Seriously, What’s the Deal?
This is what my dog looks like when he sleeps. Mouth agape. Eyes half-open. Checked out. This is similar to how my face looks when I’m trying to understand my insurance policies and where I have coverage lapses.
Relief vets who work as true independent contractors (in tax speak, a 1099 worker versus a W2 employee) often have a lot of questions and misunderstandings around workers’ compensation insurance. And with good reason! Insurance is one of those topics that float around in what I like to call “the cauldron of confusion”. (Along with business entities, tax issues, and DEA licensing requirements to name a few. But these are topics for another day.)
Relief Rover has reached out to Rod Finnegan, the founder, and CEO of Vetinsure, to help us break down the bewildering insurance landscape as it relates to workers’ compensation and relief vets.
Q: As an independent contractor with no employees, is it required that I have my own workers’ compensation insurance coverage?
A: No, you do not have to carry workers’ compensation. Employers may require it though. In many cases, it may be less expensive and create more protection for you if you allow the employer to simply withhold a small percentage (+/- 2%) of your pay to offset their additional cost to have you on their workers’ comp.
Q: How, as an independent contractor, could a practice require that I have my own workers’ compensation insurance? I thought workers’ comp was for entities that have employees. I don’t have any employees, I just work for myself.
A: This is mixing two different things. First, any employer can require you to carry workers’ comp even if the state does not. Why? Because most 1099s can find a financial remedy for injuries sustained at the place of employment. So, your employer is audited every year by their workers’ compensation carrier and they must disclose all 1099 pay. If the 1099 does not show proof of their own workers’ comp, the employer will pay more premiums because the 1099 wages get included in their policy.
Q: If I want to buy my own workers’ compensation insurance coverage, where do I buy it?
A: Great question. Hartford is really one of the only carriers that would be willing to write an independent relief vet a workers’ comp policy (where they include themselves in coverage) and with no employees. Hartford is very limited in the industries they will offer this type of policy, but luckily veterinary is one of them. To include yourself but have no employees presents a moral hazard to the carrier which is why most would not do it. If Hartford will not offer you a policy for any reason, the state pool may also be an option but the premium for that policy starts at $1500 annually and that would be if you excluded yourself from coverage. Again, if you can get the employer to withhold a small percentage, you will likely be better off in the long run especially if you are injured.
Unless you are in North Dakota, Ohio, Washington, Wyoming, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands, you can purchase through an independent agent.
Q: What is moral hazard?
In general, this is when individuals have an incentive to alter their behavior and suppress their morals to find benefits for themselves. As it relates to the insurance industry, it would be when a person with insurance coverage takes a benefit that is fraudulent. As an example, say an independent contractor has a workers’ compensation policy for themselves and they injure their back falling off a horse over the weekend. Then they tell the insurance company that they sustained the injury at work when lifting a dog in order to receive the benefit from their workers’ compensation policy.
Q: As an independent contractor, am I covered under veterinary practice’s workers’ compensation insurance if I’m injured while on the job at their clinic?
A: Yes, most of the time. Except if you reside in monopolistic states/territories such as North Dakota, Ohio, Washington, Wyoming, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands. Monopolistic states/territories provide workers’ compensation through the government.
Almost all 1099 sub-contractors that do not carry workers’ comp coverage can find remedy under their employer’s workers’ comp policy for injuries sustained on the job. In other words, if you work for a vet hospital, do not carry workers’ comp yourself, are 1099’d and get injured on the job, the hospital’s workers’ comp policy may pay 100% of your medical costs associated with the injury.
Q: What percentage of the medical expenses are covered under workers’ compensation?
Q: How do I make a claim if I’m injured at a practice while working as an independent contractor?
A: If you do not carry workers’ compensation yourself, notify your employer immediately and seek professional treatment. Urgent Care facilities can take care of most non-emergency/life-threatening situations that may happen in a veterinary office.
Q: Will I have to prove my independent contractor status to the insurance company?
A: When they see you are a sole proprietor, show no staff payroll but chose to include yourself they understand what you are trying to accomplish.
Q: Does my personal health insurance cover me if I’m injured at a practice while working as an independent contractor?
A: Potentially but if you do not have workers’ comp, it would be best to allow the workers’ comp policy of the employer to respond because the coverage is broader than your health insurance.
Q: Does my right to coverage by veterinary practice’s workers’ compensation insurance depend on the state where I’m working?
A: Yes. For more information about workers’ comp, it is recommended to call your state insurance department or a local insurance agent. If you are in North Dakota, Ohio, Washington, Wyoming, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, workers’ compensation coverage is through the state/territory and not a policy of the vet hospital where you work.
Q: What if a practice requires me to have workers’ compensation coverage but I don’t have my own?
A: You can either decline to work for that practice or you can offer to have the hospital you work for withhold 2% from your paycheck so that you can be covered under their policy at limited to no additional cost to the hospital. Alternatively, you can purchase your own workers’ compensation policy.
Q: What if a veterinary practice asks me to sign a form staying that I won’t make a claim against their workers’ compensation insurance and I get injured on the job?
A: This is legally meaningless and is only meant to deter you from making a claim. You will still be covered by the practice’s workers’ compensation policy if you are injured on the job.
Q: What if I already have a workers’ compensation policy and I’m injured while working as an independent contractor?
A: It depends on if you are included in coverage or excluded yourself. If you included yourself, simply file a claim for the injury. If you are excluded from the coverage you would need to file a claim with your health insurance or pay the bill yourself.
Q: Does workers’ compensation insurance pay for lost income if I am severely injured while working as an independent contractor at a veterinary clinic?
A: It can, but not 100% of your income. After 7 consecutive days out of work for an injury the carrier may begin to pay you lost wages, but at a rate no greater than two-thirds of your income. Typically, this income is tax-free.
Q: Where do I go to get more information regarding my state laws about workers’ compensation coverage?
A: For more information about workers’ compensation it is recommended to call your state insurance department or a local insurance agent.
Q: Do practices have to literally add my name to their policy in order for me to be covered or is this just automatic?
A: They never have to add your name. Workers’ compensation covers all W-2 and 1099 workers (who do not have their own workers’ comp) whether the employer calls the carrier or not. If an employer says “we are not going to add you”, that is likely because the employer either does not fully understand how workers’ comp actually works or they are hoping that you do not. Most 1099s are automatically covered by their employer’s workers’ comp unless the independent contractor has their own workers’ comp policy.
Hopefully, this sheds some light on the independent contractor/workers’ compensation insurance confusion. Insurance is tricky with all of the various states’ laws, so before you make any major decisions around insurance, be sure to consult with your state insurance agency or local insurance specialist. Check out part I of the workers’ compensation blog series for more information.
For more information on workers’ comp laws in different states, you can check out this link: National Federation of Independent Business.
Relief Rover is working hard to provide you resources for your business and practice questions. We welcome your feedback, questions, and ideas.
If you are a relief vet, a practice looking to hire a relief vet, or want to learn more about relief life, come visit us at www.reliefrover.com!