Workplace Violence and Sandy Hook Elementary School

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

In light of the horrific elementary school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut last week it may be time to re-evaluate workplace violence, which seems to be increasing at an alarming rate. Technically, workplace violence is any act where an employee is abused, threatened, intimidated, or assaulted in the workplace. It can include threats, harassment, and verbal abuse, as well as physical attacks by someone with an assault rifle. 

Two million American workers are victims of workplace violence every year. What’s worse is that workplace violence is one of the leading causes of job-related deaths in the United States. Last year, for example, one in every five fatal work injuries was attributed not to accidents but to workplace violence,  and  some employees are at an increased risk for harm. For example, employees who work with the public or who handle money are more at risk (i.e. bank tellers, pizza delivery drivers, or social workers). According to the 2011 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries by the U.S. Dept. of Labor, robbers were found to be the assailants in almost a third of homicide/workplace violence cases involving men, whereas female workers were more likely to be attacked by a relative (i.e. former spouse or partner) while at work.  

Preventing workplace violence is a challenging task and OSHA advises employers to create a Workplace Violence Prevention Program. Creating a safe perimeter for employees is crucial. Likewise, having an emergency protocol in place should reduce the number of fatalities in an attack, and that’s exactly what happened at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut when the school’s protocol saved the lives of many children.

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Do I have to be on Social Security Disability Forever?

You aren’t prohibited from returning to work after being on Social Security Disability

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

Many of the people that I’ve spoken to over the years are under the impression that once you get Social Security Disability (SSD) you have to remain on benefits forever and can never go back to work. This is a common misconception, and one that prevents many people from receiving benefits they would otherwise be entitled to.

While you do not have to be on SSD forever, you do have to be out of work for at least twelve (12) consecutive months. However, once you’ve satisfied this durational requirement, you can return to work and receive SSD for a portion of the time that you were unable to work – Social Security doesn’t pay disability benefits for the first five (5) full months you’re out of work.

We have many clients who receive excellent medical care and have their medical condition improve and return to work. That’s great, and it’s something we love to see. SSD is there for you during the time that you’re unable to work.

…the Social Security Administration…even lets you work for a limited period of time before stopping your benefits.

Social Security also likes it when you return to work, and they have several different programs that help you get back to work, even if it’s a different sort of work than what you were doing before you became disabled. I’ll cover these programs in more detail in a later post, but for now, you should know that the Social Security Administration makes it possible for you to get vocational rehabilitation and retraining for free, and even lets you work for a limited period of time before stopping your benefits.

Once you know that you’ll be out of work for at least 12 months, contact our office to discuss filing a claim, even if you plan to return to work in the future. Because of the fact that you can lose benefits if you wait too long to apply (something I discussed here) you shouldn’t delay filing for benefits just because you plan to go back to work in the future.

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What Medical Expenses Are Covered In A Workers’ Compensation Case?

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

In Nebraska and Iowa, as is the general rule, an employer is liable for all reasonable medical services incurred as a result of a work injury. This is interpreted fairly broadly to include plastic or reconstructive surgery, prosthetic devices, and medicines, among other treatments. As long as the treatment is designed to relieve pain or promote and hasten the employee’s restoration to health and employment, the employer is liable. When a treatment meets these conditions, an injured worker should not be responsible for any portion of the medical bill. 

The main difference is in Nebraska, as long as the worker elects a prior treating doctor to treat their injury (for example, the worker’s family doctor), that doctor can dictate the medical care and refer them to others for treatment. If no election is made, then like in Iowa, the employer can choose the doctor to treat a work injury as long as the employer accepts compensability for that injury. However, in Iowa, if the worker can establish that the medical care furnished is unreasonable, then the worker can choose another medical provider.  In both states, if a claim for a work injury is denied, the worker can choose their own doctors to treat with. 

If no Petition is filed in Nebraska, an employer continues to be responsible for medical care as long as there is less than a two-year gap in the payment of a medical bill by the employer or insurance company or the payment of temporary or permanent benefits to the injured worker. Also, if the Court enters an order finding the injured worker entitled to future medical care, there is technically no time limit for seeking medical care. 

