Eric L. Hughes, age 53, is a contractor based in Holland, a suburb of Toledo in north-west Ohio. According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Hughes has been operating in the Toledo area since 1993 under the business names “Eric L Hughes Sr” and “Idp Maintenance.” The BBB estimates Hughes’ companies generate about $70,000 per year in revenue.
In all states except Texas, it is a legal requirement for businesses to carry workers’ compensation insurance for their employees. In Ohio, business owners—including sole proprietors—are not required to carry workers’ compensation insurance coverage. Every employee, however, must have coverage. In Ohio, workers’ compensation insurance is provided by the state through the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) rather than through private insurance providers.
Hughes operated primarily as a general contractor and handyman, working both on commercial and residential buildings. He rarely had more than one employee at a time. In 2017, however, he brought on eight to ten new workers when he secured a contract to work on a fire-damaged building replacing the roof. Hughes did not obtain workers’ compensation coverage for his workers.
BWC contacted Hughes in 2017 about the situation and attempted to bring him into compliance with the law. This was the first of several such attempts by BWC. When they found he was operating without coverage, the company which had hired Hughes terminated their contract with him. An audit by BWC in 2018 showed that Hughes owed $56,959 in restitution.
In a statement, Stephanie McCloud, BWC CEO/Administrator, said: “Ducking his legal obligation to protect his workers clearly didn’t pay for Mr. Hughes. He could have resolved this issue fairly easily when we first contacted him in 2017, and we would have given him a payment plan to boot. Now he’s got a $57,000 debt and a felony record.”
Hughes pleaded guilty in a Lucas County court on May 19 and has now been ordered to pay the $56,959 as well as to participate in three years of community service.
Such cases are commonplace in Ohio. In another case in Ohio, Carl R. Brunswick owner of Home Bakery in Coldwater in western Ohio pleaded guilty to three counts of failure to comply after an investigation by BWC showed he had operated his donut shop without workers’ compensation coverage for three years. Brunswick has agreed a plan to pay BWC his missed workers’ compensation premiums. The judge ordered that Brunswick pay $50 and serve ten days in jail for each of the three counts. The jail time is suspended as long as Brunswick has no similar violations for five years.
Similarly, in Dayton, Ohio, Carissa Couch, the proprietor of Couch Family Construction, pleaded guilty to submitting a bad check to BWC. The agency had attempted to bring her into compliance, but her check for $3,333 bounced. Couch will serve 40 hours of community service in addition to five years of probation.
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