What do the Cincinnati Ballet, Jungle Jim’s and the YWCA have in common? Last month, an Ohio court upheld a ruling that the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation has been overcharging these and thousands of other businesses and organizations in the state. Meanwhile, the BWC cut rates for other employers who were part of preferred groups, Ohio’s 8th District Appellate Court said.
Now an advocacy organization is pushing for the BWC to pay back the difference.
While the ins and outs of the rates are complicated, the underlying concept is fairly straightforward: Worker’s compensation functions as a kind of insurance for employers. If an employee gets hurt on the job, worker’s comp will pay for lost wages and medical costs so long as the business is current on its monthly workers comp payment. A lawsuit brought by some employers receiving higher rates charged that those rates were unfair, even forcing some employers into bankruptcy.
The courts have agreed. The appellate court’s decision upholds an earlier ruling against the BWC by the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.
The courts ruled the BWC, along with lobbyists of some favored businesses, rigged workers compensation rates so that some companies picked to be designated “group rate employers” received what the court called “excessive, undeserved premium discounts” on their workers compensation insurance plans. Where did the money for those discounts come from? According to the court, from businesses who were not part of the special group rate. Those businesses paid almost $860 million extra on their workers compensation plans.
BWC hasn’t started paying back the money, and head Steven Buehner told a Cleveland news outlet last week that the agency will appeal the ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court. It has until June 30 to do so.
Buehner says the agency’s rates simply reflect the nature of providing insurance — that low-risk customers receive lower rates than higher-risk clients. Buehner said there isn’t some big pot of money somewhere that the BWC is sitting on and that it hasn’t cheated anyone out of any funds.
If the court’s ruling holds, the BWC will owe more than 100 Cincinnati-area employers $100,000 or more, including a number of nonprofits and arts organizations. All told, the BWC could owe area businesses more than $100 million. Progress Ohio, an advocacy group, has asked Gov. John Kasich to act and make sure the BWC pays the money back.
According to Progress Ohio, which is advocating for the employers in question, the BWC could owe the Cincinnati Ballet more than $300,000, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park nearly $150,000 and the Cincinnati YMCA $140,000. BAE, a British-owned security and armaments business with a plant in Fairfield, is the area employer owed the largest amount of money; according to the advocacy organization, the BWC charged BAE more than $1.4 million extra in premiums.
The Cincinnati YWCA is also owed payback — about $14,000. The organization told WCPO earlier this week it will be "thrilled" to get that money back so it can use it to help women and children in need.