How Does Social Security Help Me Get Back to Work?

The SSA has programs to help disabled people rejoin the workforce.

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

As I discussed in a previous post, you don’t have to be on Social Security Disability (SSD) forever. Many people find that their medical conditions improve and they want to try to get back to work. However, it’s hard to get back into the workforce after being out of it for a long time, and people are worried about losing their eligibility for benefits if they try to go back to work but are unsuccessful.

Social Security recognizes that it can be difficult for people to get back into the labor market and that people would be reluctant to go back to work if they would automatically lose entitlement to their disability benefits. To address these concerns, Social Security runs several programs to help people transition back into the workforce while maintaining financial eligibility.

Social Security has many programs and policies to help people return to work, but I will discuss two of these programs in some detail. These are the Ticket to Work program and the Trial Work Period.

The Ticket to Work program gives disabled individuals access to a network of services that offer retraining and vocational rehabilitation. This is a free, completely voluntary program. Once you reach out to them, you will Continue reading »

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Overpayment Of Unemployment Due To Payment of Workers’ Compensation Benefits – NOW WHAT?!?

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

Injured workers transition from time loss compensation under their workers’ compensation claim to unemployment compensation when they are released to return to work but do not have a job available to them. In many cases, disputes arise as to whether the release to work and termination of workers’ compensation payments is appropriate. Often, the worker tries to find physically-appropriate work while collecting unemployment compensation during the dispute process but, once their attorney secures payment of back benefits under the workers’ compensation claim, an overpayment of unemployment benefits has occurred due to the overlap between the two systems. When this happens, workers should:

  1. Notify the unemployment insurance system that they are continuing to seek payment from the workers’ compensation system, but that they are involved in an appropriate job search during the dispute process.
  2. Immediately share with the workers’ compensation attorney any notices or orders received from the unemployment insurance system. These are usually NOT mailed to the attorney of record in a workers’ compensation claim and the notices often have limited time periods within to file a protest or request for reconsideration of the determination.
  3. Hold in savings from the workers’ compensation payment the claimed unemployment overpayment amount during the dispute process until a final overpayment notice has been issued, or have the workers’ compensation attorney hold this amount in their trust account. If this is not possible, be prepared to enter into a repayment agreement with the unemployment insurance system once a final overpayment figure has been determined.
  4. Seek assistance from the workers’ compensation attorney to document all attorney fees and costs paid as part of the effort to obtain back benefits under the workers’ compensation claim. Submit this documentation to the unemployment insurance system and request a reduction in the claimed overpayment to take these attorney fees and costs into account.
  5. Continue to send any notices or orders to the workers’ compensation attorney.
  6. Once the overpayment has been repaid, check to see if the receipt of workers’ compensation back benefits changes your tax obligations. In many states, workers’ compensation payments are not taxable income, but unemployment benefits are taxable. If there is a significant payment of back benefits under the workers’ compensation claim, it may be worthwhile to file an amended tax return with the IRS to document the lower taxable income figure.

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I Can’t Find Work; Does That Mean I’m Disabled?

Having physical or mental impairment will not automatically make you entitled to Social Security Disability benefits.

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

Many people believe that if they suffer from a physical and/or mental impairment and can’t find work, this means they should be on Social Security Disability. This simply isn’t true.

Disability is not necessarily tied to your ability to obtain work, or your inability to perform one main occupation. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will review your employability not just in your immediate locality, but also in the state and region in which you live.

While only employment opportunities in your immediate areas are considered for workers’ compensation, the same is not true for social security disability. If you are unable to find work in your immediate area, the SSA requires you to move to a locality where a job exists. Note that the SSA’s responsibility doesn’t include having to find you employment, but only to establish that you are physically and mentally capable of performing that job if a position became available.

Additionally, your inability to perform the work you’ve done for years or decades does not automatically qualify you for disability. The SSA will consider skills you’ve acquired from your work life in determining whether those skills allow you to “transfer” to or perform other occupations. It’s important to also remember that the SSA isn’t really concerned with how much those other occupations may pay. If you can work full-time in a position that is available in your state and region, this will normally disqualify you from receiving disability.

The conditions which the SSA imposes upon a claimant are unfortunately, not always feasible or fair. Nevertheless, as it is the current state of the law, compliance is required.

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OSHA Reaches Employer Agreement to Stop Discouraging Employee Accident Reports

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman from Jon Gelman, LLC – Attorney at Law.

Statistics regarding the reporting of accidents have historically been challenged for accuracy as employees have been fearful about reporting events, and employers have been reluctant for numerous reasons, including the potential of increased insurance costs. Now OSHA has taken a significant step to legitimize the process by seeking an employer accord not to take adverse actions against employees for reporting injuries in the workplace.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has signed an accord with BNSF Railway Co., headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, announcing BNSF’s voluntary revision of several personnel policies that OSHA alleged violated the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act and dissuaded workers from reporting on-the-job injuries. FRSA’s Section 20109 protects railroad workers from retaliation for, among other acts, reporting suspected violations of federal laws and regulations related to railroad safety and security, hazardous safety or security conditions, and on-the-job injuries.

