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The Workers Compensation Premium Audit: How Employers Should Prepare
survival tips and strategies to avoid overcharges

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The annual premium audit (sometimes known as the payroll audit) determines your company's actual Workers' Compensation insurance premium for the policy period.

This means the insurance company may well bill you for a lot more money after the policy expires, citing rules that no one bothered to explain at the time you bought the policy.

When you get one of those bills for way more money than was indicated on the original policy, we call that a Shock Audit.

And we specialize in helping companies dispute those Shock Audits.

But there are also things employers can do on their own to prepare for these audits and reduce the odds of a Shock Audit.


A premium audit is a pretty routine part of Workers Comp insurance, so it's not as if your company is being singled out if your insurer wants to schedule an audit after the policy ends.


The fine print of the Workers Comp insurance policy gives the insurer the right to insist on such an audit, and it requires that the policyholder cooperate with scheduling and making available needed documents and information.


Sometimes there can be dramatic changes in premium based on audit results, and not at all of these changes are welcomed by insured employers.


Often these unwelcome changes are not truly correct and legitimate, per the rules that govern Workers' Compensation insurance. (AKA Workman's Comp or Workers Comp.)

Self-serving errors by insurance companies are common.

But getting an insurance company to admit mistakes can be challenging, and most policyholders are at a distinct disadvantage in such disagreements.

Insurance company audit personnel often come across as stubborn and unresponsive, leaving the employer frustrated and feeling that the system is rigged.

One solution is to try and prevent errors from creeping into audits in the first place.


To avoid premium audit mistakes that can create premium overcharges in your company's Workers Compensation insurance premium, A.I.M. recommends that the following steps be taken:


Before The Audit

Before the premium auditor ever arrives, an employer should decide who will be the primary contact person for the auditor. This contact person should be someone who is very familiar with the work done by all departments and all employees, as well as someone familiar with the payroll records the auditor will be reviewing.

Review the original policy to see how the initial estimated premium was calculated. Look at the classification codes, rates, and payrolls used to compute your initial premiums--the auditor will be starting from this as well, but will not necessarily be limited to using only the classifications listed on the policy.


Also take a look at the information about your company that is readily available to the auditor, such as your company website and other online information.

Remember, it is likely the auditor will be looking at this information in advance of his or her visit to your offices. If there is any information there that could be misleading or is out of date regarding your operations or the nature of your work, not only should you be correcting it, you should also be prepared to clarify the changes with the auditor. 

You don't want incorrect, out-of-date, or misleading information to cause the auditor to make decisions that increase premiums improperly.


It's normally easier to address such issues early rather than after the audit is done, although it can be important to maintain a cordial and professional relationship with the auditor while the audit is being performed.

Incorrect or misleading information online can cause an auditor to apply an incorrect classification and rate to the audit, increasing premiums unnecessarily. 


A premium auditor may well want to know information about the specific job duties performed by a certain department or by individual employees.

It is usually to an employer's advantage to provide accurate and detailed information to the auditor, because if the auditor has to make assumptions about the exposures he or she may well make worst-case assumptions that unnecessarily increase your premium.

Have your designated contact person review prior years' audit billing statements and prior auditor's workpapers (if your company has requested these in the past.) This will help your contact person understand the important issues that will likely come up during the upcoming audit.

Review your payroll documents to make sure that the records will allow the auditor to readily break out overtime pay and discount it back to straight time, as is allowed in most (but not all) states' Workers' Compensation rules. Remember, if the auditor cannot readily break out the premium portion of overtime you will probably not get this significant discount.

The auditor cannot take the time to perform complex calculations to determine the premium portion of your company's overtime pay, so make sure your payroll records will allow the auditor to make the calculation without undue effort.


Disputing An Audit


If your company uses subcontractors or independent contractors, make sure you have on file certificates of insurance documenting that these 1099 people have their own Workers' Compensation insurance. If you don't have certificates of insurance from them, but they did carry their own Workers' Compensation insurance, make sure to get certificates before the audit. Otherwise, your company may be charged for this exposure.


