Category Archives: Workers’ Compensation

Small Businesses Don’t Have Workers’ Compensation Insurance

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

In a new study by Insureon, less than 1 in 5 small businesses carry workers’ compensation.  Although all State regulations require that small businesses have workers’ compensation, this study indicates that workers’ compensation is the least purchased insurance by small businesses.  (In Wisconsin, employers must have workers’ compensation if they hire only one employee paying more than $500 in a quarter or hire any three employees at any one time.)  The President of Insureon Jeff Somers said in an interview with workerscompensation.com that “small businesses often fail to carry workers’ compensation because they truly do not understand their insurance need; there is a major lack of awareness and education which insurers and brokers can alleviate.  One reason for this protection gap is a misplaced anxiety around how much workers’ compensation coverage actually costs, but when you compare the small price. . . the protection workers’ compensation provides makes an investment worth it.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 3 million workplace injuries were reported by private industry employers in 2016, with nearly one-third resulting in time away from work.  The Insureon statistics showed that one in three businesses reported an incident that could have been covered by a workers’ compensation insurance policy and that one-fifth of all small businesses that filed for bankruptcy in 2016 did so because of lawsuits.  Workers’ compensation protects an employer from a lawsuit.  (In Wisconsin a worker injured by an uninsured employer has access to the Uninsured Employers Fund.  After the Fund pays workers’ compensation benefits, the Fund then pursues reimbursement from the employer.)

Amazon, Walmart and the “Shameless” Economy

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

With holiday shopping in full swing, Gizmodo just ran a long article about how Amazon is using an Uber-like app to hire delivery drivers as independent contractors.

Back in June, I blogged about a Walmart program where Walmart employees were being used to deliver packages. I pointed out in the piece that at least Walmart delivery drivers would be treated as employees in contrast to Fed Ex drivers and now Amazon drivers who have no employment protections like workers compensation or unemployment insurance if they get hurt on the job.

On social media, I’ve pointed out that Walmart actually seems to be better on employee classification than Amazon. That’s a pretty startling admission from me as Walmart has long been a target of criticism for their employment practices from our firm and any other sentient employee rights advocate with a platform.

When I read the Gizmodo article about Amazon, I thought about an episode of Shameless where the ever enterprising Lip underbids illegal aliens on a construction job with a group of rich kids looking to do volunteer work to bolster their college resumes. Up until now, Walmart has been a leader in the low wage economy. But leave it to Amazon to underbid Walmart in the race to the bottom.

Failure to Provide Workers’ Compensation for Employees is a Crime

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

I saw a recent newspaper story from New Jersey telling an employer was found guilty of a crime for filing to provide workers compensation benefits for the employees of his tree trimming service.

I can’t recall the last time I read of such a conviction, although virtually every state makes failing to provide workers compensation is a crime and wide spread employer evasion by labeling workers as independent contractor rather than employees. Recent studies find misclassification to occur a 30% rate. The costs of misclassification are in the hundreds of billions with workers being denied treatment and income replacement, government losing withholding taxes, unemployment benefit taxes and lawful employers paying higher insurance premiums for workers compensation and healthcare to name a few costs.

I run into these scoff law employers all too frequently. If more prosecutors treated as the criminals, they are perhaps more working people would be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Uber: A Tale of Two Cities

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

While London’s ban of ride-hailing service, Uber, seems poised to continue for the forseeable future, Lincoln, Nebraska may soon lessen formal regulation for Uber drivers.

The Lincoln City Council is scheduled to vote on an ordinance on October 16th that would formally eliminate a requirement that Uber and Lyft drivers pass a physical, background check and test about Lincoln that taxi cab drivers currently have to pass in order to drive a taxi in Lincoln.

According to city officials, this requirement is not currently being enforced. The ordinance has the public support of Mayor Chris Beutler and at-large City Councilwoman Leiron Gaylor-Baird. Supporters of the ordinance cite a decrease in drunken driving from ride hailing as well as a decrease in traffic and increase in downtown parking.

Taxi cab companies state the ordinance lets unqualified drivers on the street and presents unfair competition to traditional taxi cab companies. What hasn’t been eluded to in the debate over ride hailing litigation in Lincoln, but has played more prominently in the London debate, is the fact that ride-hailing companies treat their drivers as contractors which excuses them from paying basic employee benefits like unemployment and workers compensation insurance. This allows services like Uber to undercut traditional taxis on price.

The City of Lincoln doesn’t have a workers’ compensation ordinance. But allowing Uber competitive advantages over taxi cab companies indirectly impacts workers compensation because if Uber takes market share away from traditional taxi cabs fewer drivers will be covered under workers compensation.