In Iowa, medical benefits cannot be used to extend the deadline to file a claim for benefits. There is no time limitation in seeking medical care relating to an injury either before or after an Award for benefits.       

However, in practical terms, large gaps in treatment will likely be met with skepticism from the employer – and possibly the Court – concerning the relationship between the work injury and the medical care. We recommend you seek consistent medical care where there is a need for it to avoid such issues.

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Worker Privacy Concerns : Employers’ Access to Employees’ Prior Worker’s Compensation Claims

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

Republican legislators are feeling their oats these days. Throughout the Midwest, legislators are depriving workers of collective bargaining rights and trying to restrict workers’ rights in workers’ compensation claims.

In Missouri, workers’ compensation legislation was recently proposed that would have permitted an employer to provide a potential hire’s name and Social Security number so an employer could identify the potential employee’s prior workers’ compensation claims and the status of those claims. The Missouri Division of Workers’ Compensation estimated an online data base that would include over a half million claim records with over 10,000 records added each year.

To his credit, Democratic governor Jay Nixon vetoed this proposed online data base which would allow businesses to check a prospective employee’s workers’ compensation claims. He said it was “an affront to the privacy of our citizens and does not receive my approval.” As expected, supporters of the workers’ compensation data base (employers primarily) said the legislation would speed the hiring process and help bosses and workers. Regularly, information about workers’ compensation claims is available by written request and takes about two weeks to arrive.  Supporters of the legislation indicated the law was “preventing workers’ compensation abuses.”

Wisconsin’s workers’ compensation records are subject to Wisconsin public records law, except for records identifying an employee’s name, injury, medical condition, disability, or benefits – which are confidential.  Authorized requestors are limited to parties of the claim (the employee, the employer, and the insurance carrier), an authorized attorney or agent, a spouse or adult child of a deceased employee. Workers’ Compensation Division staff may provide limited confidential information regarding the status of claims to a legislator or government official on behalf of a party. In addition, workers’ compensation staff are not permitted by law to conduct a random search to determine if other injuries have been reported.

If the requestor is the same employer or insurance carrier involved in a prior injury, then access will be allowed. If the requestor is a different employer or insurance carrier but they make a reasonable argument that the prior injury and the current injury are related, access may be allowed. For example, the Department considers injuries “reasonably related” if the two injuries involve the same body areas. 

Simply put, in Wisconsin, at least for the present, claimant information is confidential and not open to the public, other than to the parties to a current claim.

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Suicides in the U.S. Military: An Epidemic; What about Workers’ Compensation?

Today’s post comes from guest author Leila A. Early, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

In 2012, suicides in the U.S. military were at a record high of 349, which was higher than the 295 American combat deaths in Afghanistan in 2012. This number is up from 301 in 2011. The Pentagon has had a difficult time dealing with this epidemic, which likely stems from military personnel being in combat for more than a decade in Afghanistan and Iraq, complicated by anxiety over being forced out of the military due to a “shrinking force.”

In 2011, 65% of soldiers who attempted suicide had a history of behavioral problems; however, only 45% of those who actually killed themselves had such a history. If there are signs that these service members were asking for help, they were not getting the help that they needed.

What’s interesting is that the U.S. military keeps statistics on suicides, and when the numbers go up to alarming rates the  hope is that something will be done to investigate. For years, workers’ compensation lawyers have heard about suicides from employees who did not get proper medical care, who could not handle the abuse that sometimes happens within the system, and who could no longer stand the pain of permanent injuries, disability and resulting depression. But where are the statistics on these deaths? The insurance industry either has this information or it could get it. As a matter of public policy, should they be required to report it?

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Media Portrays Social Security as an Avenue to Benefits for the Unemployed – WRONG! It’s Not That Simple…

The Social Security Administration turns down many worthy applicants when they first apply.

Today’s post comes from guest author Susan C. Andrews, from Causey Law Firm.

