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Massachusetts Temporary Workers Should Celebrate Increased OSHA Oversight

In Massachusetts, all private sector employers must buy workers’ compensation insurance or else qualify as self-insurers. These policies must cover employees once they start their first day of work. Failing to insure employees is both a civil and a criminal offense. However, not all workers are “employees” for purposes of collecting workers’ compensation benefits.

Coverage for seasonal and casual workers and part-time domestic workers is elective, not mandatory. Other workers excluded from the state workers’ compensation system are railroad workers, firefighters, police officers, most babysitters and home gardeners, shipyard and harbor workers and U.S. government workers. Federal compensation programs cover the latter three.

By definition, independent contractors are not employees and they aren’t entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Some employers misclassify their workers as employees or independent contractors. At times this is intentional; however, businesses are not permitted to avoid their obligation to provide workers’ compensation obligations (or unemployment compensation and tax obligations) by classifying workers as independent contractors. If you are injured on the job and an employer tells you that you are not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits because you are an independent contract, consider consulting an attorney who can give you a better idea of whether you are actually an employee under the law.

Recently, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) started receiving reports about temporary workers who were fatally injured on the job. Safety training of temp workers is not always implemented. Although the phrase “temp worker” is often associated with office personnel, some contractors and subcontractors are also temp workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job fatalities made up 12% of fatal work injuries for 2011.

With respect to the recent reports, OSHA issued citations, but recently they decided to do more. This is an important development. Employers need to protect all workers, not just employees, and this past Workers’ Memorial Day, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a new initiative in order to protect temporary employees from sustaining workplace injuries, too.

OSHA asked its regional administrators to check with field inspectors to see if employers of temporary workers are adhering to their safety responsibilities. The inspectors will use a code that was created specifically to track when temp workers are exposed to health and safety violations. Moreover, they will determine whether temp workers were trained in a language they could understand.

In addition to the new monitoring of temp workers, OSHA is also starting to work with the American Staffing Association. The goal is to promote practices that reduce the danger to temp workers. This is a positive step towards protecting all workers and reducing injuries.

If you or a loved one was injured on the job, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. As mentioned above, some independent contractors are wrongly classified as non-employees. In the context of a work injury, you should check with an attorney to make sure you are properly classified. Even if you are not an employee able to pursue workers’ compensation benefits, you may be able to recover damages in a personal injury lawsuit. For workers’ compensation advice contact an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer like Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C., at 800-367-0871 or through our online contact form.

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