Archive for June, 2015

Providence Workers Remain at Risk for Construction Injuries Amid High Unemployment

Rhode Island is ranked 47th out of 50 states in its unemployment rate for construction workers, according to Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc.  High unemployment rates can mean trouble for workers on-the-job when it comes to workplace safety and worker protections. muratore-1109610-m

An experienced workers’ compensation lawyer knows when there are too few jobs, workers may feel pressure to stay in positions even if their employers are not treating them right, or when working conditions are less than optimal.  High unemployment rates also lead workers to take jobs they otherwise wouldn’t if they had more options.

High Rates of Unemployment in Construction Industry Exacerbate Dangerous Working Conditions

From March to April of 2015, unemployment rates among construction workers dropped in 49 states.  On a year-to-year comparison of April unemployment for construction workers, there was a decline in unemployment in 45 states. The change from year-to-year has likely been driven by the housing market starting to pick up. The month-to-month change can be explained, in part, by bad winter weather giving way to warm months that allow for more outdoor construction work.

On a nationwide level, unemployment numbers for construction workers released in May were the best since May of 2006. For workers in Rhode Island, however, unemployment remains stubbornly high. The state unemployment rate for construction workers was 10.5 in April, according to the May data release, which is well above the nationwide average. The only states that did worse were California, Georgia, and West Virginia.

High unemployment rates matter because it means there are fewer opportunities for safe jobs. In particular, more workers could be forced into taking positions in which their employers engage in abusive workplace practices like incorrectly classifying them as independent contractors.

Misclassification has become an increasingly dire problem in the field of construction. Department of Labor statistics show close to 40 percent of employees in construction fields have been misclassified in some states. Any misclassification is harmful for two primary reasons:

  • Independent contractors aren’t protected by the same standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for employees. When employers don’t have to follow OSHA rules, it makes worksites considerably more dangerous and significantly increases work accident risks.
  • Independent contractors do not get workers’ compensation coverage. Employers don’t have to buy this insurance for the self-employed. Employers often try to prevent workplace injuries to help keep the costs of workers’ comp premiums down. This financial incentive goes away when there is no longer a requirement for workers’ comp insurance coverage. A worker who is misclassified as an independent contractor also doesn’t get the protections workers’ comp is supposed to provide if he does suffer injuries on the job.

High unemployment rates can also lead to employees being concerned about complaining about unsafe work conditions since they fear they could be out-of-a-job if their employer retaliates.

Rhode Island will hopefully experience a drop in unemployment as the construction industry gets stronger nationwide. Even with high rates of joblessness, however, workers still have a right to proper training and a safe workplace.