Know your employee rights regarding workers’ compensation coverage and benefits

Workers' compensation benefits cover job-related illnesses or injury. Understand your rights and to fight to obtain them from non-compliant employers.

California employers are required by law to have workers' compensation insurance if they have one employee or more. This includes all employees of a company, from temporary workers to corporate officers and directors. Employers can chose to either purchase an insurance policy from a licensed state insurer or become self-insured. Workers' compensation is considered part of the cost of a business, and employers cannot abstain from obtaining it or ask employees to help pay the premiums.

Lack of proper coverage can lead to employee out-of-pocket expenses

In April 2015, the owners of the Green Cactus Collective Medical Marijuana Dispensary in Palmdale, Tiffany Shorter and Jabe Satterfield, were arrested for multiple felony counts of insurance fraud for failing to provide workers' compensation benefits for their employees. When a security officer was shot three times during a robbery in November of 2013, Shorter and Satterfield told him to lie about his employment status. While receiving medical treatment at the hospital, the employee was told to state that he was a volunteer, making him ineligible for workers' compensation benefits. December of that same year, the dispensary was robbed again. The same employee, now back to work, sustained further injury and incurred significant medical expenses that he had to pay out of his own pockets.

"This case serves as a reminder that workers' compensation fraud is a costly crime for employees who are left uncovered when their employers cheat the system," Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones stated in a report by the California Department of Insurance.

Not providing workers' compensation coverage is a criminal offense

Failing to provide workers' compensation coverage is in itself a criminal misdemeanor offense. Employee injuries only serve to further compound penalties. According to Section 3700.5 of the California Labor Code, it is punishable by a fine of at least $10,000, imprisonment in county jail for up to a year or both. The state also issues penalties against illegally uninsured employers up to $100,000.

In the above example, a much more extreme case, the offending employers, Shorter and Satterfield each face up to four years in prison if they are convicted. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office is prosecuting the case, which was slated for a preliminary hearing on May 18, 2015.

How you can protect your rights against illegally uninsured employers

The Green Cactus Collective case is an example of what can happen if an employer fails to provide adequate workers' compensation coverage. It also demonstrates the importance of employees fighting for their rights to benefits.

Employers are required by law to post information for employees regarding workers' compensation coverage information and where to go for medical care for work injuries. They are also to provide a pamphlet to new hires that outline employee rights and responsibilities. Employers that fail to comply with this can be reported to the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. If you are asked to lie about your employment status or coverage, you also have a right to consult with a lawyer.

If you are injured or become ill because of work and you are not insured, you will be responsible for paying all related medical bills. And if your employer is illegally uninsured, you have a right to file a civil action against them in addition to filing your workers' compensation claim. An experienced attorney can help with all aspects of the claims process.

Keywords: workers' compensation, uninsured employers, worker injury, employee illness