Category Archives: Uncategorized

Pregnant Workers Should Get Workers’ Compensation If They Have a Claim

Today’s post comes from guest author Todd Bennett and Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

A new law went into effect during 2015 in Nebraska that requires employers of 15 or more employees to accommodate pregnant workers on the job. This is a significant change that affects working women by expanding workplace protections for those who become pregnant.

Nebraska’s protections for pregnant employees go beyond even the standards for pregnancy discrimination under federal law. The new law also protects women with post-childbirth medical conditions and women who choose to breastfeed or pump.

This law means that pregnant women in Nebraska will be able stay on the job longer and will have an easier time returning to work.

This accommodation includes obtaining “equipment for sitting, more frequent or longer breaks, periodic rest, assistance with manual labor, job restructuring, light-duty assignments, modified work schedules, temporary transfers to less strenuous or hazardous work, time off to recover from childbirth, or break time and appropriate facilities for breastfeeding or expressing breastmilk.” Nebraska Revised Statute 48-1102 (11)

These changes outlaw discrimination against a pregnant woman with respect to hiring, advancement, discharge, training and other terms, conditions and privileges of employment. These protections extend to a pregnant employee before, during and after a pregnancy.

Unfortunately, pregnancy doesn’t mean that women can avoid work injuries, especially in female-dominated fields like nursing and human-services support. Sometimes employers and/or insurers will attempt to use the excuse that since an employee is going to be out because of pregnancy that they do not have to pay temporary disability benefits to an injured worker who is suffering from a work injury.

But when an occupational or work injury and a non-occupational injury, combine to cause disability, employers still have to pay those disability benefits. Nebraska’s new law on pregnancy doesn’t change that fact. If anything, smart and ethical employers will attempt to accommodate injured pregnant employees in legitimate light-duty jobs so they do not have to pay disability benefits.

In addition, when a pregnant employee is injured on the job and is receiving workers’ compensation benefits and later is ordered by her physician not to perform certain work activities or is in need of bed rest due to the pregnancy, an injured and pregnant employee’s workers’ compensation benefits cannot be reduced or suspended on account of the pregnancy in both Nebraska and Iowa.

However, not all employers and workers’ compensation insurance carriers understand or follow the law. If you are injured and not receiving workers’ compensation benefits because your employer says that they could accommodate your job but for you being pregnant, you need to call a firm that handles both discrimination and workers’ compensation law. You should also call an employment lawyer if you are pregnant and being forced to take unpaid leave rather than having your job duties modified or changed. 

Tyson Foods’ Injury Incidents Examined Through OSHA Reports

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

As I wrote in a previous blog post, OSHA has decided to make a 90-day regional emphasis on “high-hazard manufacturing industries” in Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, which are three of the four states in what the Occupational Safety and Health Administrations calls Region 7.*

“The emphasis program focuses on manufacturing industries where injury and illness rates exceed the average for the private sector. Included are manufacturers of the following products: food, furniture, fabricated metal, nonmetallic mineral, machinery, and computer products as well as printing and related support activities,” according to the OSHA news release.

Sadly, this increased inspection effort may have been inspired by some injury incidents recently written about by in an article from the ScienceBlogs website “The Pump Handle: A Water Cooler for the Public Health Crowd” titled “Amputations about at Tyson Foods, OSHA records shed more light on industrial food production.”

Writer Celeste Monforton, who has master’s and doctorate degrees in public health, made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request regarding the federal OSHA regulation that “requires employers to report within 24 hours any work-related incident that results in an amputation or hospitalization,” according to her article. The request asked for data from Tyson Foods, which “has more than 400 facilities in 30 U.S. states, and it processes 35 million chickens, 400,000 hogs, and 128,000 cattle per week.”#

In a nine-month period, from Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, 2015, Monforton discovered 34 reports by Tyson of amputations or hospitalizations.

“The hospitalizations included a worker at the company’s facility in Rogers, AR (Arkansas) who fell 32 feet off of a roof, and a worker in Holcomb, KS (Kansas) who broke his leg while learning to operate a forklift.”