Lincoln does a have a human rights ordinance that covers more employees than either state or federal anti-discrimination laws. By allowing Uber a competitive advantage over traditional taxi cab companies, Lincoln is potentially excluding workers from coverage of that ordinance since Uber denies it is an employer. Traditional taxi cab companies are subject to Lincoln’s human rights ordinance.

Many business observers have argued that Uber’s biggest innovation is “regulatory arbitrage.” Regulatory arbitrage is a fancy word for lobbying. Uber hired former Obama advisor David Plouffe. In the United Kingdom, Uber’s chief lobbyist is the godfather to one of the children for former Prime Minister David Cameron. It’s safe to state that a lot of Uber’s supposed innovation stems from old-fashioned lobbying.

Other cities, most prominently Austin, Texas, have attempted to regulate Uber by imposing the same requirements on ride hailing drivers that they do on taxi drivers. Uber was able to successfully lobby the Texas Legislature to pass a state law that preempted municipal regulation of ride-hailing services.

Though the tech sector is regarded by some as an advocate for LGBT rights, Uber was willing to accept an amendment to the Texas preemption legislation that promoted discrimination against transgender individuals.

Workers Compensation for the Work Camper

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

The Washington Post ran a feature story about “Work Campers” – senior citizens who live in campers and travel around for temporary jobs. The story noted that many, if not most, work campers were forced into the lifestyle by inadequate retirement savings and Social Security retirement benefits that have lost 30 percent of their purchasing power since 2000. The story also noted that the number of senior citizens working has increased from 4 million to 9 million during that same time period.

The idea of a growing number of senior citizens essentially acting as migrant laborers strikes many as odd and even dystopian. But work campers will present interesting challenges to the workers compensation system.  Though some studies show that older workers are less likely to get hurt on the job, this finding is attributed to older workers having more experience on the job. Since work campers tend to hop from temporary job to temporary job, their chances of injury could increase as temporary workers are more likely to get hurt.

This growing development in the workforce raises many issues for work campers who are hurt on the job because workers compensation laws are state specific so benefits and eligibility for benefits vary from state to state.

Here are some questions that will face work campers when they are injured on the job.

Which states and jurisdictions can you collect benefits?

Employees may be eligible to claim benefits in the state where they are injured, their state of permanent residence, the state their employer is based or the state they were hired. Employees may also be able to claim benefits in multiple states. Employees may also be able to bring claims under the Jones Act or Longshore Act if they were hurt on a ship or a navigable body of water. It helps to get advice from a qualified workers’ compensation lawyer as the decision as to where an employee should claim benefits should be driven by where they have the best chances of recovery.

Which states limit permanent benefits for older workers?

Iowa recently limited workers over the age of 67 from receiving permanent disability benefits for more than 150 weeks. A work camper who was covered under Iowa law and seriously injured could only receive 2 ½ years of benefits.

What is the law on pre-existing conditions?

Many elderly workers have preexisting conditions. In some states those preexisting conditions may impair the ability of an injured work camper to collect benefits. In Missouri employees need to show an injury is a “prevailing factor” in the disability whereas in Nebraska employees merely show the work injury was a “contributing factor” to the disability. In other words, it would be more difficult for a work camper to collect benefits in Missouri for the aggravation of an old injury than it would be in Nebraska.

How do you determine earnings?

Disability benefits are based on earnings or what is called average weekly wage.  The work campers profiled in the Washington Post were fairly low wage employees. However some work camping contracts include provisions for benefits like lodging that have a real monetary value. In some states, like Nebraska, those non-cash benefits can be included in the average weekly wage. Short term work assignments also present difficulties in determining average weekly wage because they might not accurately reflect an employee’s actual earning capacity. There could also be questions as to whether employment is seasonal or weather dependent which could also alter the average weekly wage.

Again, calculations of earnings can vary state by state, so work campers injured on the job should contact a member of WILG who specialize in workers compensation and regularly communicate with workers compensation specialists in other states.

Back In The game Or Back To Work Too Soon?

Senator Dan Quick has introduced employee-friendly legislation

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

Last weekend’s Big 10 Conference football championship game between Ohio State and Wisconsin contained some off-the-field controversy when former Wisconsin Badger and current Cleveland Browns player, Joe Thomas, criticized the fact that Ohio State starting quarterback J.T. Barrett was playing in the game six days after arthroscopic knee surgery.

While Barrett lead the Buckeyes to victory with 211 passing yards and 60 rushing yards, Thomas argued that college players should have the option of a second opinion when it comes to major surgeries like players do in the NFL. Thomas argued that team doctors are overly influenced by coaches who want players to return to action as soon as possible and that college players are over eager to return to the field.

