Tax Day For Independent Contractors: More Paperwork, More Taxes

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

The issue of whether Uber drivers and other so-called “Gig Economy” workers are employees or independent contractors is a hot topic among lawyers and policy makers. But last week independent contractors in the Gig Economy and beyond had a more mundane but no less serious dilemma:

Filing their taxes

Independent contractors are required to pay their full FICA and Medicare taxes. These higher taxes can be offset by more liberal deductions but that assumes a contractor has more expenses to deduct.

Deductions also require paperwork.  Filing your taxes as an IRS Form 1099 independent contractor is more complicated than filing your taxes as an IRS W-2 employee.

Independent contractor status can be helpful for someone who wants to be an entrepreneur. But for those who just want to support themselves and family, involuntary independent contractor status can mean higher taxes, more paperwork and more risk of trouble with the IRS and state revenue agencies.  Future tax days could be even more stressful if more workers are forced into independent contractor status in order to support themselves and families.

Look To Your Co-Workers Before Your Boss When Trying To Accommodate An Injury Or Medical Condition

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

Employees with an injury or medical condition that prevents them from doing  parts of their job ought to consider asking for help  from their co-workers  first before they talk to management about how to accommodate that medical condition or injury.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and most parallel state laws, a disabled employee and their employer are supposed to engage in an “informal interactive process” to see if the employee’s disability can be reasonably accommodated. The process is supposed to be flexible.

In reality often times the interactive process can be an adversarial process where legal counsel for the employer,  HR,  employee health and risk management bureaucrats attempt to force working people to fill out complicated paperwork and create a paper trail justifying terminating an employee.

But if an employee can work with a co-worker or co-workers to shift and trade tasks that they can’t do because of a disability, then the employee has accommodated their own disability without having to deal with a squad of paper pushers who know little about how an employee actually does their job.

The other thing an employee does when they work with their co-workers to accommodate their own disability without interference from management is that they engage in what is called a “protected concerted” activity. So in addition to having legal protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the employee has protections under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) as would  their co-workers.

Employees are faced with judges and government agencies who are increasingly sympathetic to management. But workers are re-discovering the power of concerted action. New York taxi drivers struck in protest of President Trump’s proposed Muslim Ban. Workers at Comcast walked out of work in protest of this policy as well.

I realize that many of my prospective and current clients may support Donald Trump and his policies. But regardless of your political views you can still ask for and provide mutual aid and support from your co-workers if you or one of them has a disability that keeps you or them from doing certain tasks on the job. This idea of mutual aid and support for co-workers on the job has long been an important part of workplace rights and will probably grow increasingly important and as courts and government agencies become increasingly supportive of management.

Injured As A Result of 9/11? The World Trade Center Accidental Disability Deadline Is Approaching

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

I recently traveled to Virginia with most of my immediate family to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday. While he is not in the best physical shape, he was clearly touched that we all came to wish him well as he celebrated this milestone birthday. As an added bonus, we also got to visit with my grandmother, Mary Walsh, who will celebrate her 109th birthday in August. 

My dad was a New York City firefighter for many years. Unfortunately, quite a few of his current health issues were caused by his exposure to smoke while battling fires during the worst years – the 1970s and 1980s – the City of New York has seen in terms of firefighting calls. Along with the smoke inhalation, years of carrying heavy packs, rescuing people and sustaining burns, broken bones, and other injuries have wreaked havoc on his body. While he saw more than his share of death and destruction, it pales in comparison to the losses the City sustained on September 11, 2001, when 411 emergency responders, including 343 firefighters, lost their lives. Even more distressing is that according to statistics, more than 850 additional first responders have died as a result of 9/11 related illness since that day. Just two weeks ago in fact, retired firefighter Robert Newman from Patchogue, Long Island, died from cancer as a result of breathing in toxins at the World Trade Center.

Many of these first responders initially retired without realizing the extent of their illnesses, and that they were entitled to compensation for their injuries. While Workers’ Compensation benefits are not available to uniformed employees of the FDNY or NYPD who participated in the rescue, recovery, or cleanup operations, they are still eligible for certain benefits.

In 2005, the World Trade Center (WTC) Disability Law took effect in New York State. This law establishes a presumption that certain disabilities for those who participated in the rescue, recovery, and cleanup at the World Trade Center and other specified sites would entitle them to accidental disability retirement benefits subject to certain criteria including when, where, and for how long they worked at a WTC site. Subsequent amendments expanded the list of individuals eligible, extended the filing deadline, and added qualifying conditions.

The bill allows many police officers and firefighters who retired with non-WTC accidental disabilities to have their retirement reclassified as an accidental disability related to the WTC disaster. Death benefit legislation enacted in 2006 provides an accidental death benefit to certain city and state employees within this same eligibility group. If approved, World Trade Center accidental disability retirement will become effective as of the date of reclassification and not retroactive to the date of retirement.  

