Why Student Workers Should Be Aware of University Workers’ Compensation Policies
In the aftermath of some auto collisions, some drivers clamor that the other person is going to be paying for their medical bills. While they might end up paying an increased insurance premium, very rarely does a driver end up paying the entirety of someone’s medical damages out of pocket. It’s actually the insurance company that does this (as long as the damages are within policy limits).
Insurance for work related injuries usually comes in the form of worker’s compensation. While there are many different occasions that people can get injured at any job, we normally associate these instances with construction and other blue collar, manual labor positions. So what happens when a work-related accident occurs at a university lab involving a PhD student? Who pays the medical bills?
This refers to an incident at Boston University where a student was carrying a hazardous liquid and her foot slipped. The student was wearing all the required equipment, but the lab coat didn’t button all the way up. When she slipped, a few milliliters of trifluoroacetic acid fell onto her chest. The lab’s safety shower didn’t have a curtain and hadn’t for a long time so she went to the bathroom to pour water on her chest.
After calling for an ambulance, it’s crew had no idea on how to treat her complex injury, so she waited hours in an exam room only to be sent home with instructions on how to clean it with soap and water. She later had to deal with an unhelpful and unsuccessful process of trying to get compensation for her injury through the university. Now she’s suing it.
Universities have their own systems with a worker’s compensation program that’s probably even more complex than what most construction companies have. There are many guidelines on what kinds of injuries are covered and which aren’t. This is on top of an already time-consuming process. The reason for such vague and unclear policies is because of the stances on whether or not graduate students can be counted as employees or at least employees for certain purposes.
Change is in the air though, as legislation has been passed in some states like California which dictates that employers consider those who do work for them as employees with some exceptions.
On a federal level, the US National Labor Relations Board has debated on whether graduate students can unionize and it proposed a rule stating that student workers are not employees. A final decision is expected to be made, and from that point on will be enforced. Maybe other graduate students will have an easier time getting the compensation they deserve.