Thousands of Pa. employers have set up workplace safety committees

The Insurance Journal recently reported on how states rank, high to low, in workers' compensation insurance premiums paid by employers. Pennsylvania was ranked 17 th highest in the nation in the amount paid in workers' comp premiums. In 2012, Pennsylvania had been ranked as 12 th highest in the nation. Nationally, the statistics show that there has been a slight drop in premiums in the last two years.

Understandably, employers desire to pay no more than they have to in workers' compensation premiums. Consequently, Pennsylvania offers employers a way to cut their premiums significantly if they develop a certified workplace safety program. Some employers do not want to play by the rules when it comes to paying workers' compensation insurance premiums. Instead, employers have been known to go so far as to mislead employees about their right to workers' comp benefits in an effort to avoid paying their fair share of premiums.

Over the past few years, unscrupulous employers have resorted to misclassifying workers as being independent contractors rather than employees. In so doing, employers can pay less in workers' comp premiums which thereby gives then a significant economic advantage over employers who do play by the rules. According to a McClatchy newspaper investigation, worker misclassification is rampant in the construction industry. The investigation concluded that the construction industry has often exploited workers desperate for jobs by misclassifying them as independent contractors in a brazen attempt to deprive them of workers' compensation benefits and other rights associated with being an employee.

The U.S. Department of Labor characterizes worker misclassification as a "serious problem" that robs workers of rights they are legally entitled to as employees. In an attempt to deal with the worsening employee misclassification problem, Pennsylvania passed the Construction Worker Misclassification Act. The law is designed to penalize employers who deliberately misclassify their workers in order to avoid paying taxes and workers' compensation premiums.

On the national level, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey introduced the Payroll Fraud Prevention Act aimed at reducing employee misclassifications. According to Casey, the Act would ensure employees' rights to matters ranging from health and safety protections to workers' compensation benefits. Due to the seemingly perpetual political gridlock that has become the norm in Washington, it is unclear whether Casey's proposed legislation will become law anytime soon.

Safety program

Employers who desire to legitimately reduce their workers' compensation insurance premiums can set up a workplace safety committee that, if certified by Pennsylvania, can reduce premiums by 5 percent each year. According to the 2014 Governor's Occupational Safety & Health Conference, since 1994, more than 10,500 employers in Pennsylvania have created workplace safety committees thereby helping to ensure the safety of more than 1.4 million employees. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry adds that Pennsylvania employers have saved millions in workers' compensation insurance premiums by setting up safety committees that meet the requirements for state certification.

According to the American Society of Safety Engineers, workplace safety programs can be quite effective in reducing workplace injuries and illnesses. The Society references a study of Pennsylvania's workplace safety committees which concluded that, when employers and employees take these committees seriously, there is significantly improved workplace safety.

Seeking compensation

An employee's entitlement to workers' compensation benefits is sometimes vigorously contested by the employer. If you have sustained a workplace injury and have questions about whether you are entitled to workers' compensation benefits, you should contact a Pennsylvania attorney who has experience in handling workers' compensation claims.