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Top 5 Myths about Labor & Industry

by Rose Gundersen, E.J.D. | Jan 04, 2017
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Up until last year, I strongly believed that government would be the last place I would turn for help. I simply didn’t think I would be heard and perpetuated that myth for 25 years while working in the private sector. Over time, I began to feel strongly that small businesses needed more of a voice in government so I became Washington State Department of Labor and Industry (L&I) Small Business Liaison last year. In this article, I will dispel five commonly held myths about L&I and explain the resources available to your small business clients.

MYTH #1: L&I mainly collects quarterly premiums for worker’s compensation insurance.

FACT: Although collecting premiums is a very visible part of L&I, the agency also helps business owners through audits to educate and assist companies in avoiding future mistakes.

Audits ensure that all workers entitled to industrial insurance are properly covered. This effort promotes an equitable system and lowers premiums for all. You can help your clients be well-prepared for an audit by referring them to these resources:

  • Employer’s Introduction to L&I – This free workshop on all L&I programs, services and resources, covers essential information for all business owners and managers.
  • Workers’ Compensation: Record Keeping and Reporting Guides – This guide covers proper record keeping and explains key issues that may trigger an audit or costly assessment.
  • How to Prepare for a State Audit – This video shares resources for each of the three main Washington state taxing agencies: Department of Revenue, Employment Security Department and Department of Labor and Industries.
  • Determination Unit: Covered Employees vs. Independent Contractors – Many businesses use subcontractors or casual laborers. Should these workers be covered by workers’ compensation insurance? Sometimes it is difficult to know. To help clarify when coverage is needed, we offer individual case determination for you or your clients. Contact Steve Beaty at Determination@lni.wa.gov or (509) 324-2627 with questions.
  • New Employer Review – This is an educational opportunity for newer employers in high-risk industries (like construction, landscaping or automotive) to learn how to keep records and report properly. This process is initiated by an L&I auditor and involves meeting with the business owner and/or their representative such as a CPA. Together, they review the last two completed quarterly reports and ensure the information is correct moving forward. There will be no financial impact as a result of the review. Please encourage your clients to participate in this no-risk review if they receive an invitation. It will help them avoid costly mistakes.

MYTH #2: The best way to manage a claim is to send the worker home to recover.

FACT: While some injured workers may need to recover at home, your clients will save money and help workers recover faster if they understand how to use return-to-work strategies.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson famously coined the phrase “the separation is in the preparation.” The same is true for employers when it comes to managing a worker’s compensation claim. The difference between a positive or negative outcome is how prepared employers are when an injury happens. Your knowledge of these resources will assist your clients tremendously:

  • Stay at Work Program – Offers financial incentives to encourage employers to quickly and safely bring workers back to light-duty or transitional jobs after an injury. Up to $13,900 in reimbursements are available.
  • Risk Management Consultation – A risk manager reviews your injury history and provides your business with a step-by-step plan that better prepares and informs your clients of best practices that help control costs.
  • Early Return to Work – The longer an injured worker remains off work, the harder it is for them to return to their original job and income. L&I vocational professionals help employers and injured workers with return-to-work options.

MYTH #3: I have no control over whether or not a worker gets injured.

FACT: Creating a culture of workplace safety and health in your business can prevent injury or illness that leads to costly insurance claims.

The Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) at L&I enforces the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act by developing safety and health rules and enforcing them through inspections. Did you know that DOSH also provides no-cost consultation services to help your clients keep their workers safe and working? Here is a list of resources:

  • On-site confidential workplace safety and health consultations – A meeting and a walk-through visit helps businesses evaluate their Accident Prevention Program and find workplace hazards. Your clients will not be fined for any safety violations if they are corrected within 60-days of the consultation. Encourage your clients to call and make an appointment.
  • Safety & Health Topics A-Z or by Industries and Training, Videos & Workshops – Do you know businesses are required to host regular safety meetings? Clients who access these resource links will easily be able to determine safety meeting agendas. Download posters, publications and stickers for promoting workplace safety and health awareness.
  • Marijuana consumption ormedical marijuana – The recent legalization prompted many employers to ask questions. WAC 296-800-11025 prohibits alcohol and narcotics in the workplace and is still the applicable code to guide employers on marijuana use at the workplace.

MYTH #4: My clients mostly need my advice about payroll.

FACT: As a CPA, you’re also a likely resource to clients on questions related to wage and hour compliance.

L&I enforces the state’s Industrial Welfare Act (RCW 49.12), while the US Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division enforces the federal laws on these similar topics.

Besides the typical wage and overtime calculations for piece-rate, commission, flat-rate, and salaried employees, are you aware that even payroll overpayment needs to be handled according to state law? Visit L&I’s website on Workplace Rights to learn more. Other topics of importance include:

  • Is travel time compensable? This depends on specific facts and circumstances of each case. Review these guidelines published by L&I.
  • Adjustments for overpayments (WAC 296-126-030) – Note the time limitation and notice to employee requirement when adjusting payroll overpayments.
  • InternshipsReview this fact sheet with criteria limitations for unpaid internships.

MYTH #5: L&I would not be helpful to business owners because they cannot relate to business owners’ needs and challenges.

FACT: The Small Business Liaison Office is the one-stop support to listen and help you and your clients. You specialize in your business. We specialize in supporting you.

We strive to provide accurate and thorough answers with specialized advice from all programs within L&I. You can reach us at 1-800-987-0145 or SmallBusiness@lni.wa.gov.

More than ever, I am passionate about giving small business a voice in government. I will actively listen and help you or your clients navigate L&I’s systems. Call my office no matter how big or small the issue. I am your advocate. I hope to continue to help clear up some myths and perceptions so you will take advantage of the resources available at L&I.

Rose Gundersen, E.J.D., Small Business Liaison for Washington State Department of Labor and Industries

Rose Gundersen is the Small Business Liaison with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. Her job is to support small business owners helping them better understand their rights, the laws and how to navigate L&I’s systems. She also helps troubleshoot issues and shares business concerns with agency leaders, advocating on their behalf. Contact her at Rose.Gundersen@lni.wa.gov or (360) 902-4865

This article originally appeared in the fall 2016 issue of  WashingtonCPA Magazine. Read more here.

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