The Charlotte Observer recently told the story of a man who was injured at work and left to eke out a living on government benefits due to the failure of the state’s workers’ compensation system to compensate him.
The worker, John Ashworth, shattered both his feet back in 2008 after falling off a roof. His employer lacked the insurance required by state law and owes him tens of thousands in back pay. State officials have been pressuring the company to pay, but so far Ashworth has received a total of $75. He survives on food stamps and Medicaid given the lack of a safety net for workers just like him.
The problem in North Carolina is a big one. One investigation found that there are at least 30,000 employers across the state that are required to carry insurance but do not. More shocking is that little or nothing has been done by regulators to ensure compliance with the state law. The state’s Industrial Commission hears complaints from between 300 and 500 workers each year who were injured while working for an uninsured company. Even though the Commission typically rules in favor of the injured workers, it can takes months or years (if ever) before the Commission is able to force the employers to pay the money they rightfully owe.
One way of fixing the problem is to haul the bosses off to jail. In another case this year, an injured worker was owed $120,000 in back pay by his boss. After months of ignoring the commission’s letters and requests for a meeting, officials finally arrested the employer. The arrest provoked the desired response and the employer has already begun making $1,000 per month payments to the worker in hopes of a settlement.
Advocates for such vulnerable employees say the state should create a fund to pay the back pay owed to such injured workers quickly so they are not left destitute while their former employers dispute the claims. Because workers that are never compensated end up on Medicaid or food stamp programs, advocates explain the taxpayers end up footing the bill either way.
More than half of the states in the country offer a similar service, compensating workers injured while employed at companies without proper insurance. South Carolina set up a system like this more than 30 years ago in an attempt to make sure injured workers receive help and get back to work as quickly as possible and it’s high time that North Carolina consider doing the same.
The workers’ compensation lawyers in Charlotte, North Carolina at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are experienced in the realm of workers’ compensation. If you are having difficulty obtaining workers’ compensation benefits from your employer, please contact the workers comp attorneys in Charlotte, North Carolina at Arnold & Smith PLLC today for a free consultation at 704-370-2828.
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