She goes on to write that 17 of 34 incidents were amputations – in a 9-month period – not even over a whole year. The article has a tragic and sobering table that summarizes the amputations, and it is worth clicking to the article to take a look at the table because it includes the month, body part, equipment or tool in use, product (type of plant), city and state involved in each incident.

Here’s a summary of her list that focuses specifically on Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas, where eight of the 17 amputations occurred.

There were four amputations in the Nebraska plants of Lexington (fingertip; and tips of middle and index fingers using band saws in the beef plant), Omaha (ring, index and pinky fingers using the skinner in the poultry plant) and Dakota City (thumb using the sprocket in the pork plant). There were three amputations in the Missouri plants of St. Joseph (both hands using the auger), Monnet (distal portion third finger using the impeller in the poultry plant), and Sedalia (middle finger to first knuckle on the cone line in the poultry plant). The Kansas amputation was in the Emporia beef plant, when the skinner was being used and the end and outside part of a thumb were amputated.

These incidents (and the Kansas forklift-training one mentioned above) may explain OSHA’s new regional emphasis, as Tyson’s meatpacking plants should definitely count as “high-hazard manufacturing industries,” in my opinion.

Though the reports are brutal and tragic, I hope that Monforton completes more FOIA requests to OSHA to track trends, because each of these injury incidents greatly affected someone and their loved ones, whether their lives were changed temporarily or permanently, such as the worker whose hands were amputated in Missouri.

Meanwhile, though I realize it doesn’t cover the same dates as Monforton’s article, Tyson recently released earnings of “record results” for the first quarter of fiscal year 2016, which ended on Jan. 2 of this year, according to the link above.

“‘Fiscal 2016 is off to a very strong start in what we expect to be another record year,’ said Donnie Smith, president and chief executive officer of Tyson Foods. ‘Solid execution across the entire team resulted in record earnings, record operating income, record margins and record cash flows. We captured $121 million in total synergies for the quarter, with $61 million incremental to fiscal first quarter 2015.

“‘Our on-going efforts to invest in and grow our Core 9 product lines are paying off as sales volume for the most recent four week period was up 4%. The Core 9 product lines represent our strongest brands, greatest pricing power and best category growth opportunities and are major contributors to volume and profitability in the retail channel,’ Smith said. The Core 9 is composed of nine retail product lines in the Tyson®, Jimmy Dean®, Hillshire Farm®, Ball Park®, State Fair® and Aidells® brands.”

Though unfortunately, the number of work-related injury incidents isn’t available for the first quarter above, it’s suspected that they’re not much different than any other three-month snapshot of all the Tyson plants. It is a certainty that you can draw your own conclusions about how Tyson values its workers, based on Monforton’s article. It’s worth noting that in a quarter where record profits were had for shareholders, it’s highly doubtful that it was an amputation-free quarter for all workers, based on past performance in Monforton’s article.

In conclusion, I wish the best for OSHA in its quest to focus on “high-hazard manufacturing industries.”

Here’s hoping that the resulting education efforts and inspections mean greater safety knowledge for workers and fewer life-changing incidents, like amputations, that adversely affect workers, their loved ones, and society as a whole.

*Note that Iowa is also in Region 7, but according to OSHA’s website, it’s one of the states that “operate their own OSHA-approved job safety and health programs and cover state and local government workers.” Because Iowa has a state program, I believe that’s why it’s not targeted in this regional emphasis.

#Note that Monforton’s FOIA “does not include information from the states that run their own OSHA program, 10 of which have Tyson operations,” according to the article she wrote that is linked to above.

Daylight Savings: Suggestions to help workers adapt to the time change

Today’s post was shared by Work Org and Stress and comes from blogs.cdc.gov

DaylightSavingsTimeWeb

Spring forward Fall back.

We all know the saying to help us remember to adjust our clocks for the daylight savings time changes (this Sunday in case you are wondering). But, what can we do to help workers adjust to the effects of the time change? A few studies have examined these issues but many questions remain on this topic including the best strategies to cope with the time changes.

