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A Founder’s Guide to Workers Compensation Insurance


Key Takeaways

Carl Niedbala - Founder Shield
Carl Niedbala

COO & Co-Founder

[note: this post originally appeared on WeWork’s fullstart blog; you can view the original post here.] 

Worker’s compensation insurance is one thing that founders seem to stress about quite a bit. We answer tons of questions about WC every day.  So here we go…a startup founder’s brief guide to workers compensation insurance.

Who Needs Workers Compensation Insurance?

The short answer: technically everyone.

If you have employees (including yourself), your employees need to be covered by your policy.  There are very limited instances where founders with no employees may be exempt.  However, these instances vary by state as the respective state’s department of labor sees fit.

For example, NY allows a for-profit corporation with two or less officers that are the only two shareholders and each own at least 1 share of the company to be excluded from WC requirements.

As a general rule, remember this: if you have people on payroll, it’s pretty safe to say you’ll need workers comp coverage.

What Does It Cover?

You probably already know the answer to this one.  It’s a little obvious right?  Workers compensation insurance covers your company’s employees in the event that they get injured and can’t perform their job.  This coverage really benefits the employees rather than the company because it will compensate the injured employee for medical, indemnity, and death benefits owed to the employee by law.


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What About Independent Contractors?

You don’t have to cover independent contractors with your WC policy…as long as they’re actually independent contractors!  Just calling someone an IC isn’t enough.

Most states have a multi-factor statutory test used to make the IC/employee determination, but generally a state labor board will look at the level of control the employer exercises over the IC.

Are there set work hours determined by your company?  Is the IC using materials provided by you company to perform his/her job?  Is the IC working exclusively for your company?  If the answer to these “yes,” it’s likely that your IC is an employee for WC purposes.

How Much Does It Cost?

The short answer: it depends.

Worker’s compensation premiums are determined by a system that classifies employees by their primary job function.  The “class” rate is multiplied by each $100 of payroll allocated to that class.

Class rates can vary widely, from .260 for computer programmers, $5 for hospital nurses, to $13 per $100 for some types of contractors. Rates will also vary from state to state. For example, CA is one of the most expensive states for WC coverage because it’s one of the most litigious (fancy word “everyone loves to sue each other”).

One other thing to mention: the audits. Typically when you get a WC quote, it’ll be based on whatever payroll-per-class information you turned over. Usually the state board will step in at the end of the policy period and audit your payroll classes and total payroll. Depending on whether you’ve hired, fired, or misclassified, you may get money back, get another bill, or get slapped with a fine. Make sure that your WC is set up properly and know that if your company grows throughout the year, so will your bill. You can also check our post about insurance audits.

How Do I Purchase Workers’ Comp Insurance?

Talk to a broker or go through the state insurance fund (here’s the link for NY).  If you’re looking for simple standalone WC coverage, the state fund is probably the way to go.  Prices don’t vary too widely between insurance companies and most private insurers don’t like quoting WC coverage without any other lines of business (General Liability, Errors and Omissions, etc.).

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