Employers have a duty of care toward their employees, and must take all reasonable measures to foster a safe and sanitary workplace environment free of hazards to human health. Unfortunately, even the most cautious and safety-conscious of employers can find themselves faced with a legal crisis after a workplace accident occurs. Accidents and injuries in the workplace can lead to protracted OSHA investigations, substantial civil penalties, personal injury lawsuits, increased insurance premiums, potential liability to customers, and finally, lowered workforce morale and reduced productivity.
Worker’s Compensation Laws for Employers in California
State law requires all California employers with at least one employees to carry worker’s compensation insurance. Unless you are a sole proprietorship with no employees other than yourself, worker’s comp coverage is mandatory. There is also a special exception for roofers, who must be insured even if they have no employees. Even out-of-state employers may be required to carry worker’s compensation coverage if one or more employees:
- “Is regularly employed in California.”
- Signs an employment contract in California.
Typically speaking, worker’s compensation covers all employees of a given company, including upper-level management such as company directors and corporate officers.
Worker’s compensation coverage is not regulated by the state of California, which means you will have to shop around for the insurer which best fits your company’s coverage needs. The California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) recommends referring to the Worker’s Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau to compare rates for different carriers. Ultimately, the final cost of your premiums will depend on factors like your company’s industry, your company’s safety record, and your employees’ pay.
What Happens if an Employee is Injured on the Job?
If an employee is injured while performing his or her work duties, as an employer you are required to take the following five steps:
- You must provide the employee with a worker’s comp claim form within one day of the accident (or date the accident is reported).
- You must return a copy of the completed form back to the employee within one day of receipt.
- Within one day of receipt, you must also send the claim to the appropriate claims administrator.
- You must approve up to $10,000 of treatment (as appropriate) within one day of the claim’s receipt.
- Depending on the employee’s capabilities, you must provide lighter (transitional) work while the employee recovers.
Additionally, if the injury specifically resulted from an assault or any other type of crime, you must inform the employee that he or she is entitled to worker’s compensation within one business day of the crime’s commission.
The Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), commonly referred to as Cal/OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), is responsible for enforcing workplace safety compliance in the state of California. Depending on the severity of the employee’s injury, Cal/OSHA may initiate an investigation.
If Cal/OSHA uncovers a failure to comply with safety regulations, your company can potentially be penalized with a fine. To quote OSHA directly, “The maximum penalty OSHA can assess, regardless of the circumstances, is $7,000 for each serious violation and $70,000 for a repeated or willful violation.”
Tips to Prevent Workplace Accidents
Severe workplace injuries can occur in any setting, even a quiet office building. However, employees in certain industries and occupations are at an increased risk for sustaining severe or fatal injuries on the job. According to a 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report on fatal occupational injuries in California, there were 396 total fatal injuries in 2013, or about one each day, broken down by cause as follows:
- Transportation Incidents – 138 deaths
- Assaults and Animal Attacks – 80 deaths
- Contact with Equipment and Objects – 65 deaths
- Slip and Fall Accidents – 64 deaths
- Exposure to Substances or Environments – 39 deaths
- Fires and Explosions – 9 deaths
Industries and occupations with high fatal accident rates included:
- Administrative and Waste Services
- Installation, Maintenance, and Repairs
- Transportation and Warehousing
All employers – particularly those whose employees work in high-risk occupations – must be vigilant in order to minimize the chance of a serious or deadly accident taking place. You can help reduce the risk of workplace injuries by taking the following steps:
- Establish clear safety policies in your employee handbooks.
- Make sure safety posters are prominently displayed in the workplace.
- Avoid taking shortcuts in the interest of saving money. Always follow safety procedures to the letter.
- Make sure employees are attended by supervisors as necessary, and are wearing appropriate safety gear for the task at hand.
- Be clear about safety risks, required skill sets, and other expectations when describing the position on job listings.
- Watch closely for employees who seem sick, fatigued, or impaired. Send employees home if they could spread illness or otherwise endanger the safety of others.
For all of these reasons, it is critical that employers are legally prepared for workplace accidents before they occur. If you’re concerned about your company’s compliance with state or federal workplace safety laws, or if you are already facing litigation related to an employee injury, the experienced employment law lawyers of Bellatrix PC can assist. We will advise you with regard to your rights and responsibilities as an employer or business owner while pursuing effective and efficient legal solutions to all of your regulatory concerns.
If you’re worried about your company’s safety policies, OSHA compliance, or a workplace accident lawsuit, call the employment law attorneys of Bellatrix PC at (800) 449-8992 to arrange for a private legal consultation.