stanford grad students are NOT eligible for worker’s comp

January 20, 2010 at 4:36 pm | | grad life

According to this official document, Stanford graduate researchers are not covered by worker’s compensation. If we get injured on the job, we have to pay using our private insurance. Well that sucks. I can’t see any reason that a postdoc working in lab should be covered but a grad student doing the exact same thing is not.

Students at Notre Dame, Rice, UIUC, and Caltech are covered. Why aren’t we?

This means that we graduate students should be more vigilant at demanding safe working environments, refusing to even enter an area that is at all questionable, refusing to work with or around unsafe individuals, and asking postdocs or professors to perform all strenuous or risky tasks (such as heavy lifting or working in the machine shop).

UPDATE: I’ve heard of two cases of graduate students getting injured while in lab, and Stanford refuses to pay the workers comp. In one case, the student’s private insurance paid. In the other, the Stanford-branded health insurance (Cardinal Care) also refused to pay, because the injury occurred at work; that student got a hospital bill for nearly $2000. Something is wrong here!

UPDATE: I’ve read the California statutes on the subject, and I’m convinced that Stanford is breaking the law. The only exception that grad students could possibly fit under is the following:

“3352.  “Employee” excludes the following:

(i) Any person performing voluntary service for a public agency or a private, nonprofit organization who receives no remuneration for the services other than meals, transportation, lodging, or reimbursement for incidental expenses.”

But grad students are not volunteers. And we do receive payroll checks, not specific reimbursement for expenses.

Caltech agrees with me:

“Caltech is obligated by law to provide workers’ compensation coverage to its employees. Workers’ compensation laws are designed to protect employees and their families from the financial consequences of injury, illness, or death arising out of and in the course of their employment.

Caltech provides workers’ compensation coverage to all Institute employees (including students on the payroll), pre-approved volunteers, and professors emeriti.”

(From their HR website.)


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  1. Word. That’s pretty much ridiculous.

    Comment by Chemjobber — January 20, 2010 #

  2. Basically it sounds like the university is saying that because you’re a student, you’re not an employee and therefore they aren’t responsible for worker’s comp. You can always clarify their position with your State Dept for labor law and see what they say. For CA that would be:

    A lot of these things are gray areas that universities like to take advantage of, including things like taxation as well, unfortunately.

    One thing to consider though, is that if you are injured through a situation resulting from their negligence, they could still potentially be held liable irrespective of whether or not you are an employee.

    Comment by Sara — January 20, 2010 #

  3. As a Stanford PhD, I can honestly say that this does not surprise me in the least.

    Comment by Doug Natelson — January 22, 2010 #

  4. […] ground for a lawsuit if they fire you for refusing to work in an unsafe environment. (Hell, you may not even be covered by worker’s comp if the idiot hurts you!) Stand up for your rights: grad school is not a […]

    Pingback by Everyday Scientist » dangerous chemists need to be fired — August 25, 2010 #

  5. […] Make sure you don’t do crappy things like pretending grad students aren’t eligible for worker’s comp. […]

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