Workers' compensation as we know it today—the insurance system that provides medical care and other benefits for workers who become sick or injured in the course of doing their jobs—grew out of the European labor movement in the late 19th century. It was one of the progressive reforms introduced by Germany’s Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in an attempt to diminish the appeal of the then-popular socialist parties.
The U.S. proved more resistant to the idea, and early attempts to establish workers' compensation by the states faced challenges in the courts. At the time, workplace injuries in the U.S. were considered to be under tort law, and cases had to be tried in the court system, a time-consuming and costly procedure. Believe it or not, even some early American labor unions were resistant to the idea of state-administered workers' compensation, because they felt it would decrease their role as providers of worker benefits.
In New York State, the turning point was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1913, in which 146 people, mainly young women, died as the result of unsafe conditions in the factory. Outrage over the fire helped lead to the passage later that year of a New York state workers' compensation law that was strong enough to stand up to court challenges.
How does the law apply to co-op and condo employees, whether they are secretaries, management, maintenance people, doormen, supers or bookkeepers? According to Evan Spelfogel, a member of the Manhattan-based law firm Epstein, Becker & Green PC, “The same as all other covered employees; anyone injured on the job, in the course of or arising from the employment, is covered without regard to fault.”
In other words, workers’ comp is similar to a no-fault auto-insurance policy. It eliminates the need to go through the court system in the great majority of cases. Employees get benefits regardless of who is at fault, and in most cases employees cannot sue their employers.