HR Tip: Employees cannot decline FMLA leave even when a collective bargaining agreement says otherwise

In March 2019, the DOL issued an opinion letter that neither an employee nor an employer may decline FMLA leave when an eligible employee is absent for an FMLA-qualifying reason. The letter noted this is particularly true even if the employee wants the employer to delay the designation of FMLA leave.

Apparently, this created confusion in union environments where there is a collective bargaining agreement that allows the employee to use paid leave first and then use FMLA leave after paid leave is exhausted. In a new opinion letter , the DOL made it clear that an employer still may not delay designating paid leave as FMLA leave even if the delay otherwise complies with a collective bargaining agreement.

The bottom line is that in all cases once the employer has sufficient information to determine that an employee’s leave is covered by the FMLA, it must designate the leave as FMLA leave.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

NIOSH checklist helps companies evaluate the effectiveness of Hearing Loss Prevention Programs

Although much has been done to reduce hearing hazards in the workplace, occupational hearing loss is still the number one reported worker illness in manufacturing. Every day noises are more dangerous than some workers think and it’s estimated 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise each year. A few examples: a jack hammer is 105 dBA, a forklift in a warehouse is 96 dBA, a leaf blower is 90 dBA.

Almost all Hearing Loss Prevention Programs (HLPP) require six elements: the measurement of noise levels, the implementation of noise controls, hearing tests, training of workers, the provision of hearing protection equipment, and recordkeeping. Yet, there were no agreed-upon standards about how to evaluate such programs.

In 2017, Researchers at the University of Washington, University of Michigan, and Yale University completed a NIOSH-funded study to evaluate the effectiveness of individual elements of industrial hearing loss prevention programs. The researchers examined programs at 14 facilities operated by a single US metals manufacturing company. Using the results of this evaluation, the researchers developed a hearing loss prevention program checklist to allow program managers and staff to assess their own programs in two ways. First, they can assess compliance with program requirements from OSHA. Second, they can assess the extent to which they are employing best practices identified by the researchers, as well as NIOSH and other agencies and organization.

They also developed a calculator that allows facilities to estimate the cost of their HLPP, both overall and by program element. Both tools can be found here.

The effects of employee hearing loss are costly to the employer and devastating to workers. The risk of injuries on the job increase, productivity is reduced, communication ability declines, and other health problems can arise.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Seven ways to improve Workplace Health Promotion Programs for all-sized employers

While workplace wellness programs began as a niche industry, they eventually morphed into comprehensive programs for worksites of all sizes. They’re touted as an effective business strategy to improve the health and productivity of workers, reduce health care costs, attract new employees, and retain existing ones.

Studies of wellness programs have produced conflicting results. Some find that the programs are a good investment with a 3 -1 return, while others have found they may change certain behaviors, but don’t improve job performance. Although the result vary, there’s a common thread – utilization did not live up to expectations.

A recent study, “Availability of and Participation in Workplace Health Promotion Programs (WHPP) by Sociodemographic, Occupation, and Work Organization Characteristics in US Workers” by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that just under half of employees have access to them and among those who do have access, just about half utilize them. The study found that although approximately 47 percent of workers have access to WHPPs, only 58 percent of those with access actually participate. That’s roughly one in every four workers.

Occupations such as farming, fishing, forestry, food preparation and serving, construction, and extraction had the lowest availability of WHPP’s and workers in these occupations were also the least likely to participate in the programs. Workers who worked less than 20 hours a week, worked regular night shifts, were paid by the hour, or worked for temporary agencies were also less likely to participate. Researchers also identified barriers that keep workers from participating, including time constraints, lack of awareness, low supervisory support, and perceived need, but noted such barriers vary by industry.

The report concludes that employers should gauge workers’ priorities before designing and implementing WHPPs to customize programs to their employees’ specific needs and maximize participation. Another recent survey by Future Workplace and View sought to identify which wellness perks were most important to workers and how these perks impact productivity.

The results were surprising. It was not fitness facilities or technology-based health tools that topped the list, but air quality and natural light. Air quality and light were the biggest influencers of employee performance, happiness and wellbeing. Only 1 in 4 of the 1,600 employees surveyed say the air quality in their office is optimal for them to do their best work and nearly one-half say the quality of air makes them sleepy. In the number three spot was water quality, followed by comfortable temperatures, then acoustics and noise levels.

Just as people want to have a personalized consumer experience, employees want to be able to customize their work environment – control the temperature, mask noise, have natural light and so on. It’s not as impossible as it sounds. Cisco, for example, has managed the acoustic levels in their space by creating a floor plan without assigned seating that includes neighborhoods of workspaces designed specifically for employees collaborating in person, remotely, or those who choose to work alone. Similar arrangements can be made for temperature and light.

