Tag Archives: Disability

Three Clues Your Employer Doesn’t Want You To Return To Work After An Injury

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

Apologists for Thought leaders in the workers compensation insurance industry like to tout how they want injured employees to “return to work.”  But insurance industry rhetoric about the importance of return to work is belied by at least three common scenarios involving employees with serious work injuries.

  1. Employer requires an employee to resign in order to receive a lump sum settlement for their workers compensation claim: Early on in my career a defense lawyer told me that his client “Didn’t want their employees driving to the plant in an Escalade (this was the mid-2000s) after they settled their workers compensation case.” Putting aside the absurdity of someone who earns wages that would make their kids eligible for free or reduced lunch buying a luxury SUV after they had been off of work for an extended length of time, this practice indicates that some employers really don’t want injured workers to return to work after an injury.

    A recent discussion over the WILG listserv indicated that resignation as a condition of a workers compensation case settlement was a common practice across the United States. An agreement to resign normally comes as a separate severance agreement. Those settlement agreements may not be binding if an employer doesn’t include the right language in the release which is why an injured worker would want to consult with an employment lawyer or have a lawyer familiar with employment law and workers compensation represent them in their work injury.

    Certain states, like Massachusetts, outlaw the practice of conditioning a settlement on resignation. Even in states where the practice is considered lawful lawyers may consider challenging such practices on the basis of anti-retaliation laws, unfair claims practice laws or causes of action that prevent interference with contractual relationships.

  2. Employer requires employee to return to work with “no restrictions”. 100 percent healed policies are considered to violate the Americans with Disabilities Act by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and by some intermediate level federal appellate courts. Regardless of whether the Supreme Court or Congress ultimately decide such policies are illegal, oftentimes a person with an injury that requires surgery and time off from work is going to have some permanent restrictions.

    Many times requests that an employee return to work without restrictions are sent after an employee exhausts their 12 weeks of FMLA. Oftentimes employers will extend a short amount of unpaid leave in addition to FMLA. When injured employees receive these letters many of them feel like their company is trying to push them out. This feeling can sometimes be correct. That’s why it is helpful to have an attorney who knows how workers compensation and employment laws intersect.

  3. Employer suggests that employee apply for private disability for a work injury: Private short-term (STD) and long-term disability (LTD) policies can be helpful to employees. Some policies even allow employees to collect both LTD and STD with workers compensation benefits.

    But some employers will push employee onto disability because it is cheaper than paying workers compensation benefits. Even more insidiously if an employee stays off work long enough that they are eligible for long term disability, some long-term disability policies require that employees apply for social security disability or SSDI in order to continue receiving LTD. Many of these policies hold if an employee receives SSDI they need to payback the LTD insurance company for the time that SSDI and LTD benefits overlapped.

    I ran into a policy like this representing a client in a disability discrimination case. Courts have questioned the legality of these policies as well. If you are stuck in a situation where you are applying for long term disability because of a work injury and being forced to apply for SSDI, you should consult with a lawyer who is familiar with workers compensation and SSDI.

Why an Obscure Securities Law Case Could Affect SSDI

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

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) cases are largely decided by administrative law judges (ALJs). A decision questioning the role of ALJs in another area of the law could cause some major complications for SSDI applicants and SSDI beneficiaries.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently set aside a conviction for securities fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) because the ALJ who decided the case should have been appointed under the Appointments Clause rather than hired by the SEC. The 10th Circuit’s decision directly conflicts with a recent decision made by the District of Columbia  Circuit Court of Appeals, which means the U.S. Supreme Court could take up the issue.

This matters to SSDI applicants, their attorneys and even present SSDI beneficiaries because the vast majority of administrative law judges, roughly 1,200 of 1,400, have been hired by the Social Security Administration to hear Social Security Disability appeals. Similar to ALJs from the SEC, ALJs who hear SSDI appeals are hired on merit and are federal employees.