     There is a lot in the news these days about the Social Security Disability Program, with some pundits suggesting people are getting on benefits simply because they are unemployed, or because they claim to be injured or ill when in fact they are able-bodied and fully capable of working. Every day, all day, I work with people filing for Social Security Disability benefits. So I work with the program’s rules – yes, there are rules for deciding these cases – it is not enough just to claim to be disabled. And I come face to face with individuals who are struggling, sometimes with a major health issue such as cancer, or rheumatoid arthritis, or Multiple Sclerosis. Other folks have multiple health problems that have combined to force them from the labor market. All of them have medical records, often reams of them, documenting diagnoses, chronicling surgeries and other treatment regimens. This is one big thing I think the general public does not know: a person must have one or more diagnoses from a qualified physician that could account for the symptoms and limitations he or she is reporting to Social Security. There must be convincing medical documentation. Much of my day is spent obtaining and reviewing the medical records of my clients, and ensuring that the decision-makers at Social Security also see them.

…the medical condition must be not only serious, but also prolonged.

     Many people are not familiar with Social Security’s definition of disability or the program’s rules, so they do not realize that the disabling medical condition or conditions must be serious enough to have prevented the person from working for AT LEAST 12 continuous months. If the individual has not yet been out of the labor market for a period of at least one year, it must be very clear that this will be the case. In situations where there is doubt about this, Social Security typically turns down the claim. I have had callers who have been unable to work for a few months while going through chemotherapy treatment for cancer, but have been able to get back to work in less than one year. They do not qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. So the medical condition must be not only serious, but also prolonged.

     One broadly held belief about Social Security Disability is, in fact, true: The Social Security Administration turns down many worthy applicants when they first apply. It is necessary to appeal (the first appeal is called a Request for Reconsideration). Often, a second denial follows. Then it is necessary to request a hearing in front of a judge. For a person who is too sick to work, not feeling well, and home alone trying to navigate this system, it can be daunting. One of the joys of my practice is our capacity to lend support to such individuals, to take the reins of the case and drive it forward, so my client can concentrate on taking care of herself or himself while I and my staff handle the legal stuff.

     We are able to offer representation to people at any stage in the process, including initial application. We are happy to talk with callers who are weighing their options, and simply need information in order to know whether to apply for benefits in the first place. There is no charge for such calls, so do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions about Social Security Disability.

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

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Five US Airports that Put Employees and Passengers At Risk For Environmental Tobacco Smoke

Secondhand Smoke Is Deadly

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

Air pollution from secondhand smoke five times higher outside smoking rooms and other designated smoking areas than in smoke-free airports

 

Average air pollution levels from secondhand smoke directly outside designated smoking areas in airports are five times higher than levels in smoke-free airports, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study conducted in five large hub U.S. airports also showed that air pollution levels inside designated smoking areas were 23 times higher than levels in smoke-free airports. In the study, designated smoking areas in airports included restaurants, bars, and ventilated smoking rooms.

Five of the 29 largest airports in the United States allow smoking in designated areas that are accessible to the public. The airports that allow smoking include Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Denver International Airport, and Salt Lake City International Airport. More than 110 million passenger boardings—about 15 percent of all U.S. air travel—occurred at these five airports last year.

“The findings in today’s report further confirm that ventilated smoking rooms and designated smoking areas are not effective,” said Tim McAfee, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. “Prohibiting smoking in all indoor areas is the only effective way to fully eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke.”

2006 Surgeon General’s Report concluded that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Although smoking was banned on all U.S. domestic and international commercial airline flights through a series of federal laws adopted from 1987 to 2000, no federal policy requires airports to be smoke-free.

“Instead of going entirely smoke-free, five airports continue to allow smoking in restaurants, bars or ventilated smoking rooms. However, research shows that separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air and ventilating buildings cannot fully eliminate secondhand smoke exposure,” said Brian King, Ph.D., an epidemiologist with CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health and co-author of the report. “People who spend time in, pass by, clean, or work near these rooms are at risk of exposure to secondhand smoke.” 

