BBC News: Wisconsin Company to Microchip Employees

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

This BBC News article has popped up all over the internet and I couldn’t resist sharing it here, as well. – kc

A Wisconsin company is to become the first in the US to microchip employees.

Three Square Market is offering to implant the tiny radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip into workers’ hands for free – and says everyone will soon be doing it.

The rice grain-sized $300 (£230) chip will allow them to open doors, log in to computers and even purchase food.

And so far, 50 employees have signed up for the chance to become half-human, half-walking credit card.

But far from being some sort of dystopian nightmare, Three Square Market’s Patrick McMullan believes everyone will soon be wanting their own microchip.

“The international market place is wide open and we believe that the future trajectory of total market share is going to be driven by whoever captures this arena first,” Mr McMullan said.

The company, which provides self-service “micro markets” to businesses around the world, was inspired by the micro-chipping already taking place in Sweden, where so-called “bio-hackers” have been inserting the tiny devices into willing participants for at least three years.

Three Square Market are even working with a Swedish company, BioHax, to deliver the new technology, which they see as one day being simply another payment and identification method – only instead of a credit card or phone, there would be a microchip between your thumb and finger.

But how did employees react?

While a large proportion of the world might think twice before putting a tiny chip in their hand, it seems those at Three Square Market had no such worries.

Out of 85 employees at the company’s head office, 50 have come forward, vice-president of international development Tony Danna told the BBC.

Can they be tracked?

“That is going to be the inevitable reaction,” Mr Danna acknowledged.

“But there is no GPS tracking ability to it. It is really the same thing as the chip that is in your credit card.”

How does it go in – and how do you get it out?

The entire point of the chip is convenience, Mr Danna explained.

Eventually, he hopes it will replace everything you might have in your wallet – from your key fob to your credit card and ID. For now, it is just aiming to make life easier for those using Three Square Market’s facilities.

But the convenience also stretches to installing and removing the chip.

“It takes about two seconds to put it in and to take it out,” he told the BBC. Putting it in is “like getting a shot” using a syringe, while taking it out it like removing a splinter.

“Easy in, easy out,” Mr Danna said.

What if you get robbed?

Like everything in life, it could happen.

But, says Mr Danna, at least it is all in one place, making it easier to cancel all those cards.

Photo credit: kuhnmi via Foter.com / CC BY

No Accident: How To Protect Yourself Against An Uninsured (Or Underinsured) Driver

Today’s post comes from guest author Catherine Stanton, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

As an attorney who has been practicing law for more than 27 years, I always try to keep myself updated on issues that affect not only my practice, but more importantly, my clients. In order to fully understand the numerous changes, I belong to a number of bar associations that offer continuing legal education programs, as well as the opportunity to lobby at both the state and federal level on issues that impact many New Yorkers.

During my last round of lobbying in Albany, one of the bills being proposed was the New York Driver and Family Protection Act. It deals with Supplementary Uninsured/Underinsured Motorists insurance (SUM Insurance) and it is likely that many of you have very little idea of what this is. I didn’t either until it was brought to my attention.

While every driver in New York State is required to have auto insurance, some opt for the minimum coverage required under the law, which is $25,000. Others purchase more than the minimum coverage so that in the event of an accident resulting in serious injuries, there will be a better chance that their policy will cover the medical expenses and injuries of the other driver. We do this to protect our personal assets in the event we are sued as result of an accident. What many do not realize is that if you are seriously injured by another driver who only has minimum coverage, you can only collect up to the $25,000 policy maximum, regardless of the extent of your injuries.  

SUM Insurance provides coverage to New Yorkers who are injured in an accident with a driver who is not insured or is underinsured. Unfortunately, many New Yorkers are unaware of their ability to purchase this additional insurance. Since I had not been advised of this insurance by my broker and had no idea it was available, I was one of those drivers who didn’t know it was an option. Once I found out about this, however, I immediately added it to my policy and was surprised to see how relatively inexpensive it was.

