The owners of a California flooring installation company allegedly underreported their payroll amounts to workers’ compensation insurers to the tune of $30 million, costing the insurance company almost $4 million in premiums. The men are each facing three felony charges.

These are the potential consequences for those who deliberately falsify their payroll records and reports to the companies providing their workers’ compensation insurance. To avoid this pitfall and the fallout, it’s important that employers understand the vital role accurate payroll reporting and records play in determining premiums.

The importance of payroll records

Workers’ comp premiums reflect the amount of a business’s payroll and the riskiness of its operations. Carpenters suffer more frequent and severe injuries than do architects, so the premium rates for construction firms are higher than those for architecture firms.

Monthly, quarterly or after each policy term, the insurer audits the employer’s payroll records to determine the accurate amount of payroll and the proper classification of the work performed.

The carrier applies the reported payroll to the premium rates, calculates the premium and compares it to the deposit the employer paid at the start of the period. The insurer then returns premium to the employer if the deposit was too high or bills them if it was too low.

If an employer’s records are incomplete or not up to date, the insurer may estimate the classification and payroll based on the information available. Those estimates do not often favor the employer.

Avoiding temptation

While some may be tempted to provide artificially low payroll amounts to insurers (by, for example, labeling some workers as “independent contractors” rather than employees), the consequences can be serious. An insurance company that determines its customer was untruthful will cancel its coverage at the first opportunity.

Also, the insurance contract gives them the right to pursue the employer for the shortfall in premiums. The employer could end up on the wrong side of a court judgment.

Deliberately concealing information about workers to reduce premiums is also a crime in many states.

A New York construction labor supply broker conspired with his insurance broker to mislead five insurers about the size of his operation and work performed by his employees. Their actions cost one insurer $1 million in reduced premiums and left injured workers without workers’ comp claims payments for more than a year.

The insurance broker pleaded guilty to two felony charges. The labor supply broker is awaiting trial.

Depending on the state and the amounts involved, a conviction for workers’ comp fraud can carry lengthy prison sentences and hefty fines. In Minnesota, someone convicted of insurance fraud for more than $35,000 faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. Two people in California received 10-year sentences.

The lesson: Keep accurate and honest payroll records for your insurance company and pay the premiums you owe. It will be better for you and your business in the long run.

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