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North Carolina workers' compensation bill limits transparency

The revelation that thousands of North Carolina employers were failing to carry legally-mandated workers' compensation insurance underscored an unsettling trend. Without this insurance, injured employees were exposed to the risk of not immediately receiving benefits necessary to make ends meet during the recovery period. Furthermore, the media's investigation into this problem showed that employers faced essentially no consequences for violating the law.

Fortunately, state lawmakers saw the dangers of this discovers and introduced a bill into the North Carolina Assembly that was designed to put more pressure on employers who fail to carry compensation insurance. However, one provision of this beneficial reform package limits the public's ability to understand where they stand in regard to workers' compensation benefits.

If this bill is signed into law, the information used by state officials to conduct investigations into employers who are believed to be noncompliant would remain confidential. When the Rate Bureau, a group of insurers that sets insurance rates, discovers that an employer is not carrying insurance, they report the information to state officials. Under the new law, the Rate Bureau's reports would stay under wraps.

Instead of having the ability to clearly understand if your employer has the necessary insurance at any time, you may have to wait until it's too late. If you're injured while your employer still does not have insurance, moving forward with a claim becomes more challenging.

One of the bill's chief sponsors indicated that companies under investigation deserve confidentiality until the investigation is cleared up, which is the same condition that governs the Department of Labor's actions. Once reports of noncompliance are substantiated, then the company's record would become public.

When a worker is seriously injured on the job, they should not have to be subjected the consequences of their employer's negligence. The decision to go without workers' compensation insurance, is not only illegal, but puts employees who are unable to work in an unfair and difficult situation. Workers deserve to have the peace of mind that comes with an insured employer and they also should have the knowledge to understand how their employer's decisions will ultimately affect their well-being.

Source: The News & Observer, "Workers compensation law would restrict public access to information," Austin Baird, June 24, 2012

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