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Legal Ramifications of the Labor Shortage

Aug. 3, 2022
Workers who are not experienced or who have not received proper training are more likely to be involved in workplace accidents.

By Andrew Koenig, Esq.

The construction industry in the United States is faced with a serious labor shortage right now. While many of the issues this raises are obvious to those in the industry, there is one area of concern that may not be readily apparent. Employers, in seeking to hire workers needed so as to complete contracts, may be forced to hire people with inadequate training or experience. This, in turn, can lead to more on-the-job injuries, which can lead to more lawsuits.

In construction, more than in any other field, workers who are not experienced or who have not received proper training are more likely to be involved in workplace accidents that lead to injuries, either for themselves or their co-workers. These injuries can then lead to legal actions on behalf of the injured workers.

Shifting Liability

In many states, workers injured on the job are entitled to benefits through Workers’ Compensation. Even if the injury was caused by the worker’s own lack of ability, as long as it wasn’t due to their own negligence or failure to follow set rules, they will still be entitled to the benefits of Workers’ Compensation. Therefore, employers may find themselves having to deal with a barrage of claims.

In addition to Workers’ Compensation claims, injured construction workers can bring legal action against third parties who may be liable for their accident. This can be especially problematic when dealing with cases like New York’s Labor Law Section 240, known as the Scaffold Law. Under this statute, owners and general contractors can be held liable when workers who are injured engaged in covered activities involving elevation-related risks. This is true even if it was the worker’s own actions that caused the accident, if it is determined that they were not provided with proper safety equipment.

For example, an experienced construction worker would be more likely to recognize when a scaffold was not assembled properly and would ensure that any problems were corrected before using it. However, a worker without proper training or with limited experience may not realize that the safety device provided was not adequate and may become injured as a result of using it.

In addition to the Scaffold Law, there are other provisions that can shift liability to other parties when a worker is injured on the job. So, if a representative of an owner of general contractor directs and supervises the work of a subcontractor’s employee who is not familiar with the job, they could be held liable if that employee is injured while performing activities that a more experienced worker would have known to be unsafe.

Claims Affect Insurance

Legal actions by injured employees can have a negative impact on your business. Multiple Workers’ Compensation claims can cause your premiums to rise. Claims by your employee against an owner or general contractor may trigger the indemnification clause in your contract for the work. If it happens enough times, it can also negatively affect your reputation in the industry.

Because of this, employers should take into consideration the increased risk inherent with having insufficiently trained or underexperienced workers on their job sites. Tasks that would be commonplace and easy to perform for trained, experienced workers could lead to injuries to workers who lack this training and experience. And these injuries could lead to costly legal action that can impact not only the employer, but the parties that hired them for the job. So, even in these times where construction companies are faced with labor shortages that may make it impossible or difficult to take on jobs, it is important to be sure that the people you hire are prepared for and capable of performing the job.                                                                                                      

Andrew Koenig is an Assocate Attorney with the Palatta Law Firm, PLLC. He has spent many years litigating construction accident cases, for both defense and plaintiff, most of which deal with Labor Law 240. He is admitted in New York's State, Southern and Eastern District Courts. Andrew also litigates motor vehicle accidents, premises accidents, and wrongful death cases.

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