By moving the clocks ahead one hour in the Spring, we lose one hour which shifts work times and other scheduled events one hour earlier. This pushes most people to have a one hour earlier bedtime and wake up time. In the Fall, time moves back one hour. We gain one hour which shifts work times and other scheduled events one hour later thereby pushing most people to have a one hour later bedtime and wake up time.

It can take about one week for the body to adjust the new times for sleeping, eating, and activity (Harrision, 2013). Until they have adjusted, people can have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking up at the right time. This can lead to sleep deprivation and reduction in performance, increasing the risk for mistakes including vehicle crashes. Workers can experience somewhat higher risks to both their health and safety after the time changes (Harrison, 2013). A study by Kirchberger and colleagues (2015) reported men and persons with heart disease may be at higher risk for a heart attack during the week after the time changes in the Spring and Fall.

The reason for these…

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New Testing Reveals Hidden Dangerous Chemicals in Popular Halloween Costumes and “Trick or Treat” Bags

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from workers-compensation.blogspot.com

Study Finds Costumes and Party Supplies Sold by Top Retailers Contain Hazardous Additives

(Ann Arbor, MI) — A study released today by the Ecology Center’s HealthyStuff.org project has found elevated levels of toxic chemicals in popular Halloween costumes, accessories and party supplies. The nonprofit Ecology Center tested 106 Halloween products for substances linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer. The products were purchased from top national retailers including CVS, Kroger, Party City, Target, Walmart, and Walgreens.

Media Resources:

“We found that seasonal products, like thousands of other products we have tested, are full of dangerous chemicals,” said Jeff Gearhart, HealthyStuff.org research director. “Poorly regulated toxic chemicals consistently show up in seasonal products. Hazardous chemicals in consumer products pose unnecessary and avoidable health hazards to children, consumers, communities, workers and our environment.”

HealthyStuff.org tested Halloween products for chemicals based on their toxicity or tendency to build up in people and the environment. These chemicals include lead, bromine (brominated flame retardants), chlorine (vinyl/PVC plastic), phthalates, arsenic, and tin (organotins).

Some products contained multiple chemical hazards, including a Toddler Batman Muscle Costume whose belt contained 29% regulated phthalates, 340 ppm tin, and lead in the lining of the mask at 120…

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How It’s Going: Workers’ Compensation, Perspective and Resilience

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

We humans are made of strong stuff. We can adapt, change, address a new situation, do the right thing, and sometimes even admit we’re wrong.

Though it’s hard to admit it, some of the challenges and stresses of the workers’ compensation system are that the system is made up of humans who lack perspective, lose perspective or refuse to see others’ perspectives.

One of the important and impressive things about humans is that we continue to adapt and gain perspective in situations that make us uncomfortable, doing the right thing even when facing big problems and challenges.

In Adjuster Does Right from David DePaolo, this amazing blog post helped me to step back and gain perspective.

Do you do the right thing when it might not be popular or profitable?

In his blog post, DePaolo writes the following, encouraging people to realize that those humans involved in the system might not have all the information but will be making a decision anyway, and stubbornly dig in because their way is the right one for their “side.”

“It’s easy to denigrate and criticize ‘the insurance company’ because of the monolithic facade of the establishment, and the cold, dehumanizing character of the process.

“But behind that steel and glass are real human beings entrenched in conflict as soon as they walk through the doors to do their jobs. Every day the professional at the claims desk has decisions to make that affect, deeply, others,” DePaolo writes.

In this case, DePaolo celebrates the result as a success story, because “Adjuster X did the right thing. Not without considerable anxiety, stress and internal conflict …”

The “sides” are not necessarily evil, and the people taking the sides are generally good people who have friends and loved ones.

James Fallows wrote an article that is linked to at the end of the DePaolo story, How America Is Putting Itself Back Together. It has so many good thoughts and ideas in it, and I strongly encourage you to read it and think about how you are involved in whatever community, tribe, or cause outside of yourself in which you believe.

