Category Archives: Workers’ Compensation

What’s Happening to North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Act? (Part II)

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

 

In 2010 after the Republican Party took complete control of the legislature for the first time since 1898, changes to the system began. As death benefits and funeral expenses were being increased, along with an increase in wage loss benefits, current injured workers were told that new proposals would not affect their claims. True enough, but anyone who was injured after June 24, 2011 would see some fairly drastic changes in benefits:  

 

  1. 500 Week Cap On Total Disability Benefits.

Absent extroardianry circumstances (such as a brain injury) disability benefits would stop after 500 weeks (9.6 years). Thus, for a 25-year-old severely injured person who did not meet one of the exceptions, total disability benefits would stop at age 34 or 35, even though this person could no longer obtain employment in the competitive market place and had been out of the workforce for nearly a decade. For these disabled and unemployable people, the future cost of the injury will be shifted away from the workers’ compensation insurance company to the U.S. taxpayer, through Social Security and Medicare. Before this change, as long as the employee was disabled and unemployed because of his injury, he would be entitled to lifetime disability and medical benefits related to the injury.

 

  1. Employer Gets Credit For Social Security Retirement Benefits

If benefits are extended beyond 500 weeks, the employer can reduce workers’ compensation  by 100% of Social Security retirement benefits. This change gives the  insurance carrier a huge financial break at the expense of the elderly and disabled who have earned retirement income.

 

  1. Even Catastrophic Injury Benefits Can Be Terminated

If a person is disabled from a workplace injury because of a spinal injury, brain injury, or serious burns to 33% of the body, then they can get lifetime disability benefits. However, if the employer can show that this individual can return to “suitable employment” then those benefits can be terminated or suspended.

 

  1. 4.       New Definition of Suitable Employment After Maximum Medical Improvement

In the above context, suitable employment means employment that the employee is capable of performing, considering his pre-existing and injury-related physical and mental limitations, vocational skills, education and experience, and is located within a 50 mile radius of the employee’s residence at the time of injury or elsewhere if there was a legitimate reason for leaving. [Before leaving the Tarheel state, be sure to get approval that the move is legitimate. Otherwise, you may get a job offer that is within the 50 mile job radius.]

 

Part III will discuss further changes to the workers’ compensation system. Stay tuned.

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Truckers Fired Over Workers’ Comp Claim: What to Do Next

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

Truck drivers have a remedy if fired for making a workers’ compensation claim.

A recent award of over $100,000 to a truck driver who was fired for making a workers’ compensation claim illustrated the protection drivers have under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA). New Prime of Springfield, Mo., had to pay the former employee lost wages, compensatory and punitive damages. “The company must also expunge the complainant’s employment and DAC Report records of any reference to his unlawful termination,” according to the article above. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is often criticized for a variety of reasons, enforced anti-retaliation laws that protect truck drivers who are unfairly punished for taking steps to protect their health and financial welfare. These laws can also be enforced through lawsuits as an alternative to the OSHA administrative process. 

Truck drivers need to be aware of this protection. Truck drivers also need to know that OSHA and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) have just announced an agreement to strengthen protections for transportation workers from coercion and retaliation.   

The industry publication FleetOwner gives more details about how OSHA and the FMCSA interact with the STAA in this article.   

Here is one helpful quote from the FleetOwner article:

“If OSHA finds that a complaint is valid, it can order the employer to reinstate the worker; pay back pay, interest and compensatory damages; pay punitive damages up to $250,000 where warranted; and/or take other remedial actions.”

In addition, “action by one agency didn’t preclude action by another in the same situation” when it comes to the STAA.

“OSHA’s mandate is protecting workers, while FMCSA’s mandate is safety, (an FMCSA document) said. And FMCSA can take action against a carrier or other entity but, unlike OSHA, it can’t compensate a driver. So a driver filing a complaint with FMCSA about coercion might be able to file a whistleblower protection complaint with OSHA and vice versa, FMCSA said.”

The recent award and very recent press release from OSHA are great news for truckers and their families. The laws that protect you work. There is an apparently serious effort to make them work better. It will now be easier to protect your health and welfare if you are injured on the job.

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Workers’ Comp Covers Work-Related Motor Vehicle Accidents

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

Do you drive a company vehicle as part of your job?

Many find themselves in the situation where they travel regularly, or on a special errand from time to time, as part of their job. 

In the unfortunate scheme of things, if you are involved in an accident while driving, whether it is your fault or not, you are covered by and entitled to workers’ compensation benefits just as any other employee who suffers an accident on the premise of an employer.

More importantly, if the cause of the accident was not due to negligence of your own, but that of a third party, you have a right to bring a third-party negligence action against the party responsible for causing the vehicle accident. This right is separate and distinct from the workers’ compensation benefits that you are entitled to. Further, you also potentially have the right to bring an underinsured motorist coverage claim under your employer’s motor vehicle coverage as well as your own underinsured motorist vehicle coverage. These, too, are separate and distinct from the workers’ compensation benefits you are entitled to. 

