A Pierce County, WA landscaper has been charged with failing to pay workers’ compensation insurance after one of his employees was injured on the job.
Kenneth Ivan Winters, 49, faces one count of doing business without workers’ comp insurance and seven counts of making false reports to the Department of Labor & Industries, according to charging papers. Each charge is a Class C felony with a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The Lakewood man pleaded not guilty to the charges Wednesday, February 19, 2014 in Pierce County Superior Court. His trial was set for May 1.
According to charging papers filed by the Washington Attorney General’s office, authorities were alerted to the case when an employee filed an on-the-job injury claim while working for Winters’ business, Executive Lawn Care, in October 2012.
The worker told an L&I investigator that Winters, who was on site when the employee was hurt, threatened him and his family if he filed a claim with L&I, charging papers said. The employee said he had worked for Winters from 2002 until the day he was injured.
Winters’ workers’ comp coverage had been revoked eight months earlier for failing to pay premiums. However, charging papers allege, he continued to employ the worker full time until the injury. Winters told an L&I investigator he started the business in 1990, and at one time had up to six employees. He said business slowed and his main employee was the worker who became injured, and occasionally the worker’s brother.
As of Jan. 7, 2014, the employee’s claim has cost L&I more than $67,000 in medical expenses and lost wage payments, charging papers said.
Businesses that don’t pay workers’ comp insurance gain an unfair advantage over companies that pay their fair share. A 2007 study found that an estimated 55,000 employers skipped out on paying $34.5 million in workers’ comp insurance in Washington state in 2006, causing legitimate employers to pay higher premiums.
Washington state is one of the few states in the nation where employers and workers both pay a share of the workers’ compensation premiums. The press release from the Department of Labor and Industries did not indicate whether this worker’s payroll deductions had continued even when his workers’ compensation coverage had lapsed. If this was the case, this employer’s fraud would represent wage theft, as well.