Secondhand smoke causes heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults and is a known cause of sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS, respiratory problems, ear infections, and asthma attacks in infants and children. Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can trigger acute cardiac events such as heart attack. Cigarette use kills an estimated 443,000 Americans each year, including 46,000 heart disease deaths and 3,400 lung cancer deaths among nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke.

For an online version of this MMWR report, visit http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr.  For quitting assistance, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or visit www.smokefree.govExternal Web Site Icon.  Also, visit www.BeTobaccoFree.govExternal Web Site Icon for information on quitting and preventing children from using tobacco. For real stories of people who have quit successfully, visit http://www.cdc.gov/tips. For state-specific tobacco-related data, visit CDC’s State Tobacco Activities Tracking and Evaluation System at http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/statesystem.

Read More About “Secondhand” Environmental Smoke

Apr 23, 2011
“Secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure causes lung cancer and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases in nonsmoking adults and children, resulting in an estimated 46,000 heart disease deaths and 3,400 lung cancer deaths …
 
Feb 20, 2008
An Atlantic City NJ casino card dealer employed at the Claridge Hotel who was exposed to second hand tobacco smoke was awarded workers’ compensation benefits. NJ Judge Cosmo Giovinazzi award $150,00 for lost …
 
Nov 14, 2012
“Secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure causes lung cancer and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases in nonsmoking adults and children, resulting in an estimated 46,000 heart disease deaths and 3,400 lung cancer deaths .
 
Oct 06, 2011
Lubick (2011) discussed the global health burden of secondhand smoke, and Burton (2011)emphasized a new and alarming consequence of smoking in indoor environments—“thirdhand smoke”—a term first coined in 2006 …

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What Does That Stand For? Commonly Used Acronyms in Workers’ Compensation Cases

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

Every profession has certain turns of phrase or acronyms they use on a daily basis that, to the layperson, mean very little and may only serve to add confusion to an already difficult issue. The legal profession and the representation of injured workers is no different. Injured workers often find themselves traveling down a confusing road armed only with directions written in an unfamiliar or foreign-sounding language. The experienced attorneys at our firm navigate clients down this road on a daily basis.  

Below is a list of commonly used acronyms to assist in understanding what is happening with your workers’ compensation case when everyone around you is suddenly speaking another language. Please keep in mind that the accompanying definitions are very general, and you should seek the advice of an experienced workers’ compensation attorney for more information or assistance with your case. Please also see the links for other blog posts for more information on some of these issues.    

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Chemical Exposure: Devastating Consequences

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

Chemical exposure in the workplace can have an insidious–yet devasating–effect on a worker.  In a wide-ranging article, the New York Times presented an in-depth view of chemical exposure at furniture factories in North Carolina: “As OSHA Emphasizes Safety, Long-Term Health Risks Fester” The article focused on the questionable ability of OSHA to regulate workplace chemicals, as well as the personal (and neurological) toll caused by such exposure.

Somewhat absent from the discussion was a focus on workers’ compensation benefits for these workers.  Occupational exposure is not limited to repetitive back injuries or other orthopedic conditions.  While soemtimes more difficult to detect or pinpoint, exposure to serious chemicals in the workplace can result in health consequences for the exposed worker.  In Wisconsin, for example, an injured worker can bring a claim for the medical effects caused by exposure to workplace chemicals.  These occupational exposure claims ,if supported by a medical physician, entitle the injured worker to benefits under the Wisconsin worker’s compensation act.  Pinpointing the precise chemcial causing the exposure can be difficult, but a worker can attempt to obtain the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) from the employer that identifies chemicals/toxins being used.  Presenting that information to a qualified physician can assist in determining causation.  

In many cases, a worker can experience a permanent sensitization to certain chemicals–precluding the ability to continue working at the same employer or facility.  In these scenarios, a worker may have the right to bring a claim for a loss of earning capacity or even be retrained into a new field that avoids the exposure.

 

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