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Workers’ compensation can vary widely for traveling employees

In today’s mobile society, it isn’t unusual for a worker hired by a North Carolina company to work in another state, either on a temporary or permanent basis. A short business trip can involve travel to another state or an employee may be assigned to a project in another state or even telecommute from a different state.

Each state has its own workers’ compensation laws and those can vary widely. An injury to a worker in one state may be valued very differently from the same injury in another state. One recent example involved the value of the loss of an arm: in one state, the worker was awarded $740,000; in the other state, the worker received only $45,000. So determining which state’s law applies can be crucial to the future of the worker and his family.

In a recent North Carolina case, the Supreme Court considered this issue. The employee had signed his employment contract in another state when he accepted the job. As the result of a merger, he later transferred to the company’s North Carolina division. He injured his back while working in one of the other states on his route and he began to receive benefits under that state’s workers’ compensation laws. He later filed a claim with the North Carolina Industrial Commission which was denied on the basis that it did not have jurisdiction over the claim.

The worker appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals which reversed the Commission’s decision, saying that his transfer was a modification of the original contract signed in another state which did give the North Carolina Commission jurisdiction over the claim. The employer then appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court which agreed with the original decision of the Commission. Specifically, because the contract was signed in another state, the modification of the contract when the employee was transferred to the Charlotte division did not change the location where the contract was originally signed.

As in the example mentioned above involving the loss of an arm, the state where benefits are awarded can make a huge difference for the employee. But as this case shows, the specific facts of the case can make the difference in which state’s law applies. A workers’ compensation attorney in North Carolina understands this state’s laws and can help argue for an interpretation favorable to the employee.

Source: Pro Publica, “How Much Is Your Arm Worth? Depends On Where You Work,” Michael Grabell and Howard Berkes, Mar. 5, 2015

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