Know How Workers' Compensation Has Changed For Restaurants
After 8 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, take-out, curbside, and delivery services have become the predominant methods of survival for restaurants, a crucial segment of the Rhode Island economy. As restaurants introduce new ways of serving diners and expanding to outdoor dining areas, employees may be exposed to new safety hazards. For this segment of the RI Hospitality industry, it’s extremely important to understand how these changes can affect your workers’ compensation policy now, in the midst of a pandemic.
Unfortunately, the restaurant and hospitality industry continues to bear the brunt of pandemic and the related measures imposed by state and local government, but the workers’ compensation requirements for businesses in our State of Rhode Island have not changed. The following is a refresher on the workers’ compensation issues that arise in this mode of doing business and how best to mitigate risk in these trying times.
If your business employs one or more than one person, you are statutorily required to have a workers’ compensation insurance policy. The Rhode Island Department of Labor & Training (DLT) and the Workers’ Compensation Court strictly apply and construe this law and having insurance is a must. Those who attempt to avoid this requirement risk civil and criminal penalties, and if a claim occurs, the uninsured employer will be sued by the injured employee. If you do not have workers’ compensation insurance coverage, make sure you reach out to a Rhode Island Independent Insurance Agent and get insurance in place today.
Once you have workers’ compensation coverage, there are some other very important things you need consider and have in place.
Contractors and Subcontractors
Are you using any subcontractors or independent contractors, in addition to your employees, to get any of this pandemic related work done? If so, you need to comply with state law in distinguishing your employees from others. If you are using a subcontractor, make sure you are securing certificates of insurance coverage from these businesses. If you don’t, and an employee of your subcontractor is injured, you run the risk of being deemed his or her employer for purposes of both premium calculation and benefits. Limit your risk and get documentation!
If you are using individual independent contractors, there is a signed form - the Notice of Designation as Independent Contractor (DWC-11-IC), which you need to secure from the independent contractor. The DWC-11-IC form is available on the DLT website. Once you secure the signed DWC-11-IC form, file it with the DLT immediately.
Why is this important? An employer does not have to include an independent contractor in its workers’ compensation insurance program. Further, only employees are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits in the event of an injury. But don’t label your employees as independent contractors to avoid insurance premium. This is fraud, and there are civil and criminal penalties for this too.
The Rhode Island General Assembly made the original changes regarding independent contractors to eliminate any question about the employee/employer relationship. Follow the Rhode Island law as noted above, and eliminate risk and do things right.
New Safety Processes
To survive and comply with official COVID-19 guidance, hospitality businesses are forced to adapt by offering curbside and home delivery service, modified dining areas, and following strict cleaning and disinfecting protocols. Some or all of these activities may be outside the scope of a staff person’s normal duties thus creating new worker safety exposures.
There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to protecting your business and your employees. But one thing is for sure, recognizing high-risk situations and establishing procedural and administrative measures will reduce or eliminate the potential for incidents, injuries, and workers’ compensation claims. There are some things to consider to help keep food service workers safe include the following topics.
Curbside pickup can result in unique risks for employees. Whether you currently offer these services or are planning to in the future, know the risks and how to manage them effectively to help protect your employees and your business:
- Staff should wear high visibility reflective vests at all times of day.
- Designate pull off and parking areas for curbside pickup only.
- Curbside pick-up areas should have ample lighting.
- Inspect walkways to ensure that they are clean and clear to prevent slip, trip, and fall injuries.
- Staff should wear slip resistant footwear.
Home Delivery Safety
Food and catering delivery employees can face numerous risks associated with working alone. There are proactive measures that can and should be implemented to encourage increased employee awareness. Employees need to know how to perform risk assessments and employers must aid employees with an immediate means to discreetly summon help when they feel at risk.
Beacon Mutual has a free, downloadable Food Delivery Service Safety Alert. Visit Beacon’s Safety Services page to learn more about online safety training, including driver safety training, to help keep workers safe.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a guide on What Food and Grocery Pick-Up and Delivery Drivers Need to Know about COVID-19.
Modifying Dining Area
While many restaurants are suffering financially, some are able to take advantage of outside areas, modify interior spaces, and come up with creative ways to remain open while adhering to social distancing guidelines. Often this involves asking staff to move tables, chairs and more. Beacon policyholders are encouraged to take advantage of remote ergonomic training on topics such as Healthy Back Training and Stretch for Safety to keep hospitality staff safe from overexertion injuries.
For employees using cleaning products at work, employers are required to review the cleaning products and train employees on how to safely use them, especially the products that can cause harm if inhaled, absorbed in the skin, or ingested.
Employers must inform employees where to find the following items:
- Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for chemicals listed on cleaning products
- First aid kit, and eye wash stations
- Information on how to store the cleaning products
- Personal protective equipment that is available and should be worn during use and in the event products are spilled
Employees who work in housekeeping need to be aware of more than just cleaning products. In addition, they need to avoid slips, strips, and falls. Heavy lifting might also be required to move furniture and small appliances, and even to change the sheets and towels in room especially if wet. Cleaning in bathrooms also requires some abnormal positions that can strain backs and extremities if not careful. Anyone who works in housekeeping must be aware of their personal space and also aware of anyone who might be in a room when entering.
Safeguard your Rhode Island Hospitality Business with more safety tips and resources on Beacon's Hospitality Industry Safety page.
Beacon Safety Resources
- Restaurants and Food Service Safety
- Food Delivery Service Safety Alert
- Safety Resources
- Ergonomic Services