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Workman’s compensation insurance is crucial for any business that has employees. In most states, it’s legally required, but even in cases where it isn’t, it’s still a good idea to have coverage in place. Workers’ compensation is a way to ensure your employees are protected if an injury occurs while they’re at work. Additionally, it helps ensure financial protection for you and your business if someone gets hurt on the job.


As a small business owner, how do you know when or if workman’s comp is necessary or legally required? Let’s dive into the history of workman’s compensation, what it entails, and how to keep your small business compliant.

Looking back at the history of workman’s compensation

The notion of compensation for bodily injury or loss of a body part stems back to ancient Sumeria, around 2050 BC. Ancient Greek, Roman, Arab, and Chinese laws were also in place, dictating compensation for the loss of a body part.


Throughout the late Middle Ages and Renaissance in England, and later the Industrial Revolution in Europe and America, compensation for injured workers was incredibly limited. Common law principles stated that workers knew the risks involved and would therefore be responsible for their own injuries, no matter how hazardous the environment was.


The first modern system of workers’ compensation was created in Prussia in 1884. It eventually spread to the United States in the early 1900s, with the first comprehensive law passing in Wisconsin in 1911. By 1948, the law had passed throughout the entire US.

What does workman’s compensation insurance include?

Workman’s compensation insurance financially protects both the employee and their employer in the event they get injured at work. Typically, workman’s comp covers medical expenses, rehabilitation costs, and any wages lost during the recovery period. It also provides benefits to anyone who experiences a permanent or life-altering injury preventing them from going back to the workforce. If someone passes away from a work-related injury or illness, workman’s compensation can help support their family.

Understanding the legalities of workman’s comp for your small business

In most states, if you have at least one employee, workman’s compensation is legally required—though the regulations do vary state by state. For sole proprietors, however, it isn’t a necessity. Some states don’t require workman’s comp for independent contractors, although in others it’s still needed.


In some areas, the type of business you own will determine whether or not workman’s compensation is required. For instance, if the job entails physical labor or involves heavy machinery, workman’s comp may be necessary from a legal standpoint. Whereas, if your business runs primarily in an office or at home over the phone or computer, it may not be needed. Always check what the rules and regulations are for your state before deciding to forgo the insurance.


Even if it isn’t a law, small businesses can still benefit from the financial protection provided by workman’s compensation insurance. Without it, someone who gets hurt on the job can sue you as the business owner or the company itself for damages. Paying out-of-pocket for an employee’s injuries can be financially detrimental to both you and your company—potentially even leading to bankruptcy.


For small businesses, working with a PEO can be a great option for staying compliant with workman’s compensation laws. PEOs often offer pay-as-you-go workman’s comp programs that can help you save money in the long run. If you have short-term workers for specific projects or contracts, a pay-as-you-go option allows you to pay only for what you use.


Whether or not it’s legally required for your business, workman’s compensation is still important for ensuring the financial protection of your workers and your company.