Every day, I review a list of lawsuits filed in Birmingham and around Alabama. Over the past month, I have noticed a disturbing trend: many employers are being sued in court for failure to pay taxes, failure to obtain workers’ compensation insurance and failure to make their places of business accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The Alabama Department of Revenue, numerous counties and numerous cities have filed lawsuits seeking to shut down employers around the state for failure to pay sales tax. The businesses sued include restaurants, law firms and retail shops. Although most of these cases are resolved pursuant to a payment plan, the employers incur time away from work, expenses, such as attorneys’ fees, and are subject to penalties and interest. With the state seeking to increase revenues any way it can, more of these lawsuits will be filed.
The Alabama Department of Labor (DOL) is also filing lawsuits around the state against employers for failure to obtain workers’ compensation insurance. There are very few exceptions to the obligation to have workers’ compensation insurance in place, and DOL is aggressively pursuing employers that fail to obtain coverage. Failure to obtain coverage can also expose employers to large financial obligations if an employee is injured on the job and there is no workers’ compensation insurance: the employer may be responsible for all medical bills, past, present and future, incurred in the treatment for the injuries, indemnity payments and vocational retraining.
Among other things, the ADA requires that employers who have a facility with public access must be accessible for those with disabilities. There are several organizations that go around to various businesses, including restaurants, hotels, movie theatres, amusement parks, gas stations and office buildings to see if the facilities comply with the ADA. If not, a lawsuit is filed in federal court, seeking that the facility be upgraded to comply, and, of course, seeking attorney’s fees and expert fees. Once again these cases can cost employers a great deal of time and money once a lawsuit is filed. The regulations imposed by the ADA are comprehensive and sometimes difficult to understand. Employers can and should be proactive by conducting an ADA audit to ensure compliance.
Practice pointer. Being proactive and taking preventative steps to comply with the laws is always recommended. Make sure that sales taxes are paid, that workers’ compensation insurance is in place, and that any public facility complies with the ADA. Doing so may save a great deal of time, money and bad publicity in the future.