“Protecting America’s railroad workers who report on-the-job injuries from retaliation is an essential element in OSHA’s mission. This accord makes significant progress toward ensuring that BNSF employees who report injuries do not suffer any adverse consequences for doing so,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “It also sets the tone for other railroad employers throughout the U.S. to take steps to ensure that their workers are not harassed, intimidated or terminated, in whole or part, for reporting workplace injuries.”

The major terms of the accord include:

  • Changing BNSF’s disciplinary policy so that injuries no longer play a role in determining the length of an employee’s probation following a record suspension for a serious rule violation. As of Aug. 31, 2012, BNSF has reduced the probations of 136 employees who were serving longer probations because they had been injured on-the-job.
  • Eliminating a policy that Continue reading »
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Careful What You Wish For: Denying Worker’s Compensation for Undocumented Workers

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

Immigration reform is a continual and vexing issue in Washington. While politicians, lobbyists, and service organizations grapple with potential resolutions, there is no disputing the existence of illegal immigrants working for employers in our country. And when there are employees working, work injuries happen.  This may be especially true with the undocumented population who may be more susceptible to significant injuries because many perform more dangerous or hazardous jobs that other may not accept. For further information, see Do Immigrants Work in Riskier Jobs? and the CDC’s report on work-related injury deaths among Hispanics.

…excluding illegal immigrants from worker’s compensation coverage could create a financial incentive for employers to keep hiring illegal immigrants.

When injured, are these undocumented workers eligible for worker’s compensation? Some harshly argue that these workers should receive no benefits, as they are not working legally in the country. However, one of the underlying pillars of worker’s compensation is that the expense of workplace injuries (covered by insurance) should be placed on the employers who profit from the workers’ labors. Additionally, excluding illegal immigrants from worker’s compensation coverage could create a financial incentive for employers to keep hiring illegal immigrants—a practice that is against federal law. 

The worker’s compensation laws in our country do not have a definitive answer to this question—though the trend is toward coverage of undocumented workers. Many states do Continue reading »

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Social Security Disability Denied? Don’t Give Up Hope. (Part 1)

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

I’ve handled many Social Security disability cases over the course of my career, and helping people obtain the benefits they deserve is extremely gratifying. Today, I want to tell you about one of my clients who was eventually awarded Social Security disability benefits after a long fight.

This man – I’ll call him John – was injured at work. He was bringing a wheelbarrow loaded with materials up a flight of stairs when he slipped and fell down the stairs. He sustained significant back and shoulder injuries and was taken to the hospital that day. When I met with him, he had been out of work for several months and wanted to get back to work, but was unable to do so. I filed his application and waited for Social Security’s initial decision.

Because John was 48 years old when he was injured, I had to prove that he couldn’t do any type of work, not just the construction work he had done since he graduated from high school. John’s case was denied initially, as most cases are. I filed a request for a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and started to develop John’s case.

In addition to his back and shoulder injuries, John was also depressed due to his chronic pain and inability to live his life the way he used to before his accident.

In addition to his back and shoulder injuries, John was also depressed due to his chronic pain and inability to live his life the way he used to before his accident. He started treatment with a psychiatrist and a psychologist. All conditions count in a Social Security disability benefits case, both physical and emotional. 

As his hearing date approached, I obtained updated medical records from all of John’s doctors and obtained supportive opinions from them as well.  Before the hearing, I prepared John for the questions he was likely to face.  Going into the hearing, I felt confident that John would get the benefits he deserved.  However, at the hearing, the ALJ did not seem to feel the case was as strong as I did. I told John to prepare for a denial from the judge.

While reviewing the decision, I noticed that the judge had made several significant errors…

Sure enough, the judge denied John’s claim. While reviewing the decision, I noticed that the judge had made several significant errors, from improperly evaluating the credibility of John’s statements, to giving improper weight to the opinions of his treating doctors. I met with John to review the decision and talk about our options.  Given the number of errors contained in the judge’s decision and the strength of John’s case, we decided to file an appeal with the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council, located in Falls Church, Virginia, is charged with reviewing appeals from individuals who disagree with the decision made by the judge at their hearing.

The Appeals Council review process can take anywhere from 18 to 24 months, and only about 20 percent of appeals are successful.  Despite these odds, I felt good about John’s chances due to the support of his treating physicians and the multiple errors made by the judge. I prepared a comprehensive legal brief detailing all of the judge’s errors and sent it to the Appeals Council for review. When I sent the appeal, I felt that the Appeals Council would recognize that the judge had issued a flawed decision and vacate it.  When a judge’s decision is vacated, the case is sent back for a new hearing and a new decision. 

In next week’s post we’ll reveal the outcome of John’s case.

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Workplace Deaths Substantially Unreported

Today’s post comes from guest author Kristina Brown Thompson from The Jernigan Law Firm.

Earlier this year, North Carolina OSHA released a report stating that job-related deaths were decreasing. In fact, the report stated there were only 35 workplace deaths in North Carolina in 2012. However, as we mentioned in our earlier blog from this year (North Carolina Workplace Deaths Lower in 2012), these statistics appeared artificially low.

