Workers' Compensation Insurance
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What is a workers’ comp ghost policy?

A workers’ compensation ghost policy can help self-employed business owners land clients and comply with state laws. Here’s everything you need to know about getting a ghost policy for workers’ comp.

What is a ghost policy for workers’ compensation, and why is it important?

A ghost policy is a minimum premium workers’ comp policy for a one-person business. However, the company owner is exempt from the policy, so it doesn’t actually cover anyone.

As many individual contractors and solo business owners are normally exempt from workers' comp requirements, this type of policy is designed to help these types of business owners provide a certificate of insurance (COI) without having to pay for a full workers’ compensation policy.

Who may need a ghost policy for workers’ comp?

A ghost policy is ideal for self-employed business owners with no employees who need to show proof of workers’ compensation insurance to either win a new contract or to satisfy a state's workers' comp requirement.

If you have employees or need workers’ comp coverage (not just a policy to meet a contract requirement), however, you’ll need a true workers’ compensation insurance policy — not a ghost policy. In fact, signing up for a ghost policy when you have employees could lead to serious legal and financial consequences for you and your company.

Not every solo business owner will need a ghost policy. Here are a few specific circumstances where it might make sense.

You own a single-person business in a state that requires proof of workers’ comp

Some states require every business to carry workers’ compensation insurance — even if you don’t have any employees. A ghost policy will fulfill your requirements without having to buy a full policy.

You need proof of insurance for a contract

You may run into a potential client who will only hire your company if you can show proof of workers’ comp insurance. If you already have general liability insurance and no one else working for you, you may not want to invest in a full workers’ compensation policy.

In this case, a ghost policy can help you win the contract.

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You're a subcontractor who needs a certificate of insurance for a job

Most general contractors require their subcontractors to provide their own business insurance. If you’re an independent contractor, a ghost policy can give you the certificate of insurance needed to win the job.

But remember, a ghost policy doesn’t offer any real insurance coverage, so make sure you have the right liability insurance for the work that you do.

You qualify for a workers’ comp exemption in your state

Many states’ workers’ comp regulations allow certain types of businesses — like sole proprietors or one-person LLCs and S corps — to be exempted from their insurance requirements.

But, even if you are exempt, you may still need to show proof of insurance from time to time. A minimal ghost policy will fulfill that requirement while saving you money on premiums.

You own a one-person business in the trades

Businesses in the trades, like plumbers, electricians, and construction contractors, often need to show proof of workers’ compensation coverage — even if they’re a one-person business.

However, signing up for a full workers’ comp policy may not make sense for you — especially if you are able to cover yourself financially without insurance, or are at low risk of work-related injuries.

In that case, a ghost policy would allow you to provide proof of insurance and work the jobs you want.

How does a ghost policy work?

Workers’ compensation ghost policies offer no real coverage for a minimum fee to meet legal or contractual requirements for your business.

But to get a ghost policy, you must meet two requirements:

  • You must be the business owner.
  • You can’t have any employees.

Since you, as the business owner, are exempt from workers’ comp requirements and you don’t have any employees, no one in your company qualifies for workers’ comp benefits under a ghost policy.

Your insurance company can charge you only the minimum required premium because they know they won’t have to pay out a claim on the policy — since no one is eligible to file one.

Before you renew your ghost policy each year, your insurance provider will audit your business to confirm that you still don’t have any employees. Most ghost policies only have a one-year policy period, which may make them an even more appealing option if your business only needs them to meet a contract requirement.

If you do hire an employee while you have a ghost policy, you should inform your insurer immediately. Your policy will likely have a temporary workers’ comp provision that will cover you until you purchase an actual workers’ comp policy.

However, if you don’t disclose your employees, your insurance company could retroactively charge you an additional premium for the full workers’ compensation policy rate from the time you hired your first employee.

What does a ghost insurance policy cover?

A ghost policy covers no one and provides no benefits. It only provides proof of workers’ comp insurance to fulfill the terms of a contract or meet your state’s business insurance requirements.

If you have employees and need real insurance protection, you should buy a full workers’ compensation policy for your small business.

How much does a workers’ comp ghost policy cost?

Male business owner calculating number of employees and other factors

A ghost policy is an inexpensive option for solo business owners who need to provide proof of workers’ comp insurance.

Typically, workers’ compensation costs are based on your payroll. However, if you’re signing up for a ghost policy, your qualifying payroll is $0 — keeping your premium extremely low.

Instead, your insurance company will charge you a minimum premium for a ghost policy — typically between $1,000 and $2,000 annually.

How do I know if my business is eligible for a ghost insurance policy?

If you need proof of workers’ comp insurance but don’t have any employees, a ghost policy is a cost-effective option to consider. It can help you fulfill the terms of a contract or meet state requirements without paying a typical workers’ comp premium.

As each insurance carrier has their own requirements for writing a workers' comp policy, you may find that a ghost policy is one of the few options at your disposal to meet these requirements. However, ghost policies are also not available in every state.

If you think a workers’ comp ghost policy may be right for your small business, speak with an insurance agent to discuss your options. They'll help you find the most affordable option for your small business, and you may be able to get a certificate of insurance in as little as a day.

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Updated: April 29, 2022
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