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Workers’ Compensation For The Food and Beverage Industry

Many workers in North Carolina and Virginia work in the food services industry. They work in restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, supermarkets, grocery stores, pizza places, all sorts of ethnic food establishments, bakeries, and other related businesses.

Restaurant workers work as chefs, cooks, waitresses and waiters, bartenders, hosts, cashiers, bussers, and many other professions. There are farm-to-table companies and other businesses that prepare ready-to-eat foods.

Food delivery workers have become essential during the pandemic. Delivery or Truck drivers can suffer all sorts of injuries from traumatic injuries and spinal cord damage to broken bones and internal bleeding or even brain damage if they are involved in an auto or truck crash.

What injuries are common to food service workers?

Anyone who prepares, serves, or cleans up food and beverages knows that food and drink work can be pretty rough at times. Workers may suffer a range of injuries including:

  • Chronic back, neck, and shoulder pain from performing repetitive tasks such as slicing and dicing or carrying trays to customers every day. Workers may also suffer more traumatic types of injuries due to slip and fall accidents. Many floors are slippery or have substances on them – as the food and beverages fall to the floor.
  • Severe burn injuries. Cooks work over hot stoves, furnaces, ovens, and ranges. Chefs work with boiling liquids. Servers often carry scalding hot liquids and entrees that can cause harsh thermal burns that may cause scarring and may require skin grafts and plastic surgery.
  • Cuts and lacerations.  Kitchen workers and meat processors often work with sharp knives that cause cuts and lacerations.  In severe cases, a North Carolina or Virginia food service worker may lose a finger or a hand.
  • Broken bones. Foodservice workers may suffer broken bones – especially if they slip and fall.
  • Strains and sprains. Waiters and waiters often suffer hand and wrist strains due to carrying heavy plates of food. All food employees can suffer a sprain or strain as they reach for objects or raise their arms to find objects.
  • Injuries due to chemical cleaners and other toxins. Food workers need to be extra cautious about the food and drinks they prepare and handle because customers and patrons are going to consume their products. Some employers use chemical cleaners and other products that can be dangerous if consumed, if sprayed, or the product comes into contact with a food service employee or a food preparation employee.
  • Electrical accidents and electrocution. Food businesses regularly work with power tools and other electrical equipment that can cause a shock or a fatality.

Food service and food preparation workers may also suffer eye injuries if chemicals or grease splash into their eyes.

Food packaging and workers compensation

Automation and mechanization have helped streamline the food preparation industry. Still, many workers are needed to help package food from local farms so that it can be shipped, delivered, and stored in local and distant groceries – or delivered to restaurants, hotels, and any place that serves food. Working in the food product center can be extremely dangerous. Many workers are pushed hard to do as much work as they can, especially during the busy holiday season.

Food preparation and packing work often cause repetitive stress injuries. Farmers in North Carolina and in Virginia have a high risk of injury according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tractor overturns are a leading cause of death. “Every day, about 100 agricultural workers suffer a lost-work-time.”

What’s the difference between an employee and an independent contractor?

Generally, only employees who suffer a work-related injury or an occupational illness can file a state workers’ compensation claim. Independent contractors cannot file a workers’ compensation claim; however, employees of independent contractors who employ at least three people regularly  can file a workers’ compensation claim. But Independent Contractors would have to file a personal injury claim. In a personal injury claim, the claimant must show the company that hired or some other entity was negligent in some way and further, that this negligence caused the injury.

Many agricultural companies and food service companies hire seasonal workers. Most of these workers are considered employees even if they only work part of the year. Many part-time workers may also qualify as an employee. You should not assume that you fail to qualify as an employee – even when your employer asserts that you are an independent contractor. Many workers do qualify as employees. The core test is whether the employer controls when and how you do your work. The best course of action is to speak with an experienced North Carolina or Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer who can explain what your legal employment status really is.

What benefits can injured food preparation and service workers claim?

Workers who are injured on the job or suffer an occupational illness are entitled to the following benefits:

  • Payment of medical expenses. Employers and their insurance companies must pay for all your medical expenses including ER visits, burn center care, hospitalizations for surgeries, doctor visits, physical and other types of therapy, assistive devices, and all your medications.
  • Temporary work loss benefits. Generally, workers are entitled to  2/3rds of their lost wages while they are receiving medical care for up to 500 weeks. That being said, once you reach maximum medical improvement (MMI), even if you return to work, you may be entitled to some additional benefits if you have permanent impairment in your injured body part(s).  MMI means that additional medical care is not likely to improve your injuries or illness.
  • Permanent partial impairment benefits. As soon as you reach MMI, the type of injury an employee has, and the severity of the injury are typically assessed/rated by your treating doctor via a Functional Capacity Examination or FCE. The rating is expressed as a percentage of impairment. Depending on these factors, you may be entitled to receive your proportional share of your average weekly wages (about 2/3) for a specific number of additional weeks.
  • Vocational Rehabilitation. Some employees in the food and beverage industry may be entitled to vocational benefits.  Vocational benefits require that the insurance company pay for you to be retrained or obtain an education – so that you can learn a new trade or profession. In most cases, unfortunately, vocational rehabilitation is not used by insurance companies as a benefit, but as a means to limit their liability to continue to pay you.

At Joe Miller Law Ltd., we provide experienced representation for every type of worker including food service workers. We’ve helped thousands of employees obtain strong recoveries. To discuss your right to file and work injury claims and how the claims process works, call attorney Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295. or use my online contact form to schedule an appointment.

If you want to communicate with us remotely, instead of in person, because of the pandemic – you can use our New Electronic Case Review.

Virginia Beach Office

5500-B Greenwich Rd.
Virginia Beach, VA 23462

Elizabeth City Office
(by appointment only)
507 E Main St #K
Elizabeth City, NC 27907

If you are looking at this site, you or a loved one has probably been hurt. If that's true, you've come to the right place. Helping people who have been hurt is what we do. In fact, it is all we do. Joe Miller Law is a law firm concentrating exclusively on representing people who are injured by the carelessness of others or those hurt on the job. We provide the highest quality legal services to people who have been seriously injured. We practice Personal Injury law and Workmens' Compensation law in both Virginia and North Carolina.