Check the rules in your state regarding opt-out provisions for sole proprietors or partners--in some states the independent contractor you use may have formally opted out of coverage requirements and you need to let the auditor know about this, to avoid being charged for the exposure.

Remember that most construction type companies can use more than one classification code for their operations, they can even divide the payroll of an individual employee between classifications.

But the payroll records must document the actual hours spent by such employees in each of the different workplace exposures. An estimate of time spent in each kind of exposure will not suffice.

If the payroll records do not document the hours spent in each kind of work, all the employee's payroll will go into the most expensive classification applicable. It may not feel fair, but that's how the rules are written.


When The Auditor Arrives


If at all possible, have a comfortable and well illuminated work area available for her or him.

A.I.M. recommends that, if at all possible, you do not have the insurance auditor review your records off-premises (at your accountant's office, for instance) because your account may well not have the detailed information about workplace exposures needed to qualify for some less-expensive classifications.

If the audit must be done off-premises, at least make sure a knowledgeable person from your company is available by phone for the auditor to talk to about such workplace questions.

Remember that the fine print of the policy gives the insurance auditor the right to demand virtually any document that might have a bearing on the premium computation. So sometimes an auditor may want to review tax filings and even tax returns, if the auditor thinks these documents may shed light on the actual exposures being audited.

Sometimes employers get indignant or confrontational when these kinds of additional documents are requested. This is almost always a mistake, as anything that makes an auditor feel suspicious about whether or not information is being withheld, will make the audit process more involved (and likely more painful in terms of time and effort on the part of the employer.)


How We Can Help You


The terms of the policy give the insurance company the right to inspect and review almost any document that could provide information relevant to determining premium.

And all too often, a perceived lack of cooperation on the part of the employer just makes the auditors suspicious and all the more determined to figure out what information is being hidden.

Our recommendation is that employers cooperate as fully and cheerfully as possible, and then review the auditor's workpapers carefully after the audit is completed, to identify any areas of possible dispute. But being uncooperative during the audit can often backfire on an employer, as auditors can and will fill in any blanks with "worst case scenario" type estimates, and then the onus is on the employer to prove that actual exposures are lower.

When the auditor is finished, make sure to ask to be sent a print out of the auditor's worksheets. This document is not normally provided unless specifically asked for, but if requested it will be provided without problem.

These worksheets will provide you with a roadmap for understanding how the audit was conducted, how the final payroll numbers were derived and what payroll was placed into which classification codes.

When requesting the printout of the auditor's worksheets, make sure to designate who at your company is to receive these documents, as they will contain sensitive payroll information that you may want to keep confidential.


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After The Audit

When you receive the actual audit billing statement, review it carefully and compare it to the original policy. Check for the following

Normally, the experience modification factor should be no higher on the audit than on the original policy;

Classification Codes on the audit should not include any more expensive classifications that were not on the original policy, unless there has been some change in your company's operations since the policy began. The ability of the insurance company to add more expensive classifications at the time of the audit is limited in many states (although the rules for construction related work are more lenient on this point, generally allowing such classification changes even at the audit.)

The Schedule Credit or Debit should not have changed from the original policy. It your insurer has increased premiums by changing the schedule debit or credit, you may well have the basis for disputing the additional premiums.


If you are unfamiliar with Workers Compensation insurance, it can be a good idea to review the Basics of how Workers Comp insurance premiums are calculated. And you may want to study our Online Guide for more detailed information on elements of Workers Compensation premiums, such as classifications and experience modification factors. Also, remember that the rules that govern Workers Comp premium can vary from state to state.



Please email: or call us at 800-288-9256 with questions on audits, classifications, experience modifiers, or other aspects of Workers Comp premiums and audits.



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Consultants on Workers Comp Classification Codes, Experience Modifiers, Payroll Audits, & More

We've been helping employers since 1987, making Advanced Insurance Management one of the oldest and most experienced firms in the field of premium recovery.


"Advanced Insurance Management has been a tremendous help to Allied Welding, Inc., and has saved us money and generated a significant refund on our Workers' Compensation by finding an error in our classifications. We value their expertise."--Allied Welding

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  • Riverside, IL 60546
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