The Workers Comp Apostrophe

Writers and editors find it difficult to agree on one topic: which of the following three punctuations is correct?

a. Workers’ compensation

b. Worker’s compensation

c. Workers compensation

If you are a pluralist, and consider the compensation to be for a number of workers, you will favor punctuation "a".

If, on the other hand, you are an individualist, and think of compensation as applying to a single worker, then you naturally opt for punctuation "b".

If you’re an anarchist, and say the hell with it, you will favor punctuation "c". The purpose of punctuation, after all, is to make language more intelligible. Since in this case, the apostrophe tells the reader nothing of value, why use it?

As for common usage, you will find support for all three positions. Punctuation "a" is the most common, and is used in most state statutes. Punctuation "b" is used (or at least, has been used) in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Punctuation "c" has been used for many years by Business Insurance.

So there is respectable authority to back up any one of the choices. That being the case, why not choose (in accord with Occam’s Razor) the simplest: choice "c"?

The anarchist’s camp is the one into which I fall, and I dare say it’s a fairly respectable camp. If I’m not mistaken (and that, unfortunately, has sometimes been the case), the anarchist view was first promulgated by Susan Alt in the late 1960s or early 1970s when she was editor of "Business Insurance." Whether or not she did the evil deed, you will note that that estimable publication still omits the ’.

Shouldn’t we all?