Commission will be taking a tough line next month against uninsured employers it has ordered to settle claims with injured workers: Pay up or go to jail.
The News & Observer reports more than a dozen employers have been ordered to come to a hearing May 22 and settle a claim that has dragged for years. If the business owners don’t – and can’t settle a portion of the claim – they’ll be ordered to jail. Law enforcement will be sent to arrest those who don’t show up for the hearing, officials say.
The efforts follow a News & Observer investigation which revealed that tens of thousands of employers required to protect their workers with insurance don’t. And when workers were hurt, the commission has done little to ensure the uninsured employer paid the workers’ medical bills and wages for missed work. Some workers ended up permanently disabled and reliant on Medicaid and welfare to survive.
“In response to the issues you raised, we now have some concrete plans,” said Pamela Young, chairwoman of the North Carolina Industrial Commission, the state agency charged with enforcing the workers’ comp laws.
In addition to the May 22 contempt hearing, the commission will schedule other special hearings to deal with lingering uninsured cases. Commission staff reached out to nearly 100 workers who reported they’ve been injured on the job and whose company didn’t have coverage. Most of those cases had fallen through the cracks because the worker didn’t have an attorney to press for collection.
About 125 uninsured employers who ignored the commission’s orders to pay the worker and penalties will be called back, too.
Young said the commission is spreading the word that it is serious about enforcing workers’ compensation laws, which require employers with three or more employees to carry insurance for workplace injuries. The law, which dates back to the 1930s, is supposed to ensure that industry takes care of its own accidents.
The Industrial Commission has long struggled with enforcement of workers’ compensation coverage. The commission, whose members are appointed by the governor, has the power to demand employers routinely show proof of coverage.
It has instead turned to the N.C. Rate Bureau, a private group that lobbies for insurance companies, to provide information on which carriers cover which employers.
Last month, the Rate Bureau accounted for about 140,000 companies covered through private insurers doing business in the state. Another 117 large companies have been certified with the Department of Insurance as having the ability to pay should their workers be injured.
That leaves a wide gap. The Department of Commerce estimates that as many as 170,000 companies operate in North Carolina that have four or more employees, one employee above the trigger for required coverage. Dun and Bradstreet, a firm that tracks businesses, counts about 174,000 companies with three or more employees headquartered in North Carolina; that number doesn’t account for those based elsewhere.
Young says she has been working for more than two years to establish a contempt process at the commission. In December 2009, Young said, she began meeting with local judges, sheriff’s deputies and magistrates in Wake County to come up with the right forms and procedures when the commission forces an employer to jail. Read More.