November 5, 2015

GUEST ROOM | Graduate Students’ Workers Compensation

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Workers compensation for graduate and professional student injuries is an important topic of much discussion around campus of late. I would like to contribute by sharing information about workers compensation benefits as they relate to injuries among our graduate and professional students.

Let’s start with eligibility.  Eligibility for workers compensation for a specific injury is not up to Cornell; such decisions are under the jurisdiction of the New York State Workers Compensation Board. If a graduate student is injured while performing services for Cornell, the student has the ability to file for and receive workers compensation according to New York state eligibility criteria. Our Cornell procedures support this important process.

In the past, some injured students did not know how to access information about their eligibility, but in 2014, with input from students and several offices across campus, the graduate school responded by creating clear, easy-to-follow procedures for injured graduate and professional students to access the resources appropriate to an injury.  Such support may range from medical care to help with urgent, temporary financial support, to accommodations for missed classes.

These procedures for injured students also include an important injury database that helps Cornell understand where such injuries occur, the types of injuries and how they are handled. Those data, in turn, enable Environmental Health and Safety experts to review, update and enhance safety procedures to continually improve graduate and professional student safety.

Based on all data collected in this new process from September 2014 through May 2015, a total of 41 graduate and professional students reported injuries through this system. The majority of those students — 63 percent — were veterinary medicine students. Graduate students accounted for 34 percent of those reported injuries and three percent were business school students.  Most of these injuries involved cuts or lacerations, animal bites or puncture wounds; one was a burn.  Four of the 41 students had medical costs associated with injuries they incurred while they were performing services for Cornell.  These four students received medical treatment that was paid through Cornell’s Worker’s Compensation program.  Had any students disagreed with how their cases were handled, they would appeal that decision to the NYS Workers Compensation Board to be reviewed by a Worker’s Compensation judge. The judge, not Cornell, would make the final determination.

I have heard that some students are worried that Cornell would contest all workers compensation claims that graduate students submit; Cornell did not contest any of these claims filed through this system. All four cases eligible for workers compensation benefits (in other words, with injuries that occurred when the students were performing services for Cornell) involved claims that resulted in Worker’s Compensation benefits being paid.  As President Garrett noted in her remarks to the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly on Aug. 31, graduate students who are injured at Cornell and whose injuries meet state workers compensation eligibility criteria will be covered by Workers Compensation.

I am happy to report that evidence from this process confirms that when graduate and professional students are injured at Cornell while performing services for the University, they have the ability to file for — and receive — Workers Compensation in accordance with state eligibility criteria.

Barbara A. Knuth is the Dean of the Graduate School at Cornell. Comments may be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.