It is important to note that the employer would have a subrogation right to be reimbursed for workers’ compensation benefits paid on your behalf against that of any third-party negligence claim where you obtained a recovery. However, as underinsured motorist coverage is typically viewed as contractual benefits in nature, there is no subrogation right from your employer if underinsured benefits are obtained in Nebraska.

If you or someone you know was injured in a motor vehicle accident that arose out of and in the course of one’s employment, there are significant issues to be aware of in order to obtain a recovery that meets your needs. If you have any questions or uncertainty when dealing with this point of law, please seek the advice of an experienced attorney who can help steer you in the best course of action.

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Transitional ‘Light’ Duty Jobs: What Are They and Do I Have to Take One?

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

When injured at work, your doctor may give you work restrictions that prevent you from returning to your regular job. In these situations, there are three things your employer can do:

  1. Tell you that they have no jobs within your restrictions
  2. Give you a transitional duty (or “light duty”) job within your restrictions
  3. Force you to work your regular job in violation of your restrictions

If it’s #3, call a lawyer immediately and inform your doctor that your employer is not following the doctor’s orders.

If it’s #1, you would be taken off work and you would be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for temporary disability until you are released back to work or until your employer accommodates your work restrictions.

If it’s #2, it not always clear what the result will be. This “transitional duty” option is when your employer returns you to work but not at your normal job. Instead you are given a different, temporary job while you are on restrictions.

Problems arise with these transitional jobs when your hours are cut, your pay is cut, or you are asked to do a job that is unreasonable. Often, if you refuse to work a transitional duty job that is in your restrictions, you could forfeit your right to obtain work comp payments for temporary disability while you are on those restrictions and off work.

If the transitional duty job that is offered to you cuts your hours, you will probably be entitled to temporary disability payments in an amount to make up (somewhat) for the difference in what you were making before the incident that caused the injury and what you are now making in your transitional job.

Similarly, if your hourly rate or your wages for your transitional job are less than what you would have been earning before you were injured, you would again be entitled to temporary disability payments in an attempt to make up for the shortfall.

Where transitional duty jobs have a gray area is whether they are truly reasonable jobs that are being offered. For example, there are horror stories of employees working in the near dark for 8 hours per day or working in appalling conditions sorting paperclips for transitional duty. Whether or not you have to take a job like these horror stories without forfeiting your right to temporary disability payments depends on the facts of each specific case.

Click the link – it’s about a Walmart guy who had to do “light duty” in the bathroom for 7 hours a day: http://www.aol.com/article/2014/05/27/wal-mart-employee-claims-he-was-forced-to-spend-7-hour-shift-in/20893585/?icid=maing-grid7%7Chtmlws-main-bb%7Cdl28%7Csec1_lnk3%26pLid%3D481058

Generally speaking, however, if you are offered a transitional job within your restrictions, you should probably take that job unless you have a very good reason that you cannot. For example, in at least one Nebraska case, the court held that even having an employee relocate 300 miles for a temporary transitional job was considered a reasonable job offer. Even transitional jobs that are during different shifts than your normal shift may be considered reasonable. If a job is reasonable and you do not have a good reason for not accepting such a transitional job, you could be denied temporary benefits and be left without any pay at all while attempting to recover from your work injury.

If you have a job that sounds unreasonable, and you are contemplating whether or not you are required to accept such a job, contact a lawyer. An experienced lawyer will be able to give you a good idea of whether turning down such a job would allow your employer to deny you temporary disability payments or not.

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What’s the Connection Between Worker Safety, Employer Profit, and Voting?

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

A recent newspaper article about a Nebraska lawyer fighting against imposing OSHA regulations on small businesses and farms that handle grain illustrates an age-old conflict between Worker (human) safety and Business (corporate) profit. The lawyer argued OSHA compliance is too expensive for small businesses and farms.

I couldn’t disagree more. From my point of view, worker safety is immeasurably more valuable to society than business profit. Human beings are the most important component of any activity, including business. Viewing safety as a cost ignores the cost to the human beings who are burned and maimed by grain explosions, whether they happen at a small business/farm or a huge corporate grain facility.

Farms in Nebraska and Iowa are not required to provide workers’ compensation for their employees. This is justified on the grounds that farms can’t survive such government intervention. I find this an interesting argument from businesses that have long received subsidies from the government. It seems that farm profits are more important than the human beings who do the work to earn those profits.

Our society needs more laws to protect human beings from injury and to compensate them if injured for the profit of others. Candidates for public office need to be asked what matters more to them: Is it human beings or profits that matter more?

Justice Louis Brandeis of the U.S. Supreme Court wrote long ago: “We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”  

If we keep electing representatives who favor the concentrated wealth, then human beings will likely be protected less. These are scary times as the divide between the “haves” and “have nots” continues to grow. Ballots are the only way to tell our representatives that the health and welfare of human beings is paramount. Voting is essential, or we will see more and more concern for profit and less and less concern for human beings.

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Summer Means Safety Reminders for Teen Workers

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

L&I urges workplace safety for teens as summer hiring season nears

Teens are gearing up to search for summer jobs and the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) is urging employers, parents and others to support safety during “Safe Jobs for Youth Month” in May.

