Monday, June 23, 2014

Are you a Conscientious Objector?

Are you a conscientious objector? Does it matter? In Florida workers' compensation, it may not. However, there are some states that provide a conscientious objector exception to workers' compensation's compulsory nature. 

"Conscientious objector" is defined by Wikipedia as "individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service." (the wiki page has a site to a primary source, but I elect to use Wikipedia). As a side note, did you know it has become increasingly common for courts to cite to Wikipedia in support of their opinions? You would likely get laughed out of college for doing so, but . . ..

Conscientious objector status in a broader context has become a part of workers' compensation law. There are at least five states that provide some relief for employers and employees whose convictions or beliefs preclude their collection of insurance benefits. Tennessee, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri and Wisconsin all have some provision. 

Tennessee allows some construction service providers to be exempt from the requirements of workers' compensation if the person "is a member of a recognized religious sect" and is "conscientiously opposed to acceptance of workers' compensation benefits from the present law." The law restricts its application to "no more than five individuals associated with one business entity." Public chapter 476; this is a recent addition to Tennessee law. The Secretary of State's Workers' Compensation Exemption Registry may be found on their website at http://tnbear.tn.gov/wc.

Ohio has a similar provision, but is not limited to construction services providers. It provides "An employer who is a member of a recognized religious sect" and "is conscientiously opposed to benefits to employers and employees from any public or private insurance" may "apply to the administrator of workers' compensation to be excepted from payment of premiums and other charges assessed under this chapter. Ohio Revised Code 4123.15. Their exemption has been in the law since 2003. 

Pennsylvania requires workers' compensation coverage for employees, but lists a variety of exemptions. One of which is for employees of an employer that has "been granted exemption due to their religious beliefs by the Department of Labor and Industry." 

Missouri allows an employer to request exemption from workers' compensation law "in respect to certain employees "who are members of a recognized religious sect or division, as defined in 26 U.S.C. 1402(g)." The process requires filing of forms and affidavits. Section 287.204, 287.804. 

Wisconsin requires that employers provide workers; compensation. However, their law allows the employer to seek department approval for exemption for particular employees. This is available to employees who are "conscientiously opposed to accepting the benefits of any public or private insurance . . . including any benefits provided under the federal social security act, 42 U.S.C. 301 to 1397f." This provision requires that a representative of the religious sect makes a representation that the sect has a "long-standing history of providing its members who become dependent on the support of the religious sect as a result of work related injuries" "with a standard of living and medical treatment that are reasonable."  Wisconsin Statute 102.28.

New York has considered a similar exemption. They explain the justification for such an exemption is that some groups "do not take advantage of the program benefits offered under current workers' compensation laws" and as such should be able to "forgo payments on behalf of this employee into the workers' compensation benefit system." They note that the federal government has already recognized the conscientious objector status regarding Social Security. 

Is this an idea whose time is coming? It is interesting to see what other states are doing with workers' compensation. There is a great summary of annual legislation provided each year by the National Conference of State Legislatures








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