If you are disabled, you should file an Application for World Trade Center Accidental Disability

Presumption. If you have not already done so, you must file this Notice on or before September 11, 2018. In order to preserve your right to file at some time in the future if you are presently not disabled, you will also need to file an Application for World Trade Center Notice on or before September 11, 2018.  While you do not need an attorney to represent you, it may be in your best interest to seek the advice of a professional as there are certain restrictions, deadlines, various forms, and qualifying conditions that could make filing the application difficult. 

The after effects of 9/11 continue to take their toll even after all these years, with no immediate end in sight.  We are grateful that there is at least some small consolation for our first responders who should at least not have to be worried about financial issues for themselves and their families. 

 

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.

Opioids And Doctor Choice

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

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel said in 2008 that “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” In the context of opioids and workers compensation this could mean reforms to workers compensation systems beyond drug formularies If solving the opioid crisis means limiting the number of doctors who can prescribe opioids, then there will be fewer doctors who will treat workers compensation cases.

Additional licensure and certifications aren’t unheard of in the world of occupational health. In 2016, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration implemented a new rule that only doctors on their registry can perform DOT Physical Examinations for truckers and other professional drivers. This reduced the number of doctors who can perform those examinations. 

When I testified on LB 408, a bill that would have implemented drug formularies for opioids under the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act, some doctors were testifying that there was little training in regards to prescribing opioids. Though an opioid prescription registry like the DOT examination registry wasn’t proposed, you could certainly see it proposed as a solution to the opioid problem.

By limiting the numbers of doctor who handle workers’ compensation claims through additional licensing requirements, injured employees will have fewer choices for medical treatment and are more likely to have their employer control their care.

Evidence shows that the workers compensation system has made some contribution to the opioid crisis. According to a 2015 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics over 3.5 million employees were injured at work. Half of those injuries required the employee to miss sometime from work. A study of employees in 25 states done by the Workers Compensation Research Institute revealed that 55 to 85 percent of employees who missed at least one week of work were prescribed at least one opioid prescription.

When I testified on LB 408 the consensus among the doctors testifying on the legislation was that injured workers were more vulnerable to narcotic addiction than other patients who are prescribed narcotic pain medication. Scientific studies give some credence to these conclusions. Workers compensation claims can cause economic insecurity. According to an article in Scientific America, Addiction rates for opioids are 3.4 times higher for those with incomes under $20,000 per year than they are for employees making more than 50,000 per year.

But that article also shared studies that state that pain pill prescriptions are not driving the opioid epidemic. Patients with pre-existing addiction issues are more likely to become addicted to opioids and 75 percent of those who develop opioids start taking opioids in a non-prescribed manner. Furthermore, only 12 to 13 percent of ER patients who are treated for opioid overdoses are chronic pain patients.

Workers’ Compensation is traditionally an area of the law that is controlled by the states. Regulation of drugs is generally an area reserved for the federal government. Any laws imposing additional hurdles or requirements upon doctors who prescribe opioid drugs may have to come from the federal government.

Republicans Just Made It Easier For Employers To Hide Workplace Injuries

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

Today’s post was shared by Jay Causey and comes from www.huffingtonpost.com.

They used an arcane procedural maneuver to repeal a significant safety regulation issued by the Obama administration.

WASHINGTON ― The Republican-led Congress moved to dismantle yet another corporate regulation on Wednesday, in a move that safety experts say will make it easier for employers to hide serious workplace injuries from the government.

The Senate voted 50-48 to strike down a rule issued late in Barack Obama’s presidency that requires large employers to keep an ongoing record of health and safety incidents. The Obama administration issued the rule in an effort to solidify what it considered long-standing policy at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

By doing away with the rule, Republicans are effectively cutting down the length of time that employers in dangerous industries are required to keep injury records ― from five years to just six months. Former OSHA officials say that doesn’t provide enough time to identify recurring problems with particular employers or industries.

They also say the change gives unscrupulous employers little incentive to keep an accurate log of injuries, since it will be more difficult for them to be penalized for not doing so. When employers have a track record of such injuries, it can lead to higher workers’ compensation costs and more government scrutiny.

“This will give license to employers to keep fraudulent records and to willfully violate the law with impunity,” said Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA policy adviser now with the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for low-wage workers.

Read the full story here.

Photo credit: Mel1st via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

New York’s Newest Budget Shortchanges Injured Workers

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

A couple of weeks ago Governor Cuomo signed the New York State Budget that contained some potentially detrimental provisions for injured workers. Big business interests are taking their victory laps as they continue with their campaign to dismantle the Workers’ Compensation system by further reducing benefits to injured workers.  See this for what it is- a relentless attack on the working men and women of this state.

If you believe that the majority of those on Workers’ Compensation are frauds, faking an injury, or taking advantage of taxpayers, then you are probably content with the changes in the law. That also probably means you were swayed by the alternative facts that the Business Council was promulgating, including the proposition that Workers’ Compensation benefits are to blame for the high cost of doing business in New York and that many injured workers are not deserving of the benefits they receive.   

My colleague Len Jernigan from North Carolina issues an annual report of the top 10 Workers’ Compensation fraud cases. In 2016, those top 10 fraud claims were against employers – not workers – and totaled more than $400 million! Much of the fraud involved misclassification of employees in order to circumvent payroll taxes and Workers’ Compensation insurance. In fact, very few workers would voluntarily subject themselves to a system that has become so bloated by bureaucracy and is more concerned about precluding medical treatment because a form is not filled out correctly or penalizing counsel for being too overzealous by submitting numerous requests for their client’s day in court. 

