One belief I have as a lawyer and as a human being is that if you are going to have laws on the books, enforce them. If they don’t make sense to be enforced, repeal them. That doesn’t mean that if someone is going five miles over the speed limit they should get a ticket. What it does mean is that when someone is willfully committing a crime, there should either be charges or take the law away.

While most Illinois businesses do carry work comp insurance, some don’t. It’s a class 4 felony to not have work comp insurance if you do business in Illinois, assuming you have any employees. Some “smart” bosses try to get around this by calling everyone independent contractors when they are not. That doesn’t usually work. Others just roll the dice and don’t carry insurance, hoping nobody will get hurt. These people are immoral as they knowingly put the welfare of their workers at risk.

Sadly, while a lot of employers have been caught over the years flouting this law, very few have been significantly punished. That might be changing

In what is a really positive sign, the Illinois State Department of Insurance brought a case against an employer that blatantly ignored the law. The employer was working in the labor field, helping with the installation of sheeting on buildings. That’s clearly a job where injuries are likely to happen. The Insurance Compliance Division of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission categorized this business as ultra-hazardous.

The State got a tip that they didn’t have insurance and contacted them. What’s amazing about Illinois is that they don’t go in aggressively, but instead give you a chance to correct your error and not get charged. I can’t imagine any other felony where this would happen, but the goal is to have businesses comply with the law, not arrest people.

In this case, the business reportedly talked to the investigator at first and then ignored further contact.  As a result, civil charges were brought and the business was fined for every day it went without insurance. In this case that as a $500 fine every day for 357 days as well as a penalty of $32.82 a day for unpaid premiums. All told, the total fine came in at over $190,000.00! The State also dissolved the business and appears to be going after the owner individually.  A big factor in all of this was that they didn’t find any evidence he couldn’t afford to pay for the insurance, but rather he just chose not to have it.

What I still haven’t seen is anyone get criminally charged with a felony and do some jail time. Generally speaking, I think we need to jail fewer people in this country (we have the highest incarceration rate in the world) not more, but I also think there would be some value in punishing white-collar criminals like these, even if it’s a 30-day jail period. I’d think it would have a deterrent effect on other companies or individuals who might want to flout the law. Sadly, I think politicians are too worried about backlash. So while I’m happy the financial part of this law was enforced, I wish they’d do it more and consider taking it further.