Exploring the Safety Net for Non-Traditional Employees

Chriss Swaney

Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – If you are a jockey, small business owner, agricultural worker, freelance writer or commercial fisherman, there might be a smaller safety net when it comes to workers’ compensation coverage.

WorkersCompensation.com has devoted a series to some of these types of jobs, called “Risky Business.” Read the article on crab fishermen here.

In 14 states, smaller employers with five employees or fewer do not have to secure comp coverage. In 17 states, there is no legal requirement for coverage of agricultural workers. Half of the states do not require coverage for domestic workers, and five states specifically exclude coverage for these employees.

Exemptions in a particular state can be based on how common a particular occupation is and how the government views them. For example, in California where there are a large number of seasonal agricultural workers, all employees are covered under their workers’ comp laws.

However in Florida, an agricultural employer must have at least six regular or 12 seasonal workers before they are required to have workers’ comp insurance. And undocumented workers are also supposed to be eligible for work comp benefits.

But Jeannie Economos, pesticide safety and environmental health project coordinator at the Farmworker Association of Florida, said companies hiring undocumented workers face the threat of being charged with fraud by the government, which makes it difficult and almost impossible for undocumented agricultural workers to receive work comp benefits.

“Agricultural farm work is a very dangerous profession,” Economos said. “Farmworkers are exposed to numerous safety, health, environmental, biological, and respiratory hazards, including vehicle rollovers, heat exposure, falls, pesticides, hazardous equipment and unsanitary conditions.”

If those exposures lead to occupational diseases, it sometimes takes several years for them to surface, or a diagnosis to be made. This sort of timing can be difficult, especially if the diagnosis comes after the statute of limitations.

Some industry experts point to the occupational disease issue as very concerning. This is because it is very easy to question the fairness of barring a claim under the statute of limitations. In some states, an injured worker can also be denied the ability to pursue a claim in civil court under the exclusive remedy protections of workers’ compensation.

Most commercial fishermen injuries are excluded from workers’ compensation benefits that other workers are entitled and accustomed to. However, under federal maritime law, commercial fishermen are protected under both general maritime law and the Jones Act.

Thoroughbred racing also thins that work comp coverage safety net. For the first time in more than a decade, New York Thoroughbred owners and trainers will see a decline in overall insurance premiums paid to provide workers’ compensation coverage for jockeys and exercise riders in 2018.

The New York Jockey Injury Compensation Fund, which runs the workers’ compensation program for the thoroughbred industry in the state, recently reported that the overall premium costs for coverage in 2018 will drop more than $750,000. Insurance coverage in 2017 cost the industry about $9 million, according to the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

Another workers’ compensation exemption update from California: Corporations with officers/owners that have less than 15 percent ownership will now include those officers/owners on their workers’ compensation programs, according to Eli Gillespie of Gillespie Insurance Services. This change has aided workers in California, Arizona and Nevada.

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