HR Fly on the Wall: Workers’ Compensation Preliminary Hearing


As an HR professional, you knowhow important it is to have an open dialogue with employees, supervisors and attorneysin your legal department.What you don’tknow, however, is what types of conversations your employees have when you’re not present.

In this series, HR Fly on theWall hopes to present you with a perspective to which you don’t typically haveaccess. In Part 1 of our first installment, the HR Fly is on the wall in alibrary conference room in a small town somewhere in the U.S.A., where aworkers’ compensation preliminary hearing is about to begin. Would you like tolisten in? 

HR Fly: Buzz on through to the other side

Administrative Law Judge (ALJ): This is a preliminary hearing that was requested by the employer, Acme Co., regarding the proper classification of the employee, Mr. Smith, and the facts surrounding his accident on November 1, 2012. Mr. Smith alleges that he was an employee of Acme, not an independent contractor, and that he was injured when he fell into an open space on Acme’s loading dock. Acme alleges that Mr. Smith was an independent contractor and that Mr. Smith was drinking alcohol at the time of his accident.

Pzzt: The ALJ is setting the parameters of the hearing. The only two issues for review are the employee’s status and whether he was intoxicated at the time of his accident. If the employee is considered an independent contractor, he is likely not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, depending on his jurisdiction. Likewise, if he was intoxicated at the time of the accident, he may be disqualified from eligibility for benefits.

Speaking of intoxicated, do you smell that honey?  I think it’s coming from down the hall, but…must…focus.

ALJ: As far as I understand, Ms. Jones, you are here as a direct representative of Acme, which is self-insured against workers’ compensation claims?

Ms. Jones: That is correct. Acme has a private insurance policy, meaning that claims administration and disputes are handled directly by Acme and I am acting on Acme’s behalf in my capacity as counsel.

Pzzt: This is significant for the employer because if the employer is self-insured then it handles the dispute of workers’ compensation claims directly, perhaps without the influence of an attorney hired by the insurance company. If, on the other hand, the employer outsources its insurance defense work to a law firm, an attorney from that firm would dispute the claim, working either in tandem with the in-house attorney or independently of her. Each state has regulations as to whether and how employers can self-insure against their workers’ compensation liabilities.

Speaking of working in tandem, you want to give me a hand with those cookie crumbs?

Check back tomorrow for Part Two of this piece, when the ALJ issues some rulings and the HR Fly continues to wax poetic.


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