The bill would require insurers to provide information to consumers about this type of coverage at the time they are purchasing insurance, which would enable them to make a fully informed decision. Once consumers are aware of the coverage, they could decide to opt out of purchasing it but at least they would know that it’s even an option to begin with. Additionally, this bill would protect motorists by amending the Insurance Law to establish that drivers’ underinsurance (SUM Insurance) equal their liability coverage. If drivers opt to decline the additional SUM Insurance coverage, they may waive it only after they fully understand what type of coverage is available – and then they must do so in writing. 

This bill makes sense because if anyone is injured by a driver who only has the minimum coverage, the injured party will still need treatment. Oftentimes this will fall onto Medicaid and other programs that are essentially taxpayer funded. Once people are fully informed, it makes sense that those who take more than the minimum coverage would opt to take some amount of coverage for SUM Insurance.        

For those who are concerned about rising insurance rates due to this bill, you shouldn’t worry. SUM Insurance is low cost and according to insurance experts, will not raise insurance rates.

As of this writing, the SUM bill passed both the Senate and the Assembly in Albany, and now is waiting to be called up by Governor Andrew Cuomo for his review and hopefully his signature into law. It seems clear that this bill would help all New Yorkers make informed decisions on issues that impact them in their day-to-day lives. While we all hope we never have to use it, if anyone of us or a loved one is involved in a serious accident, it would be nice to know that we at least don’t have to worry about proper coverage.

 

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.

Law Promoting Openness Regarding Pharmacy Benefit Managers Meets Industry Resistance

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

A North Dakota law attempting to promote openness about fees and prevent conflicts of interests with so-called pharmacy benefit managers (PBM) would seem non-controversial.

Non-controversial to everyone besides lobbyists for the PBMs who have sued the State of North Dakota in federal court claiming this commonsense legislation harms patient safety and is unconstitutional.

The North Dakota suit matters in the world of workers’ compensation because PBMs are an essential component of drug formularies which are popular with workers compensation insurers and have been touted as a way to prevent opioid abuse and control drug costs. Formularies are a list of approved drugs and dosages. Formularies are administered by the PBMs who buy the drugs, allegedly at a discount, from drug companies and pass along those savings onto users.

Drug formularies have come under criticism for issues addressed by the North Dakota legislation. First, a PBM may have a relationship with a particular drug maker which means that drugs are picked on for business reasons rather than medical reasons. Formularies also may not control drug costs as advertised.  In response to a drug formulary bill in Nebraska last session, the City of Omaha was concerned that formularies might increase drug costs because of the inability to use generic drugs.

Related to that concern, PBMs have been criticized for their role in helping drug companies pass along higher drug costs to consumers. PBMs are paid on what the discount they can negotiate, so drug companies have an incentive to inflate drug costs which benefits PBMs.

Lawmakers on a state or federal level are correct in having concerns about PBMs if they want to address drug costs and opioid use. The PBM industry has argue that state laws are “pre-empted” by federal laws regulating prescription drugs, so state laws are unconstitutional. Pre-emption is premised on the fact that federal laws are superior to state laws if there are federal and state laws on both subject matters.  Recently the U.S. Supreme Court has used pre-emption to strike down state-based consumer protection laws in favor of corporate defendants. The threat of successful litigation may scare states, especially smaller states, from passing laws to regulate PBMs.

But state laws regulating the use of PBMs in the context of workers’ compensation may be easier to defend from a legal standpoint. Workers compensation laws are enacted under a state’s police powers under the 10th Amendment. The constitutional basis of workers’ compensation laws is arguably a fluke of legal history but workers’ compensation is traditionally seen as a state law concern so federal courts may be less to strike down laws regulating PBMs in the context of workers’ compensation.

Phillips 66 Refinery Fined Nearly $325,000 for Workplace Violations

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

Phillips 66 Refinery has been fined $324,000 for failing to correct serious workplace safety and health violations. A Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) inspection of the Ferndale, WA facility found the violations put refinery workers at great risk in case of a fire or explosion.

L&I cited the refinery for three instances of not correcting violations that it was previously cited for in September and October of 2014. These are considered “failure to abate” serious violations.