A total of 477 youth ages 12-17 were injured in the workplace in 2013, making this year’s observance more important than ever, said Mary E. Miller, occupational nurse consultant with L&I and a youth employment expert. Of the total, 156 were in the food and hospitality industries. The next largest total, 66, occurred in the retail trades. There were no fatalities.

“Teens are eager to work and may not question a workplace situation that doesn’t seem right,” Miller said. “We’re trying to ensure youth perform safe and appropriate work and employers, parents and teachers can all help.”

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a proclamation making May “Safe Jobs for Youth Month” across the state. More information is available at www.TeenWorkers.Lni.wa.gov. The agency also offers presentations from injured young workers for students. Miller can provide a separate talk for employers and teachers.

In recent years, the number of injuries has increased despite an overall decrease the past decade. Injuries in 2003 totaled 1,135. In 2011, injuries reached a low of 425 before increasing the next two years. Injuries range from lacerations, strains and sprains to more serious fractures and concussions, Miller said.

“Employers are eager to give young workers a start in the world of work” Miller noted. “The result is we need to continue to help employers provide teens with tasks appropriate to their age.”

In general, 14- and 15-year-olds may perform lighter tasks, such as office work, cashiering and stocking shelves. Work assignments for 16- and 17-year-olds can be less restrictive and can include cooking, landscaping, and some use of powered equipment and machinery. The limits on the hours of work for all minors vary by age.

Generally, if safety equipment other than a hard hat, eye protection or gloves is required, then it’s not an appropriate job for minors. All minors are prohibited from working with powered equipment such as meat slicers and forklifts, Miller noted.

In agriculture jobs, restricted job duties differ for youth. The agency has specific information on its website at its Agricultural Jobs for Teens page.

 

Photo credit: The Library of Congress / Foter / No known copyright restrictions

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Obesity Prevalence by Occupation in Washington State

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

Truckers, movers, and police and firefighters are likeliest to be obese. Doctors, scientists and teachers are the healthiest.

Those are the results of a first-of-its-type study the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries sponsored connecting what you do for work with obesity. The study also examined the percentage of workers in specific occupations who smoke, have adequate fruit and vegetable servings, participate in leisure time exercise and report high physical demands of their job.

“This is the first state-level study using the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data to estimate occupation-specific obesity.” 

“The objective of the research was to identify occupations in need of workplace obesity prevention programs,” said Dr. David K. Bonauto, associate medical director for L&I’s research division. “Employers, policy makers and health practitioners can use our results to target and prioritize prevention and health behavior promotions.”

The study, “Obesity Prevalence by Occupation in Washington State, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System,” was published earlier this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study was based on more than 88,000 participants the CDC contacted in the state in odd years from 2003-2009. It found that nearly 1-in-4 workers statewide were obese.

“We know obesity poses a threat to public health,” Dr. Bonauto said. “This is the first state-level study using the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data to estimate occupation-specific obesity. All states within the U.S. could have this data if questions about occupation and industry were added to many state and national health surveys.”

Truck drivers were the most obese, nearly 39 percent. The proportion of current smokers was highest also for truck drivers, who – with computer scientists and mechanics – had the lowest proportion of adequate servings of fruits and vegetables. “Truckers are likely influenced by the availability of food choices, such as fast food and convenience stores,” Dr. Bonauto noted.

The study has its limitations. Because researchers used self-reported height and weight, there might be an underestimate of obesity. Also, the body mass index results don’t distinguish between fat and muscle mass. Police and firefighters, for instance, had a high prevalence of obesity but also had the highest proportion of vigorous leisure time physical activity.

Those with less education and an income less than $35,000 had a significantly higher likelihood of being obese, according to the study. Workers who had regular servings of fruits and vegetables and adequate physical exercise were less likely to be obese.

 Photo credit: kennethkonica / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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Medical Care Politics in Worker’s Compensation

Today’s post comes from guest author Thomas Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

The mythology surrounding employee fraud in worker’s compensation is pervasive. Many of my clients begin their conversations with me indicating the following: “I’m not one of those folks faking their worker’s compensation claim.”  The exaggerated media publicity concerning employee fraud has also resulted in outright worker intimidation regarding filing a claim. I had this conversation today with a prospective client.

Attorney: Why didn’t you report the incident?
Client: I didn’t want to have that on my record.  Nobody will hire me if I have a worker’s comp injury.
Attorney: Why didn’t you seek medical treatment?
Client: I do not have insurance.
Attorney: Can you obtain insurance under the Affordable Care Act?
Client: You mean Obamacare?  No way!

Fear of being stigmatized as a complainer, whiner, or simply a recipient of worker’s compensation benefits has prompted many legitimately injured workers from filing a worker’s compensation claim.

The adverse publicity concerning the Affordable Care Act (and its pejorative popular name “Obamacare”) results in many otherwise qualified workers from obtaining the health care they need, especially when denied by a worker’s compensation insurance carrier. 

The politics of medical care intrudes in the worker’s compensation arena daily.