The study conducted by the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health (“National COSH”) entitled “North Carolina Workers Dying for a Job,” released in 2012 states that there were at least 83 work-related deaths in 2011 but NC OSHA only reported 53 work-related deaths for that year. Why the disparity? For one, NC OSHA’s report does not account for many fatalities due to car accidents. NC OSHA’s report also doesn’t include fatalities that occur as a result of workplace violence or fatalities suffered by the self-employed.

While it’s reassuring to hear reports that work-related deaths are on the decline, this doesn’t reflect the big picture. A report from the AFL-CIO (“Death on the Job Report”) shows that workplace fatalities vary widely by state (from 12.4 fatalities per 100,000 workers in North Dakota to 1.2 fatalities per 100,000 in New Hampshire). When considering the reported work-related fatalities for your state, keep in mind that this is just a fraction of the true fatality figures.

There is, however, one common underlying trend: Hispanic workers and young workers are disproportionately at a higher risk for job fatalities. For this reason, adequate training and safety protocols are critically important. And, sadly, many of the fatalities in 2011 were largely preventable. The two top reasons for workplace fatalities in 2011 were falls from elevated heights (20%) and machinery hazards (16%). With proper safety measures, those deaths should have been avoided.

 

 

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Report Your Injury Right Away

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

Truckers especially need to pay attention to this blog post. Most states require you to provide notice of your work injury to your employer as soon as is practicable. Failing to do so might prevent you from getting workers’ compensation benefits.

Because truckers are always on the go, sometimes they may not remember to report their injuries right away. Instead, maybe the trucker will simply finish the route and decide to get checked out later, completely forgetting to inform the employer. This can become a problem later and potentially could give your employer a reason to deny paying work comp benefits or paying for treatment for your work injury. Unfortunately, this is a fairly common mistake, as pointed out on one of the firm’s websites, www.truckerlawyers.com

The moral of the story is if you’re hurt, tell your employer immediately. Communicate via your Qualcomm, call in, radio, email, or do whatever it takes, even if you have to call from the doctor’s office. Even if your injury seems insignificant at first, you’ll still want to give your employer notice. You’ll be better off in the long run.

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Does the Media Comprehend the Tragedy of Mass Worker Death?

Shadows on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Memorial

Today’s post comes from guest author Jay Causey from Causey Law Firm.

On March 25, 1911 a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York City.  In 18 minutes 146 garment workers, mostly young women, were dead.  The hideous circumstances of the tragedy – widely depicted by the media with front-page pictures of the corpses of women who had jumped from the building windows to avoid being burned to death – incited a wave of public revulsion that contributed to New York’s enactment of one of the nation’s first workers’ compensation statutes.  This occurred in the so-called “Progressive” era of American political history – now largely a distant memory – when within the next decade the majority of states followed suit.

One hundred years later, similar tragedies in the world-wide garment industry, which feeds U.S. corporations like WalMart, H&M, and Gap, occur with scant media attention other than the possible effect of such disasters on corporate business operations.  In November of 2012, 112 garment workers died in a fire at a Bangladeshi factory producing WalMart clothing. (A manager had reportedly closed an exit gate after the fire alarm sounded, telling workers nothing was wrong and to just keep working.)  In another Bangladeshi factory on January 26, 2013, a fire killed seven garment workers who could not escape due to a blocked exit.

Rather than expressing outrage over these circumstances, U.S. media, including the New York Times, characterized these incidents not as human tragedies, inexcusably occurring in the 21st century industrial world, but as “blows to the Bangladeshi garment industry.”  The fact is that with the globalization of that industry, these Bangladeshi workers are essentially “our” workers, making the clothes Americans wear, sold to us by U.S. corporate behemoths competing to do this at the lowest price possible they think will be acceptable to the American consumer.  The media is complicit in disconnecting these tragedies from our consciousness as intolerable – just as was the sense of our citizenry after Triangle – by focusing it’s reporting on the economic impact to the garment business and blandly parroting the boilerplate disclaimers of responsibility given them by the industry.

The garment corporations could easily afford to ensure their foreign contractors increase workers’ wages and institute workers’ safety measures with a minimal impact on the final price and their bottom line.

These incidents are almost never reported in a way that puts the question to the American consumer as to whether we’d pay a bit more per unit of clothing to ensure the safety of these workers rather than participate in the race to the lowest possible price.  Labor cost as a component of garment retail price is miniscule – one to two percent.  The garment corporations could easily afford to ensure their foreign contractors increase workers’ wages and institute workers’ safety measures with a minimal impact on the final price and their bottom line.

As it turns out, however, when plans were being developed in 2011 to improve fire safety at Bangladeshi factories, those efforts were quashed by WalMart and Gap, who determined that preventing worker deaths from fire would cost too much: “It is not financially feasible for the brands to make such investment.”

Don’t expect to hear much more about all this from the corporate media.

Source:  www.fair.org

Photo credit: Photo credit: Madison Guy / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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