The 2014 citations are under appeal to the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. State law requires employers to correct hazards even if the violations are under appeal, unless a “stay of abatement” is granted to allow a delay in making the corrections. The company’s stay of abatement request was denied by the board.

Two of the violations, each with a penalty of $108,000, involve the refinery’s firefighting and fire suppression systems. Phillips did not inspect or follow recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices in respect to the firefighting water tank or the buried firefighting water distribution piping. Inspection and maintenance of these systems is required by state regulation and the National Fire Protection Association. The company also failed to address the potential loss of firefighting water, which puts employees and emergency responders at risk of serious injuries, disability or death if the system were to fail during a fire or explosion.

L&I cited Phillips for a third “failure to abate” serious violation for not consulting established, peer-reviewed industry references before writing a policy related to opening chemical piping. This violation also comes with a $108,000 penalty.

The company’s hazard assessment allowed workers to be potentially exposed to hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous gas, and explosive flammable hydrocarbon vapors at much higher concentrations than considered safe. Employers in high-hazard chemical industries are expected to make sure that their internal policies and guidelines reflect current good engineering practices across those industries and that they meet local regulations, which may be stricter than national regulations.

The employer has 15 days to appeal the citation. Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.

 

Photo credit: RVWithTito via Foter.com / CC BY

What Happens If I Get Hurt at My Second Job?

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

An estimated 7 million Americans work at least two jobs. As the holidays approach, many people will take on holiday jobs as well. Getting hurt at a second job or a holiday job can also create problems at your full-time or regular job. This post will help you navigate some of those issues:

  1. What benefits are you entitled to when you are hurt at a second or holiday job?Your benefits are limited by the wages you are receiving at your second job. You might be able to increase this amount with tips or other perks, but you cannot be paid for wage loss from your first job. If you do have permanent disability, that will be paid based off of a 40-hour week even if you worked part time.

    Receipt of workers’ compensation benefits assumes that you are an actual employee and not an independent contractor. For most relatively low-wage part-time work, this is a fair assumption. But since I wrote my holiday job post back in 2013, there has been the emergence of ride-hailing companies like Uber and other sharing-economy companies that have blurred the lines between employee and independent contractor. If you get hurt working for one of these companies, you should contact an attorney, as the distinction between an employee and independent contractor is very fact specific.

  2. How does a work injury at a second job affect your benefits at your regular job?

     

    Health insurance

    Assuming your other job’s workers’ compensation insurance company picks up your medical benefits, your health insurance from your regular job would not be affected. But in a disputed case, you may have to use health insurance from your regular job to pay for your workers’ compensation injury at your second job. In that case, you should list workers’ compensation from the company where you were hurt as the primary insurance and your private health insurance as your secondary insurance. Also be aware that if you settle your workers’ compensation claim, you may have to pay back your private health insurance. If you go to trial and win an award of medical benefits, your medical providers should refund the private health insurance and reimburse you for out-of-pocket expenses. In a disputed case, you should contact an attorney not only to get benefits but also to health navigate reimbursement.

    Short-term and long-term disability

    Larger employers will often have short-term and long-term disability policies to help employees make up for lost income. These are a mixed bag. Some won’t let you collect benefits for work injuries, some may allow you to double collect workers’ compensation and disability, while others may require you reduce benefits. These policies often have repayment policies if a workers’ compensation case is settled as well. It is helpful to have a lawyer to help you with this process as well.

  3. How does a work injury at a second job affect your employment at your regular job? 
    Assuming your injury requires you to miss time from work, you can claim the Family and Medical Leave Act, assuming your employer has 50 employees, you have worked there for a year, and you have worked there for at least 1,250 hours over the last year. Assuming your employer has 15 employees, your employer would be required to make some reasonable accommodations for your injury under the Americans with Disabilities Act. You should reach out to a lawyer if either employer requires you to return to work without restrictions. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has stated in final regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008 that policies that force employee to return to work without restrictions are unlawful. Ironically, if you are hurt at your second job, that employer is probably more likely to return you to work at light duty so that they can avoid or reduce what you are owed in temporary benefits. The new ADA regulations were intended in part to end how work-caused and non-work-caused disabilities are treated.

