Is Workers Compensation in Ohio a Tax or An Insurance?

Workers Compensation began as a concept in the early 1900’s as large deal or compromise struck between large industries and unions to avoid tort litigation or lawsuits every time an injured worker had an injury on the job. In return for having insurance to pay for both basic medical care and some temporary and permanent reduced disability wages, employers were protected from getting sued in private court. All injury claims and disputes around those claims would be dealt with through state sponsored industrial commissions as opposed to going right to a court room. No federal law was ever passed relating to this, but each state followed suit passing their own versions with some states going their own way completely relating to the insurance part.

All Workers’ Compensation Insurance In Ohio Is Purchased Through One State Owned Carrier

Ohio was 1 of a few states that not only created an Industrial Commission to handle disputes, but they decided to not just mandate insurance be purchased by employers, but they mandated insurance be purchased through one state owned carrier that would be the only carrier to offer this insurance in the state and this state insurance fund would be run by a governor appointee. Ohio today is one of 4 monopolistic states run in this manner, and the insurance arm of Ohio known as the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC). Employers work directly with BWC in purchasing their insurance and do not go through a broker.

Many States Have Large Competitive And Monopolistic Funds Offering Optional Group or Pooling Programs

Now because workers compensation insurance for high-risk industries such as construction, trucking, or coal mining was less competitive in the private market, many states ended up creating state insurance funds, but unlike Ohio they are competing with private carriers in that state. These carriers are called competitive state funds. Many competitive state funds such as KEMI in Kentucky, which was founded to provide work comp for coal miners, instead of offering insurance to just high risk began offering insurance to low risk employers as well. Many competitive state funds are continuing to grow their market share in their state, and are not looked at anymore as the carrier of last resort. When purchasing insurance in a competitive state in general the business owner will use a broker and will not contract with the carrier directly. Today, both large competitive state funds and monopolistic state funds also offer optional group or pooling programs that will provide employers lower and more consistent rates in return for implementing stricter safety programs or transitional work programs that are administered by a 3rd party for the group such as a business association. With Ohio BWC, there are both a group experience rating and group retrospective rating option.

These Days Most Workers’ Compensation Insurance Premiums Look Like Payroll Taxes

Whether you pay Ohio BWC, KEMI, or popular private carriers like Travelers or Liberty Mutual, one thing that is common across the board for work comp insurance is that your insurance premium looks more like a payroll tax then an insurance bill. Each employer’s premium is based on rates for different job categories that are multiplied by either gross wages or gross wages minus Section 125 benefits. The carrier will first make a guess and project an annual payroll estimate for a business by job categories. Those totals will be multiplied by that employer’s rates and then the total is broken out into a payment schedule that is either monthly, semi-monthly, quarterly, or annually. Then at the end of the year, the employer must report exact wages on what is called an audit or true-up. If the payroll was more than the projection the employer must pay the difference usually right away or if it was less they will get a credit.

Ohio BWC Uses NCCI Job Codes And Their Own Data and Formulas To Determine Rate and Loss Cost Recommendations

The job categories most work comp carriers utilize are determined by the National Council on Compensation Insurance or (NCCI). Now NCCI is not an arm of the federal government. It is more like a separate national nonprofit business association aimed at supporting the various carriers deal with each state’s systems. NCCI gathers data from all of the various insurance carriers and provides objective insurance rate and loss cost recommendations. For the most part all work comp carriers create their own base rates for each job category. Then they assign each employer an Experience Modifier (EM) which acts as a multiplier on the base rate to determine the rate each employer multiplies their payroll by to determine premium. The EM for employers is based on previous reported payroll by code and previous claims history. Ohio BWC only uses NCCI’s job codes, but they determine rates and loss cost recommendations from their own state-wide data and formulas.

Most Ohio Business Owners Rely On Their Payroll Vendors For Help Navigating This System

With all of this seeming pretty complicated, small businesses owners especially find themselves really needing help with some of this. For a couple decades now payroll services have expanded their service offerings to assist businesses with the process of paying carriers and getting the various audits or true-up’s completed. How a payroll company does this will differ from payroll company to payroll company, state to state, and carrier to carrier. This process might be done in bulk through an automated process, individually through an automated process, or through more of a manual process. One thing to keep in mind with letting a payroll service do your work comp payments and work comp filing on your behalf is that work comp is not like other tax filings. If they make a mistake and your carrier has you in a lapsed status, then an injury occurs, the carrier may not pay for medical bills and disability for that injury. The employer could be stuck paying both backed premium and the cost of a claim. That is why if you are relying on your payroll service to do this for you, you better make sure they have a solid quality assurance process in place so all payments and filing are done correctly and on time. Some carriers make this process easier by partnering with payroll companies more formally and allowing a pay as you go model. Instead of dealing with installments and an audit process, you pay a deposit to start, but then you pay your premium in the rears as payroll is processed so there is no guess or projection and therefore no audit. Unfortunately, this way of doing it is less popular with carriers based on their own accounting reasons. Ohio BWC used to charge this way, but then changed it back in 2015. Hartford is a popular national carrier that still works with many payroll providers to offer a pay as you go model today. Even if the carrier does not offer a pay-as-you-go model, some payroll providers will still handle an installment and audit process on an employer’s behalf. Just about every payroll service should at least be able to provide reports that track reportable wages by NCCI class code for reporting purposes.

In the end workers’ compensation, insurance is much like unemployment taxes, so it makes sense to rely on your payroll vendor who does your unemployment taxes to handle a lot of this for you as a busy business owner. Just make sure you find the right partner with the right solution for your business. Whether you want to call workers compensation an insurance or a tax, that answer will likely depend less about how you pay the bill and more likely about whether you like the employees who filed claims against you.

Contact us (859-817-2280) for a Free Consultation/Quote!

Demo Our HCM Suite
View The Power of Our Fully Integrated Human Capital Management Suite


About Payroll Partners

As a leading payroll provider, we offer comprehensive solutions designed to fit your business. Our knowledgeable and experienced staff offers confidential and reliable assistance for every aspect of payroll. Count on us to deliver accurate and timely payrolls while accommodating your unique needs. From meeting your basic payroll requirements to management reports, and/or tax pay and file services, we can do it all.
Learn More