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Federal and State Regulatory Overlap in Workers’ Compensation Matters

If you have ever had to file a workers’ compensation claim, you know that the legal framework governing this area encompasses and interacts with a wide variety of issues.  Depending on the issue, there can be a great deal of jurisdictional overlap, and accompanying confusion for employer and employee alike.  This occurs not only because different aspects of the law are regulated by different state agencies, but also because several key areas are regulated at both the federal and the state level.  This post outlines a few of the areas where such jurisdictional overlap occurs.

General Principle: State Law is Dispositive, Federal Standards are Evidentiary

As a preliminary matter it should be kept in mind that as to most key legal questions, the deciding rule will be based on state law.  Workers’ compensation statutes (as applied to most workers) are the product of state legislatures, the companies that provide workers’ compensation policies are licensed and regulated at the state level, and state agencies and courts ultimately make coverage determinations in workers’ compensation claims disputes.

However, some federal laws and agencies play a significant role in how the state laws are applied.  For instance, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Department of Labor (DOL), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) each play a significant role in determining factual issues related to workers’ compensation law.

OSHA: Workplace Safety Regulation

Due to the fact that fault is not a significant issue in a typical workers’ compensation case, OSHA safety violations need not be proven for a claimant to receive benefits.  However, for this same reason OSHA regulations play a significant role in terms of prevention because they require employers to take affirmative steps to reduce the chances of injuries.  For instance, one Georgia manufacturer recently received an OSHA citation for failing to take such affirmative steps—even in the absence of an injury.  The theory behind such requirements seems to be that active measures to prevent injury will not only eliminate unnecessary tort liability, but also create a work environment in which even injuries caused by negligent employees are minimized.  This creates workplace cultures in which safety is a high priority for all workers.  While this will never put an end to all workplace accidents, it should minimize them.  In turn, this saves companies, employees, and society as a whole a great deal of expense in workers’ compensation payments, lost or discounted wages, and unpaid taxes as a result of these losses.  So in the case of OSHA, its policies at the federal level go hand in hand with and promote the state level policies embodied in workers’ compensation law.

The IRS: Employee vs. Independent Contractor

The IRS has established standards for determining whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor for income tax purposes.  These standards share a great deal in common with the way state laws address the distinction for purposes of workers’ compensation.  For this reason, when there has been a determination by the IRS that an employee was misclassified as an independent contractor, this will be a highly relevant consideration for purposes of workers’ compensation as well.

Contact a Georgia Workers’ Compensation Attorney

The examples above are far from the only areas that federal law interacts with state workers’ compensation law.  In fact, depending on your profession, you may in fact be covered by the Federal Employers Liability Act rather than state workers’ compensation law.  In that case your claim would be processed through the Federal Department of Labor rather than the Georgia State Workers’ Compensation Board.  Whatever your employment, if you have been injured on the job, call the experienced workers compensation attorneys at Bader Scott Injury Lawyers for a free consultation.  We can assess the facts of your case and determine the proper strategy for you to make your claim.  We have the experience in all the varied aspects of workers’ compensation law to provide you with clear, detailed guidance as you recover from your injury.

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Seth Bader
(678) 562-5595