Employers not always protected by workers’ comp

Pennsylvania has a public policy bargain where injured workers receive compensation for lost wages and medical expenses without having to prove fault. In return, their employers receive protection against costly and possibly lengthy lawsuits. While Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation grants this protection, employers also face the risk of personal injury lawsuits for certain recklessness and other conduct.  

Pennsylvania law also requires workers’ compensation coverage for all full-time and part-time employees unless they are railroad workers, federal workers and other employees exempt from coverage under Pennsylvania law. Employers lose its protection when they lack this mandatory coverage.

In addition to criminal prosecution, these employers may face serious financial losses. Worker may file personal lawsuits against employers, even for ordinary negligence and seek current and future non-financial losses.

There are also more coverage questions in this newer economy, where the line between employee and independent contractor is even more blurred. Workers’ compensation does not cover independent contractors, casual workers and other types of workers who do not fall within the definition of an employee. They may file a civil lawsuit against business where its negligence caused their injury.

Any intentional or dangerous conduct may fall outside workers’ compensation. For example, a physical attack against am employee is not a work-related injury and may be a criminal assault. It can also result in costly injuries and expensive liability for the perpetrator and even the employer.

Employers who do not comply with a federal or state occupational and health and safety laws that protect workers from injuries may be personally liable for injuries. Being aware of a risk and failing to correct may be even more costly. For example, an employer may be held personally liable for injuries caused by failure to provide ear protection against constant exposure to noise or protective gear against asbestos.

While workers’ compensation usually covers employees, who must work with toxic and unstable chemicals, this coverage may not be absolute.  Employers may be liable for instructing workers to work with chemicals that had a history of exploding even when they are aware of this risk. The period when the injury is discovered may also play a role.

An employer which manufactured the machinery or equipment that caused the injury may also face additional liability. If the manufacturer made the equipment and allowed its use despite known risks, it may face a product liability lawsuit in addition to a workers’ compensation claim.

Hiding the worker’s injury or its connection to the workplace can have consequences. Employers can lose protection and be held personally liable for injuries in these cases.

An attorney can provide guidance on filing a personal injury lawsuit or workers’ compensation claim. Legal representation may help assure that injured workers receive compensation for their injuries and lost income.