“What is true for this very hard-luck city prevails more generally: Many people are discouraged by what they hear and read about America, but the closer they are to the action at home, the better they like what they see,” Fallows writes.

For different people, “home” can mean different things. What is your community? Who are your people? Where do you belong, contribute, and make someone think and be challenged and/or feel good and be appreciated?

It doesn’t have to look the way your parents’ community looked – it can be online – uniting people in different states, or it can be via CB radios, to use a couple of examples that occur today.

Thinking about workers’ compensation makes me realize that the system can definitely be improved, but it does, generally speaking, work, as do a lot of other activities in American life, which Fallows demonstrates in his article in The Atlantic.

Sometimes people in workers’ compensation get so focused on their way or the highway – what Fallows likens to people on an Interstate who can only see the road ahead, because they’re driving on the ground.

But Fallows encourages people to get a different perspective – like he does – by flying low across the nation in a small plane. I think that idea can be applied to an individual’s situation, the workers’ compensation system, or a community, which was Fallows’ focus.

“I would love for more people to know how this country looks from above. I would love for America’s sense of itself to include more of what we’ve seen on the ground,” he writes.

There are smart, thoughtful people in every community. The workers’ compensation system is no exception. The quote below, though Fallon was referencing creativity in tech start-ups, applies to people who choose to be nice, make the best of hard and challenging situations, and strive to be kind.

“… Nearly everywhere we went we were surprised by evidence of a different flow: of people with first-rate talents and ambitions who decided that someplace other than the biggest cities offered the best overall opportunities. We saw and documented examples in South Carolina, and South Dakota, and Vermont, and the central valley of California, and central Oregon.” …

 “Where you wouldn’t expect, that is, except we have seen so much of this nearly every place we’ve gone,” Fallows writes.

What Fallows is describing but doesn’t specifically name is resilience – recovering, adapting, developing coping tools, and figuring out the new normal. It is not an easy thing, but it is an important thing.

It is possible to be content – and even happy, or at least satisfied – with your personal situation, while still taking part in fighting injustice and inequity.

One way of doing that is by helping others – even working with people with whom you don’t agree philosophically – but who you can work with to improve a system or achieve a goal, anyway.

That’s one of the motivations of the Kids’ Chance of Nebraska organization. It offers scholarships to college students whose parents have been affected by workplace injury or even death. It is a wonderful, powerful cause, and I look forward to many more scholarships helping children of injured workers continue and ultimately reach their educational goals.

Though there is a lot of divisiveness and taking sides in the nation right now, after reading DePaolo and Fallows, it is reassuring to think that just like a bunch of small fragmented communities showing economic resilience, maybe our small gestures like a bunch of people within a workers’ compensation system giving Kids’ Chance scholarships, can and do make a difference to the greater whole.

Yes, there is always room for improvement. But I would like to think that just like that adjuster who did the right thing and those who give back to their communities are helping, that maybe we, as a nation, are doing OK after all.

Man_Jumping.preview.jpg

How It’s Going: Workers’ Compensation, Perspective and Resilience

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

We humans are made of strong stuff. We can adapt, change, address a new situation, do the right thing, and sometimes even admit we’re wrong.

Though it’s hard to admit it, some of the challenges and stresses of the workers’ compensation system are that the system is made up of humans who lack perspective, lose perspective or refuse to see others’ perspectives.

One of the important and impressive things about humans is that we continue to adapt and gain perspective in situations that make us uncomfortable, doing the right thing even when facing big problems and challenges.

In Adjuster Does Right from David DePaolo, this amazing blog post helped me to step back and gain perspective.

Do you do the right thing when it might not be popular or profitable?

In his blog post, DePaolo writes the following, encouraging people to realize that those humans involved in the system might not have all the information but will be making a decision anyway, and stubbornly dig in because their way is the right one for their “side.”

“It’s easy to denigrate and criticize ‘the insurance company’ because of the monolithic facade of the establishment, and the cold, dehumanizing character of the process.

