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Hawaii Insurers Council Workers’ Comp Panel

Last week, I had the privilege of speaking on a panel for the Hawaii Insurers Council to discuss current workers’ compensation trends.  The panel discussion was a part of the Insurers Council’s two-day 2015 Annual Planning Meeting.

Clearly, workers’ compensation is a very hot topic, both locally and nationally.  And, with the costs of running a business being incessantly on the rise, employers are constantly concerned about increased costs and obligations under Hawaii and federal labor and employment laws.

For this particular panel discussion, I discussed some of the hot topics I thought would be of particular interest to employers and insurance carriers.  For example, medical marijuana is currently a very hot topic, especially with the passage of Act 241 SLH 2015, which legalized medical marijuana dispensaries in the State of Hawaii.  (Although medical marijuana has been legal in Hawaii for 15 years, individuals had no way of legally purchasing medical marijuana.  Rather, they either had to grow their own or purchase it from the black market.)  With medical marijuana being readily available within the next year or so, employers in Hawaii will have to face some key questions – i.e. can they terminate the employment of an employee who uses medical marijuana and are they required to cover the costs of medical marijuana for the purposes of workers’ compensation treatment?

Another topic I discussed is the possible vulnerability of the “exclusive remedy” provision for workers’ compensation cases, especially in light of such legal challenges that have been posed on the mainland.  In addition, there is also a growing trend for workers’ compensation opt-out provisions, whereby an employer can be excused from providing workers’ compensation insurance if they provide equivalent benefits in some other way.

Finally, due to the lack of time (there were four panelists total for just an hour of discussion), I didn’t have a chance to discuss issues related to the employee vs. independent contractor dichotomy in the context of the new “sharing economy” (e.g. Uber, Yelp, etc.)  This discussion is certainly worthy of its own blog post, which I will surely write one day, but one thing is clear – the way people obtain certain services is changing rapidly, and employers need to keep apprised of their legal obligations in light of such changes.