Post-Injury Drug Test? OSHA Says Not So Fast

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

Workers who report an on-the-job injury may not be subject to mandatory drug testing if a new rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that prohibits blanket post-injury drug tests withstands a court challenge from employers.

In May, OSHA published a rule prohibiting employers from having policies that force employees hurt on the job to take drug tests because of concerns about retaliation. This blog has long recognized the potential for retaliation that mandatory drug tests pose and supports the proposed rule by OSHA. OSHA’s new rule was drafted at roughly the same time as the release of the U.S. Department of Labor report that was critical of the shortcomings in state workers’ compensation systems.

Though OSHA implemented the limits on drug testing to limit retaliation, the rules limiting drug testing also help preserve employee doctor choice, which is an integral part of workers’ compensation law in Nebraska and other states. Many employers will inform employees that they must get drug tested at an occupational medicine clinic if they have a work injury even if workers have a right to see their own doctor. This can lead to employees being forced back to work too soon and or not receiving sufficient treatment for their work injuries. Both the fear of retaliation and the circumvention of doctor choice rules lead the costs of work injuries to be borne by employees, which is a major concern of the Department of Labor.

Due to push back from employers, the rule’s enforcement will be postponed until Nov. 1 and will likely be delayed longer due to a court challenge to the rule. A challenge to a Labor Department rule deeming that home health aides were employees for the purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act took over a year to work its way through the federal courts, until it was upheld by a federal circuit court in June.

Even if the rule is implemented, post-injury drug testing will not disappear from the workplace. Employers can still test if they have a reasonable suspicion of intoxication or drug use. Most federal and defense contractors will be exempt from the OSHA rule, as well as truckers and railroad employees. Furthermore, in states with drug-free workplace laws, mandatory post-injury testing may still be permitted, depending on the language of the statute. Nebraska allows employers to fire an employee who refuses a lawful request for a drug test. If the new OSHA rule is ultimately upheld by the federal courts, I would expect a push by employers to amend drug-free workplace laws.

What Could You Possibly Know About Your Own Disability?

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

In 1991, the Social Security Administration drafted a rule that explained that controlling weight was given to medical opinions from treating sources about the nature and severity of claimants’ impairments if they are well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and are not inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the record. This rule is commonly known as the “treating physician rule.”

The SSA has recently proposed a number of changes to this rule based upon a 2013 study (downloadable PDF). Among the recommendations were to no longer apply controlling weight to doctor opinions addressing the following issues:

  • Statements that an individual is or is not disabled, blind, able to work, or able to perform regular or continuing work;
  • Statements about whether or not an individual’s impairment(s) meets the duration requirement for disability;
  • Statements about whether or not an individual’s impairment(s) meets or equals any listing in the Listing of Impairments;
  • Statements about whether or not an individual’s impairment(s) functionally equals the Listings.

The SSA will also not use a diagnosis, medical opinion, or an individual’s statement of symptoms to establish the existence of impairment. A physical or mental impairment would now need to be established by “objective medical evidence.”

It’s easy to understand how discounting a treating source could adversely affect applicants for disability. These physicians have the most interaction with their patients in terms of frequency and duration of involvement. When you contrast a treating physician’s opinion with a doctor chosen by the SSA who most often never even meets or speaks with the claimant, you can see the problem. Putting these two entities on the same footing legally seems misguided at best and purposefully devious at worst. 

However, when you add in that the SSA will not use an individual’s statement of symptoms as a basis for finding disability, particularly in the mental-health field, you make proving disability a much more difficult proposition than it already is. Individuals who are applying for disability typically face difficulty seeing doctors on a regular basis due to obvious financial considerations.  They often cannot afford the “objective” tests to fully explore the extent of their diagnoses. Moreover, there are no objective tests to diagnose depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, etc. The very nature of these claims requires a thorough examination of the claimant’s expression of disability to diagnose, evaluate and treat. The SSA cannot possibly ignore the claimant’s accounts of their disability and do an adequate job of evaluating these claims, especially the ones based upon mental illness. 