“But behind that steel and glass are real human beings entrenched in conflict as soon as they walk through the doors to do their jobs. Every day the professional at the claims desk has decisions to make that affect, deeply, others,” DePaolo writes.

In this case, DePaolo celebrates the result as a success story, because “Adjuster X did the right thing. Not without considerable anxiety, stress and internal conflict …”

The “sides” are not necessarily evil, and the people taking the sides are generally good people who have friends and loved ones.

James Fallows wrote an article that is linked to at the end of the DePaolo story, How America Is Putting Itself Back Together. It has so many good thoughts and ideas in it, and I strongly encourage you to read it and think about how you are involved in whatever community, tribe, or cause outside of yourself in which you believe.

“What is true for this very hard-luck city prevails more generally: Many people are discouraged by what they hear and read about America, but the closer they are to the action at home, the better they like what they see,” Fallows writes.

For different people, “home” can mean different things. What is your community? Who are your people? Where do you belong, contribute, and make someone think and be challenged and/or feel good and be appreciated?

It doesn’t have to look the way your parents’ community looked – it can be online – uniting people in different states, or it can be via CB radios, to use a couple of examples that occur today.

Thinking about workers’ compensation makes me realize that the system can definitely be improved, but it does, generally speaking, work, as do a lot of other activities in American life, which Fallows demonstrates in his article in The Atlantic.

Sometimes people in workers’ compensation get so focused on their way or the highway – what Fallows likens to people on an Interstate who can only see the road ahead, because they’re driving on the ground.

But Fallows encourages people to get a different perspective – like he does – by flying low across the nation in a small plane. I think that idea can be applied to an individual’s situation, the workers’ compensation system, or a community, which was Fallows’ focus.

“I would love for more people to know how this country looks from above. I would love for America’s sense of itself to include more of what we’ve seen on the ground,” he writes.

There are smart, thoughtful people in every community. The workers’ compensation system is no exception. The quote below, though Fallon was referencing creativity in tech start-ups, applies to people who choose to be nice, make the best of hard and challenging situations, and strive to be kind.

“… Nearly everywhere we went we were surprised by evidence of a different flow: of people with first-rate talents and ambitions who decided that someplace other than the biggest cities offered the best overall opportunities. We saw and documented examples in South Carolina, and South Dakota, and Vermont, and the central valley of California, and central Oregon.” …

 “Where you wouldn’t expect, that is, except we have seen so much of this nearly every place we’ve gone,” Fallows writes.

What Fallows is describing but doesn’t specifically name is resilience – recovering, adapting, developing coping tools, and figuring out the new normal. It is not an easy thing, but it is an important thing.

It is possible to be content – and even happy, or at least satisfied – with your personal situation, while still taking part in fighting injustice and inequity.

One way of doing that is by helping others – even working with people with whom you don’t agree philosophically – but who you can work with to improve a system or achieve a goal, anyway.

That’s one of the motivations of the Kids’ Chance of Nebraska organization. It offers scholarships to college students whose parents have been affected by workplace injury or even death. It is a wonderful, powerful cause, and I look forward to many more scholarships helping children of injured workers continue and ultimately reach their educational goals.

Though there is a lot of divisiveness and taking sides in the nation right now, after reading DePaolo and Fallows, it is reassuring to think that just like a bunch of small fragmented communities showing economic resilience, maybe our small gestures like a bunch of people within a workers’ compensation system giving Kids’ Chance scholarships, can and do make a difference to the greater whole.

Yes, there is always room for improvement. But I would like to think that just like that adjuster who did the right thing and those who give back to their communities are helping, that maybe we, as a nation, are doing OK after all.

Will It Hurt My Workers’ Compensation Case to Get a Job?

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

“Will getting a job hurt my case?”

I hear this question on a regular basis from my workers’ compensation clients. In my experience, the answer is almost always “no.” But if you do find alternate or part-time employment during your workers’ compensation case, you need to keep track of and disclose your earnings.

