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New York’s workers’ compensation system is designed to protect employees who are injured on the job by replacing lost wages while they recover. The New York State Workers’ Compensation Board (www.wcb.state.ny.us/) administers the law.

The system works as a no-fault guarantee. Employees who can show they were hurt while working can receive a portion of their earnings and paid medical care for their injuries. They needn’t prove that their employer was negligent. In exchange for the no-fault guarantee, the law does not grant workers the right to sue for negligence and collect far more than just lost wages and medical payments.

In some situations, employees aren’t eligible for workers’ compensation payments. For example, they can’t collect benefits if they’re injured:

  • While intoxicated.
  • As a result of willful failure to use any reasonable and proper personal protective device furnished by the employer.
  • While attempting to injure themselves or unlawfully injuring another person.
  • By someone other than a co-worker for personal reasons.
  • While participating in a voluntary, off-duty recreational, social or athletic activity unrelated to their job duties.
  • By an act of God.
  • By horseplay or skylarking.

The Workers’ Compensation Law holds employers accountable for a variety of workplace injuries: for instance, those that occur in common areas of the workplace, such as parking lots.

New York’s workers’ comp statute works in concert with other laws, such as child labor laws and the ADA. For example, an employer that illegally employs minors must pay double the normal workers’ comp payout, with the excess coming out of its own pocket, not from the insurance company. In addition, you may be liable through your workers’ comp coverage to remodel a disabled worker’s home to accommodate his mobility limitations.

Virtually all New York businesses must carry workers’ comp insurance. Even sole proprietors who employ someone else must provide coverage or be approved for self-insurance.

Tips for reducing workers’ comp costs

One way you can reduce your workers’ compensation costs is to encourage employees to return to work as soon as they’re able.

You can, for example, make available light-duty positions for injured employees who may not be ready to return to more demanding jobs. Work with your insurance carrier to develop a light-duty program.

ADA, FMLA and workers’ compensation

Employees injured at work may also be disabled under the ADA or the New York Human Rights Law (NYHRL) and have a serious medical condition under the FMLA.

Therefore, be sure to coordinate any unpaid leave and reasonable accommodations, such as light-duty work or intermittent leave, when handling NYHRL, ADA and FMLA claims with the insurance carrier.

Nothing will sink a case faster than evidence that an employer acquiesced to a workers’ comp claim but refused to allow an FMLA claim for the same condition.

Excerpted from New York's 10 Most Critical Employment Laws, a special bonus report available to subscribers of HR Specialist: New York Employment Law 

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