Washington state labor department seeks to be 'user friendly'

Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldOctober 25, 2013 

The state Department of Labor and Industries is looking for ways to become more "user friendly" for business owners.

That includes making forms available online, beefing up tech support and adding flexible due dates for worker's comp premiums, said Director Joel Sacks.

"And we want to make it even easier," Sacks said Friday at the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce in Kennewick.

Sacks met with representatives from medical and construction industries, Hanford contractors and small business owners. He discussed the changes his department has made and asked what more they can do.

"We want them to build and expand their business. And to do that we're making it easier for businesses to do business with us," he said.

Sacks was invited to the Tri-Cities by state Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick. It costs time and money for business owners to make the trip to Olympia.

"We all need to do what we can as legislators to make Washington a more business-friendly state," Brown said.

One example cited by Sacks is the amount of mail employers receive when a worker is injured on the job.

"It stacks up and it's all confusing," he said. "Sometimes they'd miss deadlines or not provide necessary information."

Now all the paperwork is done online and each item is flagged whether it requires action or is merely informational, he said.

Labor and Industries staff also have created checklists for contractors to use when deciding if someone is an independent contractor or an employee.

"The man you hire to lay carpet -- is he an employee and now you need to pay workers comp? Or is he an independent contractor and you don't? It can be challenging to comply," Sacks said.

Sacks also discussed the Stay at Work program, a financial incentive that encourages employers to find light-duty or transitional work for injured workers. It was passed by the Legislature in 2011 and is administered by Labor and Industries.

"Under the program the employee gets their regular paycheck and employers can be reimbursed by Labor and Industries for half of what they're paying the injured worker," Sacks said. "Over 6,000 people have taken advantage of this program since it began."

Businesses are taking advantage of the ability to choose their own payment date for worker's compensation premiums.

"For example, October is the end of the quarter for May-August and payment is still due. But different businesses have different cash flows. Now they can choose any date in October to pay," Sacks said.

They also are saving time and frustration by doing it online, he said. Business owners are able to fill out the forms when they have time, save them, and submit them later.

Another major Labor and Industries initiative is to make its online safety rules easily readable on small mobile screens, Sacks said. That's based on feedback from contractors in the field.

"They want to comply. but they don't want to have to go back to the office to check a book or use a computer to find out when workers need fall protection, hearing protection. They want to do it on site," Sacks said.

For more information on the changes or Labor and Industries regulations, go to http://www.lni.wa.gov.

-- To submit business news, go to bit.ly/bizformtch.

-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com

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