A similar issue will be debated in Nebraska’s legislature next month. Senator Dan Quick of Grand Island has a bill on the floor that would require an employer to pay for a second opinion if an employee disputes a finding from a doctor paid for by the employer. Quick’s bill was inspired by his experience of being sent back to work prematurely by a doctor chosen by his employer’s workers compensation insurer.

Quick is an electrician by trade and is one of the few blue-collar workers who serves in the Nebraska Legislature. Another blue-collar worker, Lee Carter, was recently elected to the legislature in Virginia. Like Quick, Carter had a bad experience after a work injury. Carter had his hours reduced after his accident and was unable to find a lawyer because of confusion over which state had jurisdiction over his work injury.

Blue collar workers running for office may be a trend as iron worker Randy Bryce is running for Congress against House Speaker Paul Ryan and Wisconsin Firefighter’s union president Mahlon Mitchell is running for Governor of Wisconsin. I am encouraged that people like Dan Quick and Lee Carter have taken their bad experiences after work injuries and have gone into politics to directly address the problems they  faced first hand and make sure other workers will have better experiences if they get hurt on the job.

What Do You Mean, I Can’t Sue My Employer?

OSHA find the owner of the Didion Milling Plant in connection with an explosion that killed 2 workers and injured several more.

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

I sat down this morning with a television reporter interviewing me about a horrific explosion in Wisconsin that killed 5 workers and injured many more.  The explosion on May 31, 2017 at the Didion Ethanol Plant in Cambria, Wisconsin occurred when corn dust exploded, destroying the entire plant.  OSHA hit the company with a $1.8 million fine, calling it a preventable explosion.

The reporter’s question to me was “Why can’t the employees sue their employer?”  The answer goes back over 100 years in Wisconsin to the “Grand Bargain” that was struck between management and labor.  Sometimes referred to as the “great tradeoff,” employees traded away their right to sue their employer, even for egregious safety violations, in return for wage loss and medical benefits to be paid regardless of fault.  The goal was to relieve the injured employee from the burden of paying for medical care and replace lost wages.  At the turn of the 20th Century, Wisconsin workplaces were often dangerous places, and employers had little incentive to make them safer.  Injured workers could rarely afford the kind of legal cost for recovery efforts in court and employers benefitted by use of contributory negligence, assumption of risk and co-employee negligence as bars to an employee’s recovery in court.

The administrative system that was established by worker’s compensation was created to provide a direct remedy to the employer and to limit (by Exclusive Remedy) litigation against the employer.  The system was supposed to insure a method of providing benefits to an injured employee during the period of disability and to ensure the employees were not reduced to poverty because of injuries.

Speed, dependability, and financial assistance were components of the new system, and by making employers responsible for injury, the law offered strong incentives to make workplaces safer.  Unfortunately, that has not occurred.  The latest statistics indicate that over 100 people die annually in Wisconsin and over 5,000 annually across the nation.

Revealing to a grieving widow that the remedy available is limited to four times the deceased worker’s annual income is precious little consolation for loss of a spouse’s life and lifetime income.

Medicaid Cuts Will Cause More Nursing Injuries

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

While efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid appear to have stalled for now, any successful effort to cut Medicaid will adversely impact workplace safety for nurses and nurse’s aides.

Studies by the National Institutes of Health show that reductions in Medicaid funding leads to less staffing at long term care facilities and that lower staffing leads to more injuries for nursing employees. Since most nurses and nurse’s aides are covered under state-based workers compensation laws the additional costs of work injuries from Medicaid cuts may not be fully accounted for on a federal level.

At least in Nebraska nursing employees have some ways to protect themselves when advocating for safer working conditions even if they do not belong to a union.

Nebraska has a whistleblower law that applies specifically to health care workers, including nurses. The benefit of this act is that it allows employees to recover for damages similar to what they could collect under the Nebraska Fair Employment Practices Act, including front pay and possibly attorney fees, without having to exhaust administrative remedies. Additionally, health care workers would have four years to bring a suit under the health care whistleblowers law, rather than the much shorter and complicated statute of limitations under the Nebraska Fair Employment Practices Act.

Nebraska has a broad general whistleblower law that allows employees to oppose unlawful conduct by their employers. Nebraska law requires that nursing homes to be adequately staffed. Federal law also requires that employers provide a workplace to be free of recognizable hazard. Inadequate staffing would certainly be deemed be a recognizable hazard in a nursing home. The only drawback to Nebraska’s whistleblower law is the short and potentially uncertain statute of limitations.

Nebraska law would also allow nurses reporting inadequate staffing to be protected from retaliation under a public policy claim that also has a four year statute of limitations.