North Carolina’s workers’ compensation system protects employees who are injured on the job by replacing lost wages while they recover. The state Industrial Commission (www.comp.state.nc.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 the injuries suffered. They needn’t prove that their employer was negligent. In exchange for the no-fault guarantee, workers can’t sue for negligence and collect far more than just lost wages and medical payments.
In some situations, employees aren’t eligible for workers’ comp payments. For example, they can’t collect benefits if the injury:
- Isn’t accidental within the meaning of the law (intentional acts of co-workers are considered accidental since the injured worker could not have anticipated them in the normal course of work).
- Did not arise out of employment.
- Did not occur in the course of employment.
What if the employee was drinking or using drugs when the injury occurred? The employer isn’t necessarily off the hook. The employer may use alcohol or drug use as a defense only if it can prove the employee was intoxicated at the time the injury occurred. The statute construes intoxication to mean “the employee shall have consumed a sufficient quantity of intoxicating beverage or controlled substance to cause the employee to lose the normal control of his or her bodily or mental faculties, or both …”
Further, unlike in many other states, employers are always responsible for the negligent actions of fellow employees when the workers are acting within the scope of their jobs. Employers may not use the so-called “fellow servant” rule as a defense.
Under the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act, employers are held accountable for a variety of workplace injuries: for instance, those that occur in common areas, such as parking lots, driveways and entrance roads.
Generally, employers that have three or more employees must provide workers’ compensation coverage, but there are two exceptions: (1) Any business where employees could possibly be exposed to radiation must have coverage regardless of the number of employees; (2) agricultural enterprises needn’t carry workers’ comp unless they have at least 10 permanent, nonseasonal employees.
Employers that wish to self-insure must apply to the North Carolina Industrial Commission for permission to do so or they may post a bond guaranteeing payment to injured workers. (Partners and sole proprietors aren’t required to carry workers’ comp, but may opt in to the program.)
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.
For example, you can 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.
Employees injured at work may also be considered disabled under the ADA and have a serious medical condition under the FMLA.
So, make sure you coordinate any unpaid leave and reasonable accommodations, such as light-duty work or ADA , in handling and FMLA claims with the insurance carrier. That’s because nothing will sink a case faster than evidence that an employer acquiesced to a workers’ compensation claim but refused to allow an FMLA claim for the same condition.
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