Why working when you are injured can help your case:

1.  Working helps your credibility with doctors and judges: 

Doctors and judges are the two most important people in your case, because the doctors drive the medical evidence and the judge weighs that evidence. Ultimately, those decisions come down to a doctor or judge’s determination of your character. A judge is going to give the benefit of the doubt to someone who is trying to help themselves. That’s also why complying with doctor’s orders and rehabilitation programs helps your credibility in court.

2.  Just because you’re working doesn’t mean that you are not significantly or even totally disabled:

Maybe your company is bending over backward to keep you. Maybe a sibling or a parent has you working at their business. In situations like that, a court is going to understand you are earning wages beyond your real potential to earn wages. You may also be enduring tremendous amounts of pain to maintain employment. In cases like that, especially if you had a good employment record and complied with your doctor’s orders, the fact that you are working through pain could very well help your credibility.

 

How to hurt your case when you work:

1.  Not disclosing your wages and employment: This is especially true if you are working while receiving temporary disability benefits or unemployment benefits. This makes you look dishonest, and you might be committing fraud in many states. Additionally, once you are in the legal process, you normally have a duty to disclose that information to your employer/insurer anyway. Even if a judge believes that you inadvertently forgot to turn over this wage information, you are still making it more difficult for your attorney to win you benefits.

2.  Clearly working beyond your medical restrictions: Let’s say a doctor takes you off work as a nurse because you can’t lift more than 25 pounds and bend and twist on a regular basis, but you keep working as a CrossFit instructor, where you regularly do heavy lifting that involves bending and twisting. If you are that person, don’t call our law firm. Though employee fraud is a very small percentage of overall fraud, conduct like that would likely be workers’ compensation fraud. Again, working can help with your credibility in a workers’ compensation case, but being dishonest about that work can hurt your case.

If you have questions about specifics in your or a loved one’s workers’ compensation case, please contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer.

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Insensitive? Yes. Crabby? Yes. Illegal Discrimination? Probably Not.

Advertisement from the McCook, Nebraska, newspaper via Michael Schwanke’s Facebook page

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

KWCH (Wichita, Kansas) television reporter Michael Schwanke posted a help-wanted ad from a McCook, Nebraska, auto-glass shop on his Facebook page that has gone viral on social media and brings up some basic truths about employment law. Here is the meme:

The overarching theme here is that regular and reliable attendance and a good attitude are essential job functions for this particular job, as they are for most jobs. Do some of these requirements seem unlawful? Maybe on their face, but they probably aren’t when you do the analysis. Here are few that might raise red flags and why they probably aren’t illegal.

Have no baby sitter every day” Yes, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of being a parent. However, most jobs require reliable and regular attendance. Sure, problems with child care can be reasonably expected, but if it becomes a pattern and it disrupts work, then it is a legitimate reason for termination. 

“Have court often” There is a move to limit the use of criminal background checks in order to help ex-felons get hired, so maybe this looks bad. But again, “have court often” means that you are currently involved with the court system. If current legal issues keep you away from work too often, that could be a reason for termination. I believe that criminal background checks in employment often disproportionately affect minorities. However, barring any expression of animus against a particular race or nationality, the desire to not have your employees miss work often because of court appearances is a legitimate concern of a business owner.

“Oversleep” Sometimes medical conditions and the side effects of medications can make it difficult to wake up. Assuming your employer is covered by disability-discrimination laws, a situation like that would be covered. But again, if your job actually requires you to be present and working at a certain time and you can’t reliably meet that requirement, then your employer has a reason to fire you. 

A review of the comments on the Facebook posting showed that most of the commenters were sympathetic with the employer. Regardless of what I think about those comments as an employee advocate, people with those types of attitudes and feelings are going to be the ultimate deciders of whether an employer wrongfully terminated or otherwise violated the rights of a client of mine. So if you are terminated for a reason you think was wrong or otherwise mistreated by an employer, make sure that you did your best to fulfill your duties as an employee – especially in regards to attendance.