Learn if you qualify for workers’ comp benefits and how to file a claim after an injury installing floors
Flooring installers are at risk for specific workplace injuries related to their unique job requirements. Often they’re employed on a project basis, so their status as an employee qualified for workers’ compensation benefits may be challenged. This article will explain which workers are entitled to benefits after an injury and what to do if you believe you’ve been misclassified as an independent contractor.
Statistics for flooring installer injuries
It might be surprising to learn that carpet layers have a high incidence of workplace injuries. A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that although carpet layers only represent about 0.06% of the U.S. labor force, they file approximately 6.2% of all workers’ compensation claims for traumatic knee injuries.
Because flooring installation requires workers to kneel on hard floors for hours daily, the job inherently comes with occupational hazards. In fact, carpet layers typically spend about 75% of their workday kneeling on hard surfaces.
Additionally, a study that compared carpet layers to workers who seldom kneel in their jobs found the following:
- 20% of carpet layers reported knee bursitis compared to only 6% of other workers.
- 32% of carpet layers experienced fluid and blood buildup in their knees that required aspiration (removal with a needle) compared to only 2% of other workers.
- 7% of carpet layers reported skin infections compared to only 2% of other workers.
Common injuries to floor installers
Because of the repetitive motions and abnormal postures required of floor installers, as well as the materials they use, they experience injuries specific to their jobs.
For instance, workers must use a tool called a knee kicker to stretch carpets for wall-to-wall carpeting. The knee kicker is operated by kneeling on one knee and striking the tool with the other knee with enough force to stretch the carpet and secure it to the floor at the base of the wall. The stretching requires repeated kicks of 675 pounds of force at a rate of 120 to 140 times per hour, during which the kneecap repeatedly absorbs the force. This often leads to knee injury over time.
In addition to knee injuries, flooring installers commonly experience the following injuries:
- Injuries related to toxic chemicals. Toxic chemical injuries are experienced by laminate flooring installers. Adhesives are used extensively and contain formaldehyde, isocyanates, aluminum oxide and cyanuric acid. These chemicals are known to cause cancer, asthma and kidney damage.
- Shoulder and back injuries. These overexertion injuries can result from heavy lifting and poor ergonomics while working.
- Broken bones can result from accidents with hammers and similar tools, as well as slips, trips and falls from working in cluttered environments with uneven flooring.
- Repetitive stress injuries. Repetitive stress injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis are common among flooring installers due to the repetitive nature of their work.
- Amputation injuries. Flooring installers who work with saws and other sharp tools are at risk for finger amputations.
If your job makes you sick, find out what will (and won’t) be covered by workers’ compensation.
Arizona workers’ compensation laws
Like every other state, Arizona requires most employers to carry insurance to cover their employees for injuries or illnesses they incur on the job. The system is a no-fault insurance program administered by the Industrial Commission of Arizona (ICA).
Employers with 1 or more workers are required to carry workers’ comp insurance. Substantial fines are imposed for failure to do so, and even criminal penalties are possible for egregious violations.
Both full- and part-time employees are eligible for benefits. However, independent contractors are not. Also, accidents are only covered if they arise out of or occur in the course of the employee’s job.
Under a no-fault system, an injured employer is not required to prove that their employer is liable or responsible for their injury. However, the trade-offs for that include the following:
- Workers’ compensation benefits are a worker’s exclusive remedy. In other words, they cannot file an ordinary personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit against their employer if they accept workers’ comp benefits.
- Workers cannot claim damages that they would otherwise have available in an ordinary personal injury case (e.g., pain and suffering or punitive damages).
Learn why workers generally can’t sue their employers, except in certain circumstances.
Types of workers’ comp benefits
Workers’ comp benefits include the following:
- Payment of reasonable and necessary medical expenses
- Restitution of two-thirds of wages lost during recovery
- Payments for disability equal to two-thirds of the employee’s average monthly wages for a period depending on the severity of their disability and whether the disability is temporary or permanent
- Death benefits for funeral expenses and lost income
Employee vs independent contractor status
Independent contractors are not eligible for workers’ comp benefits. The question of what is an independent contractor is relevant for various governmental programs as well as IRS issues.
As a general rule, a person is an independent contractor if they control the means, methods and every other aspect of doing their job except for the objective and results.
A number of factors are weighed in determining the “right to control” test:
- Duration of engagement. If the worker is permanently engaged, they are likely an employee. If they are engaged only for the purpose of a single or limited job, they are likely an independent contractor.
- Method of payment. If a worker is paid a regular hourly wage or salary without regard to the work performed, they are likely an employee. If they are paid based on the job done or results, they are likely an independent contractor.
- Right to hire, fire or discipline. If the employer can hire, fire or discipline the worker, the worker is likely an employee. Otherwise, the worker is likely an independent contractor.
- Control over details of how work is done. If the employer can dictate how the worker performs their job, including when and where they work, the worker is likely an employee. Otherwise, they are likely an independent contractor.
- Whether work is performed in the ordinary course of an employer’s enterprise. If the worker is employed to do work ordinarily required of the employer’s usual business, they are likely an employee. If they are performing work that is uncommon for the employer’s usual business, they are likely an independent contractor.
What should I do after a workplace injury if I believe I’m misclassified as an independent contractor?
Many employers seize on the issue of independent contractor status as grounds to deny claims. This is common in an industry like flooring installation, where many workers are not full-time laborers.
If you are concerned about your employer’s classification of you, you should contact an experienced workers’ comp attorney immediately. This is true for any kind of workplace injury. The question of employee status can be challenging, requiring the attention of a lawyer with special knowledge of the issue.
If your attorney determines that you’re not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, they can explain your other options, including filing a personal injury lawsuit against your employer or a third party.
Filing a workers’ comp claim in Arizona
If it’s determined that you qualify as an employee, these are the steps you must take to file a workers’ comp claim:
- You should see a doctor immediately after your injury. This will provide the needed documentation for linking your injury to your job.
- Soon after your injury, preferably immediately, you must report the event to your employer. Your employer should then file an accident report with the ICA within 10 days.
- Your employer’s insurance company will contact you.
- You have one year after your injury to file a claim for benefits. That can be done by completing a Worker’s and Physician’s Report at the doctor’s office. Alternatively, you can download a Worker’s Report of Injury form from the ICA.
- If the insurance company denies your claim, you can appeal it within 90 days to the ICA and request a hearing.
- You should contact a workers’ compensation attorney to help deal with the complexities of filing a claim, especially if your claim is denied.
How to prevent knee injuries and other hazards
Some workplace hazards in the flooring installation industry cannot be eliminated. However, the following precautions and special tools can help:
- Knee pads are essential. Unfortunately, many installers do not use them. Employers and general contractors should require them.
- Power knee kickers should be employed and available to all workers on all carpet-laying projects. Workers should be trained to properly use them.
- Education on safety measures should be provided to all workers and subcontractors.
- Employees and independent contractors alike should be trained by general contractors on a job to use proper safety practices and tools.
Contact an Arizona workers’ compensation attorney
Workers’ compensation claims can be complicated, especially if there’s a question about your employment classification. That’s why it’s crucial for injured flooring installers to consult an experienced workers’ compensation attorney as soon as possible after an injury at work to ensure their rights are protected.
If you live in Phoenix and have been injured on the job, the experienced work injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Robert E. Wisniewski are here to help. We specialize in workers’ comp cases and are proud to have been helping injured Arizona workers recover the compensation they deserve for more than 45 years.