If the U.S. Supreme Court followed the recent 10th Circuit decision and applied it to ALJs who heard Social Security Disability appeals, at least 1,200 ALJs would have to be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. This could lead to further delays and uncertainty related to SSDI appeals. If the 10th Circuit decision were applied to SSDI judges, it is uncertain as to whether awards of disability would still be valid if they were made by unconstitutionally chosen ALJs. In 2014, in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, the Supreme Court held that the NLRB’s decision made by commissioners who were appointed by constitutionally invalid recess appointments was invalid.

The Social Security Administration has recently moved to abolish the treating physician rule in an effort to decrease claim payments. Uncertainty over whether the awards of SSDI benefits are constitutional would add additional hurdles to those needing SSDI benefits. If you are applying for Social Security Disability or thinking about it, contact an experienced attorney. Also, contact your lawmakers to express your concerns about the SSDI system to them.

Why I Am Thankful – Two Photographs

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

Recently I took photographs of two men who remind me of why I am thankful every day. One man is sitting in a wheelchair at a restaurant, with his right hand in a contorted position and he is being fed by another person. The other man, also in a restaurant, is in shorts and is holding a small child in his arms.  But something is missing – his right leg – he has a flesh colored prosthetic device as a substitute.

I have spent a lifetime helping disabled people and I have never heard any of them say “You know, Mr. Jernigan, when I got up to go to work that day, I knew I was going to be severely injured and my life would change forever.” We never know when life will take a turn like that. We never know when we will lose our independence and sometimes our dignity. Fortunately, that day will never come for most of us. But it could.

When I think about the man in the wheelchair and the man holding his child, I think how lucky I am, and I am thankful each and every day. 

Exoskeletons and the Workplace

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

Due to Japan’s rapidly aging demographics, they are using exoskeletons to make older workers more productive in heavy-labor jobs.

“’We expect that exoskeletons, or power-assist suits, will be widely used in people’s lives in 15 years,’ said Panasonic spokesperson Mio Yamanaka, who is based in Osaka, Japan, as quoted by Tech Review.”

“The suit, which weighs just over 13 pounds and attaches to the back, thighs, and feet, allows its wearer to carry an additional 33 pounds,” according to the Business Insider article. Industries that have tested the suit in Japan include warehouse handlers and forestry workers. Another suit in testing that’s larger “could help workers carry up to 220 pounds.”

I see some upsides and downsides to this trend:

Positives:

  1. This preserves manual-labor jobs. The human brain is still more sophisticated than a computer when it comes to having the skills to perform many tasks. Robotically enhanced humans might preserve human labor.
  2. It’s potentially easier to accommodate injured and disabled employees. There might be fewer workers’ compensation payments, but employers may find it harder to fire injured workers.  Not having an exoskeleton available for injured or disabled employees could be considered discrimination.
  3. Less discrimination against older workers would occur when physical limitations are decreased.

Negatives:

  1. Using an exoskeleton opens the potential of abuse by employers. The machines may push production workers to perform their duties even faster. Employees may still have injuries or maybe even develop new work-related injuries from using exoskeletons.
  2. Are exoskeletons really safe? Who is responsible if they cause injury?

In summary, if you or a loved one have questions about current workplace trends as they apply to injured workers, please contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer.

Do I Have a Wrongful Termination Claim?

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

Assuming you do not have an employment contract, you can only claim wrongful termination if the firing was motivated by certain unlawful reasons. Unlawful reasons include discrimination based on sex or gender – this includes sexual harassment and pregnancy – as well as race, religion, nationality and disability. In certain places and in certain situations, sexual orientation discrimination can also be unlawful. Disability in this context will often mean any serious or chronic health condition you have. Disability discrimination can also mean that you are taking care of someone with a disability.

You also cannot be discriminated against by your employer for certain activities on the job. This is commonly referred to as retaliation. One of these activities is taking extended leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for your own or for a loved one’s medical condition. Other common protected activities include opposing unlawful discrimination; filing a safety complaint; filing a workers’ compensation complaint; complaining of pay practices; or complaining about other illegal activities. If you are a government employee, you might also have some claims based on constitutional law. 

Essentially, not all terminations are unlawful. But if your situation fits into the categories described above, then be sure to contact an experienced employment attorney. In addition, it is wise to ask for advice about applying for unemployment, even if there’s not a wrongful termination case.

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.