In a Nutshell:
1. Worker's Compensation is a matter of insurance pure and simple. Virtually all employers in the U.S. (and certainly in NY) are subject to it. It doesn't keep them from staying in business and it would not "break" the Society either or put it out of business.
2. Because it is likely that the Society with its immense wealth and tangible assets could qualify as a self-insurer, being subjected to the WC system would not even raise operating costs significantly as it would have no premiums to pay and claims would be seldom made.
3. Certain non-profits like churches are exempt from the requirements and UNTIL THE FULL NEW YORK WC BOARD SAYS SO (actually until the legal process is finally concluded since the NYWCB's decision is appealable to the legal courts) the Society is not under any significant obligation. Certainly there would be no back-payments or claims prior to such official declaration due so no the Society is not on the hook for "millions" from the past. (It is not like back taxes or something like that.) Not too mention that it had no notice that it was subject to the WC laws of New York and every good-faith belief that it was exempt as a religious order.
(I might also mention that at least two separate laws require New York officials to not grant any license, permit, etc. or enter into any contract with a party unless either proof of WC compliance is supplied or the affidavit of exemption is provided. Since the Society has even recently been granted such things for further development in Brooklyn, it is further circumstantial evidence that it is in compliance with the WC law.)
By "Saying So" above I mean both a declaration that the Society is not exempt from the NY WC laws and an imposition of non-compliance penalties.
4. Just to clarify the process and what ACTUALLY occurred. The claimant does not initiate a "lawsuit." Unless the company is self-insured, the claimant makes a claim for WC benefits to the Insurance Company (or the State Insurance Fund). If the claim is denied, as evidently was the case here, the claimant appeals such denial to the NYWCBoard. This is an administrative law hearing, usually heard by a single admin law judge (often really just an attorney earning a few extra bucks). In this case the "Judge" decided that the claimant was entitled to the maximum amount under the law in New York which is $400/week for a set duration (usually not longer than 52 weeks) (not "for life" Skeeter).
Normally it is the Insurance Company in the "defense" position and it is the one that pays, or if the employer is paying into the State Insurance Fund the money comes from there. Since there is none here, the WTS is in that position. The law provides:
"If an employee is hurt when there is no workers’ compensation policy in effect and that employee chooses to file a workers’ compensation claim, the employer will be liable for the actual cost of medical care and compensation payments, in addition to penalties. If a corporation has failed to secure workers’ compensation coverage, the President, Secretary and Treasurer of a corporation are personally liable for the medical care, compensation payments and penalties."
The law permits the employer to ask that the Insurance Company contest the claim but can't require it to. In this case the WTS was able to do so since there was no IC. Similarly, the WTS may appeal the Judge's decision to the WCBoard, usually a panel of 3 members. If the panel upholds the ruling the WTS may appeal the administrative law decision to the legal court.
Frankly, I don't see the decision being held up by the panel much less a legal court. More on that below.
5. This situation is extremely unlikely to be in any way related to "downsizing" at Bethel. The formula used to determine how large of a letter of credit or security bond the Society would have to obtain in the likely case that it would self-insure to satisfy WC law/regs would not be appreciably affected by a reduction of even 70% of its present staff. The difference might be as little as a few thousand dollars.
6. Statements about lawsuits from the Bethelites misunderstand the function of WC. Persons, whether employees or not, always have grounds for premises or work related injuries in Negligence or other basis if the situation is present. Persons seeking Worker's Compensation do not initiate lawsuits against their employer, they are making an insurance claim, and their own liability or misconduct (with the exceptions of being under the influence of alcohol/drugs or intentionally trying to injure themselves) is immaterial. Likewise, the employer's conduct is also immaterial. All that is required to file the insurance claim is that there be a work-related injury.
7. Worker's Compensation covers any "worker" whether they be a full-time employee, part-time employee, family member or volunteer either helping out regularly or even just one time.
