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Workers' comp query: Is owner on the hook for subcontractors?

When you're self-employed, are you required to spend

When you're self-employed, are you required to spend money on workers' compensation insurance? Credit: iStock

DEAR CARRIE: I work for myself, with no employees. Do I need workers' compensation insurance? Is there a form I can use so I don't get charged for the occasional subcontractors I hire? I feel that I'm paying $4,000 a year unnecessarily. -- Beneficial Query

DEAR BENEFICIAL: Based on the scenario you described, you can legally avoid the insurance costs by hiring self-employed subcontractors who have their own workers' comp coverage, said a Workers' Compensation Board spokesman. Proof of that would be their certificate of insurance, or Form C-105.32.

That's why many contractors, hoping to limit their workers' comp costs, require proof of insurance before hiring subcontractors. If the subcontractors are injured and don't carry insurance, the claims will be charged against the contractors' policies, making them more expensive, said the spokesman, Joseph Cavalcante.

If the workers you hire don't have their own businesses or don't have their own insurance, you most likely will have to provide coverage.

"If you hire workers, even for one or two jobs, and they are under your direction and control, they are probably considered your employees for workers' compensation purposes," Cavalcante said.

On the other hand, if you are self-employed and work alone on behalf of your business, you don't have to obtain workers' comp insurance, he said. But many sole proprietorships, or those owned by a single person, have workers' comp insurance because many general contractors require it.

If you have to keep your coverage, Cavalcante suggests some ways you could get a better deal: Compare prices by getting three to five policy quotes. Make sure your insurance company is using the correct industry classification code for your work, and consider joining a safety group to limit on-the-job accidents and insurance costs.

DEAR CARRIE: I recently had emergency surgery that put me out of work for six weeks. A few months after I returned to work, I put in for vacation and was shocked to learn that I had no days left because the company said I had to use them before my disability payments kicked in. That was news to me. A friend who works for a different employer went out for surgery but didn't lose his vacation time, despite receiving disability payments, as I did. Please tell me if my company acted legally or if I was cheated out of vacation days. And was my friend just lucky? -- Vanishing Vacation

DEAR VANISHING: Employers can legally apply paid time off against disability leaves. Even under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which is one of the most regulated leaves, a company can require an employee to use up paid-time off before the FMLA kicks in. The FMLA grants eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for personal or medical emergencies or to care for a newborn.

It's a shame your employer didn't inform you of a paid time off loophole until after the fact, requiring you to cancel your vacation plans.

Your friend was lucky because companies can always opt to give employees more than the law allows, such as not requiring them to burn off paid time off as part of a medical leave.

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