An investigation by this newspaper into compliance with workers compensation laws proved embarrassing to the N.C. Industrial Commission. Employers must buy workers comp insurance, and the commission has the authority to jerk the chains of those who dont. But the agency was found to be letting thousands of employers slide by.
When workers were injured, absent that insurance coverage they could be left in the lurch with no income and unable to perform their customary job. An appeal to the commission might shake some money loose. But the system was not working the way it was supposed to.
The N&O uncovered this two-sided fiasco employers not buying the required insurance, and the commission failing to enforce the law with the help of data assembled by an organization called the N.C. Rate Bureau.
The bureau supplied the data to the commission under a contract, but the commission wasnt using it to gauge employers compliance with the law. It was taking note of uninsured employers only when their injured workers appealed for the compensation to which they were entitled.
An obvious remedy, now included in a bill that has been sent to Gov. Beverly Perdue: Require the bureaus data to be shared with the commission in a way that would promote employers compliance. Yet theres a problem legislators would make the data confidential, exempt from disclosure under the public records law.
Whose interest is being served here? Yes, the commission would be in a better position to enforce the mandatory coverage rule. But it also would be less exposed to the kind of reporting that brought its slipshod performance to light. For that reason, Perdue would have ample grounds to use her veto stamp.
After The N&Os report, the commission rightly sought to tighten up on scofflaw employers. More public information, not less, will encourage it to stay the course.