Earlier this year, The (Raleigh) News & Observer did a story noting about 30,000 North Carolina businesses had not bought workers’ compensation coverage for their employees.
“When workers got hurt, there was no money there,” says reporter Mandy Locke. The story “opened up a whole world of sources that we just didn’t have in the newsroom. No one covers real estate or the construction industry.”
The story generated so much feedback it spawned a three-part series called “Ghost Workers” that covered businesses with no coverage, insurance policies that allowed businesses to skirt the requirement and the bureaucratic process that has enabled businesses to go unnoticed.
Mandy says getting information on private industries can be a challenge – but it’s still possible.
The Industrial Commission in most states will track workers’ compensation claims. Reporters can search opinions issued by the agency, she says. Civil court databases will show if the government has filed a tax lien against business for unemployment taxes.
Interestingly, North Carolina no longer offers public access to a database that shows whether businesses have workers’ compensation insurance. Mandy says a group lobbied to make the information private. States including Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania still offer public access to their databases.
Mandy says if she had more time, she would have looked at other industries like home health and cleaning agencies – an option for other reporters interested in looking into this issue.
For more tips on finding public information on private companies, check out a post with tips from Chris Roush.