Injured workers do not have much political clout. They do not get rich off of Workers’ Compensation benefits. Their weekly benefits can be reduced if they are considered partially disabled without regard to their socio economic status, their educational level or whether or not they are still being treated for their injuries.   Many of them who were union workers now are no longer able to pay union dues; some cannot pay for medical insurance for themselves or their families as Workers’ Compensation insurance only covers the injured worker for the injuries sustained on the job.

Workers’ Memorial Day takes place annually on April 28.  It is a day to remember those who have suffered and died on the job. Each year there are symposiums, panel discussions, acknowledgements, and speeches paying tribute to the men and women who have lost their lives at work. Many of our politicians will issue statements or attend rallies to stand in solidarity with workers’ groups. We will hear how their deaths should not be in vain and how we must make our workplaces safer. We will be saddened to hear the list of names of those who went off to work never to return.

Many of the politicians giving these speeches are the same politicians who voted to reduce benefits to injured workers in order to appease big business interests. It is difficult to comprehend the hypocrisy involved, but we are told this is politics as usual. While it may be too late regarding the further limitation for lost wages, there is still an opportunity to let the Governor know that any further reduction for permanent injuries to limbs is just not acceptable. While honoring those who died on the job is laudable, properly compensating those who have suffered permanent injuries is equally important and ensures that we value both the dead and the living.

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.

Redact Social Security Numbers

Today’s post comes from guest author Anthony L. Lucas, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

Many states have enacted laws to protect the disclosure of an individual’s social security number and other personal identifying information due to a rise in identity theft; however, the practice of collecting the information by agencies has continued, and agencies that collected social security numbers before January 1, 1975 are still allowed to do so. See The Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a (2015).

In North Carolina, for example, when filing an initial claim with the North Carolina Industrial Commission, an injured worker is required to provide his or her social security number on the form. The North Carolina Industrial Commission is required under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 132-1.10 to take steps to prevent an individual’s social security number from becoming public. However, an individual’s social security number can become publicly available when an injured worker appeals a decision by the North Carolina Industrial Commission and he or his attorney fails to redact the information from documents filed with the court, as required by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 132-1.10(d). Rules 9(a)(4) and 9(d)(3) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure also require that social security numbers be deleted or reacted from any document in the record on appeal and copies of exhibits.

Until agencies begin using alternate identifiers, attorneys should examine every document carefully before filing it with the court to redact or remove social security numbers.

Wisconsin Law Changes: Retraining Benefits Made Better

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

Injured workers now have greater access to vocational retraining benefits. The new law changes, while providing a number of employer-friendly provisions, also contained pro-worker enactments—especially for those injured workers who need to go back to school.

A major public policy goal of the worker’s compensation system is to restore an injured worker’s pre-injury earning capacity, meaning get the worker back to the wages they made before getting hurt. To facilitate that goal, if an injured worker has permanent limitations that do not allow them to return to their injury job, the worker can pursue vocational retraining benefits. Under Wisconsin law, these benefits are meant to compensate a worker during the entire schooling period. The insurance carrier is responsible for weekly maintenance benefits (at 2/3 of the employee’s average weekly earnings) during every week the worker is in school, as well as tuition, book, travel and meal expenses during school. Many retraining programs are for approximately two-year associate degree programs, but, depending on the worker’s pre-injury wages, the paid-for program could involve a bachelor’s degree or beyond.

In a victory for workers, the 2016 new law allows for prospective vocational retraining benefits. Historically, when a vocational retraining claim was “ripe” for presentation at a hearing was uncertain. Some administrative law Judges indicated that a retraining program only became viable and ripe for hearing when the worker actually was attending classes. Unfortunately, many injured workers—who cannot return to their former employment and have no other source of income—do not have the financial ability to go to school on their own. As such, these workers could not enroll in or begin school unless the workers’ compensation insurance carrier was ordered to pay for prospective schooling.

The legislature clarified this issue, and effective March 2, 2016, Judges have the authority to issue prospective orders for vocational retraining benefits (Wis. Stat. § 102.18(1)(b)2., as amended by 2015 Wis. Act 180). Specifically, a carrier can be ordered to pay for a future course of instruction, along with the corresponding vocational retraining benefits/expenses, for either a DVR-sponsored or private rehabilitation counselor program.

Another pro-worker provision of the 2016 law is that injured workers are now allowed to work up to 24 hours per week while undergoing vocational retraining without those earned wages reducing their weekly worker’s compensation maintenance benefits (the 2/3 wages). Previous law required the reduction in work comp benefits for this part-time—thereby creating a disincentive to work. The new law (effective March 2, 2016) acknowledges the practical reality for a worker returning to school. The injured worker now can engage in part-time school and part-time work, maintaining the worker’s connection to the labor market.

Vocational retraining benefits can be difficult for an injured worker to pursue, but the new 2016 law makes it easier.