The SSA needs to jettison these proposed rule changes, and stick with the controlling weight standard that has been in place for 25 years. Furthermore, they need to allow the judges to evaluate claimant testimony without rigid rules that discount their personal evidence.

To comment on the SSA proposal, follow this link: Regulations.gov – Docket Folder Summary and press the “Comment Now!” button. Comments are due Nov. 8 (next Tuesday, aka Election Day).  

Please contact an experienced Social Security Disability lawyer with specific questions about the details of your case.

Recalling the Forgotten Provision of the ‘Grand Bargain’

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

The Oklahoma and Florida supreme courts both overturned anti-worker changes to their state workers’ compensation laws based in whole or in part on their state constitutions. Workers’ compensation laws, for the most part, are state laws. This post seeks to explain why workers’ compensation laws are state laws and what that could mean for workers’ compensation laws in the future.

The vast majority of workers’ compensation attorneys and industry observers know the term “Grand Bargain.” In the “Grand Bargain,” employees gave up the right to sue their employers in tort for work injuries in exchange for defined benefits regardless of fault.

Workers’ compensation laws emerged roughly a century ago. However, Congress did not have the power to enact the “Grand Bargain” because of how the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the Commerce Clause. In 1895, the court held in United States v. E.C. Knight that manufacturing was not commerce. In 1918, the court overturned a law prohibiting child labor on similar grounds and additionally held that the effects of child labor did not have enough of an impact on interstate commerce to justify regulation. 

The Supreme Court did uphold the constitutionality of workers’ compensation laws in the case of New York Central Railroad v. White. However, the court upheld workers’ compensation laws based on a state’s so-called “police powers” under the 10th Amendment.

During the New Deal era in the 1930s, the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the interstate commerce clause changed so that workers’ compensation laws could have been enacted by the federal government. But by then, most states had workers’ compensation laws, so a general federal workers’ compensation law was unnecessary.

‘Federalization’ in the Post-New Deal Era

In the 1970s, Congress passed laws regarding occupational safety (Occupational Safety and Health Act) and employee benefits (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) under its authority granted by the interstate commerce clause. But neither OSHA nor ERISA were intended to interfere with state workers’ compensation laws.

The 1970s also saw an ultimately failed effort to impose federal minimum standards on state workers’ compensation. It was in this era that the term “federalization” and the concerns about the impact of federal laws on state workers’ compensation systems emerged.

Federalization re-emerged as an issue in the 2000s when concerns arose that the costs of workers’ compensation injuries were being shifted onto Medicare, and the federal government tried to fashion remedies to shift the cost back onto the workers’ compensation system. The effect of the Affordable Care Act on workers’ compensation was another federal issue that was hotly debated in workers’ compensation circles.

Finally in President Obama’s second term, OSHA issued many rules about medical care and drug testing  that could have affected workers’ compensation laws. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and other elected leaders also wrote a letter to the Secretary of Labor pointing out the failure of state-based workers’ compensation systems.

Conventional wisdom is that the election of Donald Trump paired with a Republican Congress will end the Obama era efforts at federalization of the workers’ compensation system. There is probably a fair amount of truth to this idea, but the Trump era may not spell the end of federalization of workers’ compensation.

In the 2010s “sharing economy,” companies such as Uber and Lyft emerged. The business model of these companies is premised on workers being independent contractors. However, this has created litigation and uncertainty for these companies. In 2015, the Democratic-aligned Brookings Institute hosted a discussion about the “reforming” labor laws for companies like Uber. Though workers’ compensation laws are traditionally state-based laws, there is no constitutional prohibition on designing workers’ compensation systems at a federal level. Unfortunately, it seems as some Democrats could find common ground with Donald Trump and House Speaker Ryan to amend ERISA and the Fair Labor Standards Act to exempt Uber drivers and other sharing economy workers from laws such as workers’ compensation.