8. Worker's Compensation is insurance! Even those that are not required to obtain it may choose to do so since it makes good business sense. Further an employer’s failure to provide workers’ compensation coverage when it is required to do so is a crime, punishable by fines and/or imprisonment. In the event of a civil lawsuit from a work injury or injury on the job, (in Negligence for example) any damages award would be reduced by any Worker's Compensation that is received by the claimant. Thus the Society might consider having such insurance anyway.
Puzzling Questions re: the "news" article:
1. Volunteer or not is not the issue. (See #7 above)
The newspaper article reported that Judge Goldstein found that the claimants were not "volunteers."
"I'm finding they were not religious volunteers," Goldstein said. "They were engaged, particularly Dr. Brenda Upton, in a number of work-like activities."
A lot of the commenters here have misunderstood the import of the Judge's statement. The issue is not whether the claimant is a paid employee or an unpaid volunteer, but whether they are engaged in work-related activity at the time of the injury.
I can only assume that the Judge meant to convey that they were definitely engaged in "work" as opposed to not working but the wordchoice seems poor and is confusing.
2. Who is "John Miller" and what does this bonehead statement really mean?
But if the decision stands, the Witnesses - and other religious organizations - could potentially face millions of dollars in workers' compensation insurance premiums and payments, said church lawyer John Miller.
As someone who holds a journalism degree I am puzzled why the writers did not use a quotation. You always use a quotation when you can. If the guy actually said that it should be in quotes or the actual quote should be reported. This is a paraphrase and it is confusing to the reader. If you look at it very carefully you will understand that it means that as a group the amount of insurance premiums and payments could run into the millions but not necessarily for the WTS. As I have pointed out the WTS and most large churches, etc. would likely qualify as self-insurers and thus wouldn't pay any premiums at all but only have to hold either a cash reserve, establishe an LOC or other security bond.
Notice too that the writers state at the outset of the article that the "judge's decision could end up costing the church millions." I believe that this 1) shows that they don't understand the options involved regarding self-insuring and 2) are actually the ones suggesting the "millions" not John Miller.
I have never heard of this John Miller before has anyone? Google pulled up some hits but they are of a polemic nature not of an Watchtower attorney! Any further info about him would be useful.
3. Is John Miller even a real person? If he is, he sure doesn't know what he is talking about.
"It'll pretty much put religious orders out of business," Miller said. "It would certainly impact whether we would ever want to continue operations" in New York.
This quotation, yea, an actual quotation, stretches the imagination. It can't be designed to gain any sympathy since most Brooklynites would love to get the Society out, they contribute virtually nothing in terms of economic revenue to the area, and mostly keep to themselves, as we all know. I think there is some value to them being there but that 's neither here nor there.
More importantly, this quotation seems either fabricated by the writers or it is coming from a lawyer who is having a serious brain fart. Even if the Society did not self-insure and had to pay a good amount of WC premiums, the cost of relocating operations not only Brooklyn but also Patterson NEW YORK and the WT Farms in NEW YORK, out of state would be sizable. Especially since to entirely escape any WC insurance law they would probably have to go to Bermuda or someplace since almost all or all US States and Canada have similar laws.
The Society would get a pretty penny no doubt in selling all of its New York property but come on guys does this really make sense? Of course it doesn't you are talking about building new facilities, etc. and of course no where are they going to get the kind of established sweet-heart deals and grandfathered clauses that they currently hold in Brooklyn.
The statement is completely irrational and I am at a loss for what really to think of it.
Now I only want to point out that 1) this is the New York Daily News which is a tabloid rag that is basically not much better than the National Inquirer and that 2) these writers have a history of covering the WTS very negatively in the local Brooklyn beat that they do.
I would like to ask Mr. Miller (if he exists) whether he was accurately quoted or not and whether he really believes the statement.
4. The $74 K lump sum payment
The church took care of her medical care until 2001, when she and her husband were asked to leave and were given a $79,000 stipend.
I would like to know more about this payment. The reason is because it looks a lot like it was a payment made specifically to the claimant with regard to her injuries. Even if it was not stated that the payment was a settlement amount for the claim explicitly, I think that the Society could make that claim. Remember that with WC we are talking about insurance and compensation for injury. If the judge awarded what amounts to about $21K, the Society has a valid argument that it has more than satisfied the claim with the $74K payment.
