The Graduate and Professional Student Assembly invited Jason Kahabka, associate dean for administration, graduate school, to clarify current University policy on worker’s compensation at their meeting on Monday.
Kahabka’s presentation comes following a proposed resolution offered by a Cornell Graduate Students United member at a past meeting this semester.
Kahabka acknowledged the importance of the topic for the GPSA, but assured assembly members that the current rate of serious injury at the University is relatively low.
“The reality is that with over 5,000 students, some level of injury … is a reality,” Kahabka said. “But we are reinforcing that in general terms, Cornell is a very safe place. The rates of injury are low, and the types of injuries, when you look at the data, are most frequently very minor.”
Kahabka outlined the University’s tripartite policy of health insurance, fiduciary obligation and worker’s compensation when dealing with injuries on campus.
Worker’s compensation was tightly regulated under New York State law and only covered individuals who were injured in the “process of working” or performing “work-related activities,” according to Kahabka.
“The worker’s compensation benefits that are offered are offered on a very fine and strict schedule related to the type of injury — this type of injury to this location on the body equals this amount of medical coverage and salary compensation at a fixed rate,” Kahabka said.
One GPSA member expressed concern regarding the loose definition of “work-related” activities of graduate students, a classification Kahabka explained would be resolved on a “case-by-case” basis.
“One concern that the graduate school has is that we can’t say that everything a graduate student does is work [when] in practice, there are laws in different segments in state and federal policy that define what is work,” Kahabka said.
He added that since the University has implemented a new injury reporting system in 2014, all 13 work-related injuries reported by graduate students up until December 2016 have qualified for worker’s compensation.
Paul Berry grad, both a GPSA and CGSU member, presented the resolution on workers’ compensation at a GPSA meeting earlier this semester. While this resolution asked the University for clarity on its policy regarding workers’ compensation, the Assembly voted to send the resolution back to the Student Advocacy Committee for revision.
Berry said that while he commended the administration’s transparency regarding the issue, he felt that the situation is still unfair for graduate and professional students.
“[A]ll of the major issues remain the same: grads are only eligible for workers’ compensation benefits in a narrow range of circumstances, and the amount of coverage available is far below what is provided to every other type of employee on campus.” Berry said.
For Berry, despite the examples given by the administration during the presentation, he maintains that the existing worker’s compensation system is flawed and aims to push for change from the administration.
Despite these concerns, Kahabka ended his presentation with a suggestion to consider that worker’s compensation is not always the best way to resolve each student’s situation.
“In our experience, the worker’s compensation system is available, and in many cases it is to the University’s advantage,” Kahabka said.