Be sure to check out this week’s Cavalcade of Risk, hosted by Russell Hutchinson at his Chatswood Consulting blog. This article by Jon Coppelman of Worker’ Comp Insider is my favorite in this edition of the Cavalcade. Jon brings his expert workers’ comp knowledge to a debate that is bound to stir up strong feelings on both sides of the fence. The issue centers around the Hutterite Brethren Church and their religious objection to workers’ comp insurance. This become a sticky issue when Hutterites began doing construction work outside of their own communities – and thus directly competing with secular construction companies. Since the secular companies have to maintain workers’ comp insurance on their workers, while the Hutterites did not, the secular companies noted that it was an unfair financial advantage. A court ruled against the religious exemption from workers’ comp, and the next step is the Supreme Court.
I’m sure a lot of people would have an opinion on this based on religious and/or business beliefs. Jon’s take on this situation is probably far more informed than the average person’s would be, given his knowledge of the workers’ comp system. I cannot imagine going without health insurance, or employees going without workers’ comp, but I recognize that my viewpoint is based on my own experiences in the secular business world – where money (and expensive healthcare) is very much a necessity. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in a Supreme Court appeal. Jon mentioned that there’s a lot of legal precedent in favor of religious exemptions from workers’ comp coverage, so maybe the court will side with the Hutterites. In terms of the unfair competitive advantage that the Hutterite workers have over secular contractors who are paying workers’ comp premiums, I would say that the small number of Hutterite laborers (when compared with the number of non-Hutterite laborers) could possibly be a reason for ruling in favor of the Hutterites: can they really present that much of an unfair business advantage with such a relatively small number of workers?