This is because in a disputed claim a lump-sum payment is an option for settling the claim. After payment of the lump-sum the claim is considered closed unless there is a change in the claimant's condition that wasn't anticipated by the agreement.
My comments on some of the Forum's Poster's Comments:
Even if that does not happen, all of the Workers Compensation insurance premiums will knock a big hole in the coffers of the WTS.
Can you say, "Get the door, it's OSHA?" Yep, time to close up the sweatshops before workplace safety is examined!-Virgo girl
OSHA would likely use the WTS as a model company in a video. Anyone who has ever visited as I have, much less worked there, can tell you that the Society is obsessed with safety and that it resembles anything other than a "sweatshop." Trust me I can go just a few miles to downtown LA and show you real sweatshops. You can eat off the factory floor in Brooklyn, but why would you want to?
I bet there are not very many accidents there and that the accident rate is far less in comparision to any other company in the same publishing business of the same size or even smaller. The facilities are spotless, secure and everything is always done "just so."
No, VG, insurance premiums would not knock a hole in the coffers of the WTS because they would likely be able to self-insure and not have to pay any premiums at all.In other words, this judge dismissed the Society's determination that these were religious volunteers, and judged the Society's actions on a secular (non-religious) basis. Let me make this plain & simple. Lawyers (including judges) are good with words and arguments. If you cast the argument as a religious one (i.e. she was a religious volunteer), she doesn't win. If you cas the argument as a secular one (i.e. she did alot of regular job-like duties), you have $400/week award for life.-Skeeter
Skeeter, just as an aside can you please tell us whether you are female or male. You have female icon on your profile but your early posts suggest male? Am I confused or are you? Anyway, 1) the Judge did not "dismiss the Society's determination that these were religious volunteers" since there is nothing in the news article that said that the Society made such a determination and there wouldn't be since 1) the Society doesn't determine the status of the workers in WC situation and 2) such a determination is meaningless as all that is relevant is whether work was being performed at the time of the injury. And again Skeeter, the lawyer, the $400/week award is for a limited time only, not "for life" as you say.To put this clearly in context:
This case has already been tried and the WTS LOST the case. They are appealing, but if it is not overturned on appeal things look fairly bleak for the ol' WTS in the future. This is just another indication of the increased willingness of courts to separate secular issues from religious and not to take every claim of religious basis at face value.
That general mood bodes well for our ability to get the tort of misrepresentation through on the basis of narrow relief.
Bah, hah, hah, hah, hah! I got to give him props he is as tenacious as a bulldog (my favourite kind by the way). No Old Sole this is not another brick for the bogus Misrepresentation/Big News theory and by the way it was not a "case" that was "tried." It was a hearing that was heard. Small but big difference. :-)
The judge is basing the decision on the nature of the work done. Just saying that a person is a member of a religious group, and that they area a volunteer, will not cut it anymore. The real question is, What is the nature of the work that the person does day to day?
(I forgot who said this in the thread) This isn't about religion or religious/constitutional rights. Religious organizations are generally exempt from the WC law/requirement. It isn't about the status of the workers. If an unpaid volunteer comes in and starts breaking down boxes for a religious organization, they are "working" and if that person cuts himself with the box cutter they are injured.Get it guys? The person was working and it doesn't matter whether they are paid or not. All that matters is if they were INJURED WHILE THEY WERE WORKING. Again its government imposed insurance, guys, that's all it is. It exists to benefit society because people get hurt on the job sometimes and we DON'T want to put employers out of business by paying today's high costs of medical bills and to compensate the lost wages of the employee. It isn't about liability and it isn't about wrong doing. I believe that the Judge got it completely wrong (I don't know why) and that the decision won't hold up when it is heard by the panel. They are going to step back and say, "what were you thinking?", this company is exempt under the law.If anyone is in New York you ought to be able to attend the panel hearing when it is set and report to us the outcome. Any takers?-Eduardo Leaton Jr., Esq.(sorry about the red color i turned it red and can't turn it back for some reason)