Here are seven steps employers can take to improve their results:

  1. Make WHPPs employee-centric. Complement the workplace health assessment with a survey of your employees to determine their workplace wellness priorities and tailor or modify the program accordingly.
  2. Integrate WHPPs with workplace safety programs. The synergistic possibilities of integrating common safety issues such as work schedules, workplace culture, ergonomics, substance exposures, noise levels, fatigue, and so on with the wellness program are significant.
  3. Personalize as much as possible. Employees expect the ability to personalize their workspace. More workers expect the company that employs them to take their well-being into account in all aspects of work.
  4. Recognize that workplace wellness is more than physical health. Studies show that most worksite health programs focus on physical activity, nutrition, and stress management. Environmental factors such as air, light, temperature, and acoustics are overlooked.
  5. Recognize the challenge of changing human behavior. Personal behaviors, including health and safety, are very difficult to change. They are embedded in routines and habits. It’s going to take time, effort, and reinforcement and there will be setbacks. Employees who are cynical and are distrustful of their employer will not be committed.
  6. Give employees a sense of ownership. Much like a culture of safety, employees must buy into a culture of wellness. Consider a wellness committee from a cross-section of departments and employees to provide input and drive participation.
  7. Monitor employee satisfaction. While employers often struggle with measuring the ROI of WHPPs, common factors include health care costs, absenteeism, disability claims, and workers’ comp claims. It’s important to incorporate “soft” measures such as satisfaction and morale.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Things you should know

NSC offers free toolkit to fight opioid abuse

The National Safety Council (NSC) is offering a free toolkit to help employers address the opioid crisis. The Opioids at Work Employer Toolkit addresses warning signs of opioid misuse, identifying employee impairment, strategies to help employers educate workers on opioid use risks, drug-related human resources policies, and how to support employees struggling with opioid misuse.

Workplaces most common site of mass shootings: Secret Service report

In its second Mass Attacks in Public Spaces report, the Secret Service examined 27 incidents in 18 states that involved harming three or more people. Most occurred in workplaces (20) and were “motivated by a personal grievance related to a workplace, domestic or other issue.”

Worker participation key to preventing safety accidents: CSB

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) published a new safety digest discussing the importance of worker participation to avoid chemical mishaps. The report outlines how the shortage of worker engagement was a factor in various incidents examined by the CSB.

2018 guidelines more effective in preventing carpal tunnel: NIOSH

Previous studies showed that the 2001 American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) Threshold Limit Value (TLV) for Hand Activity was not sufficiently protective for workers at risk of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and led to a revision of the TLV and Action Limit in 2018. A new study compares the effectiveness of the 2018 and 2001 guidelines, concluding that the 2018 revision of the TLV better protects workers from CTS.

NIOSH notes that many workers are exposed to forceful repetitive hand activity above the guidelines and urges compliance with the updated guidelines.

First aid provisions in workers’ compensation statutes and regulations: NCCI

The National Council on Compensation Insurance, Inc. (NCCI) has compiled state statutes and regulations related to First Aid in Workers’ Comp. The document does not include review or analysis of the statute or regulation, of relevant caselaw, or other guidance and is subject to change.

Mandatory treatment guidelines may lead to fewer back surgeries

States with mandatory use of medical treatment guidelines in utilization review, reimbursement and dispute resolution may lead to lower rates of lumbar decompression surgery among workers with low back pain, according to a new report by the Workers Compensation Research Institute.

The 27 states in the study include Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Engineered-stone fabrication workers at risk of severe lung disease

Exposure to silica dust from cutting and grinding engineered stone countertops has caused severe lung disease in workers in California and three other states. The CDC released information on cases in Washington, California, Colorado and Texas in an article published in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. According to the article, 18 cases of silicosis were identified in the four states from 2017 – 2019. Two of those workers died from the illness.

Campbell Institute offers a guide on how to get started with leading indicators

An Implementation Guide to Leading Indicators is intended to help employers initiate the process when implementing leading indicators for the first time.

Annual wind energy safety campaign focuses on hands

The American Wind Energy Association will offer several free resources in October as part of its annual month-long safety awareness campaign aimed at helping protect renewable energy workers from on-the-job injuries. The theme of the 2019 campaign is Take a Hand in Safety: Protect These Tools.

NIOSH releases international travel planner for small businesses

The 36-page travel planner is a new resource intended to help small-business owners ensure the health and safety of employees who travel internationally.

State News

California

  • Governor Newsom has signed two bills relating to workers’ comp. A.B. 1804 will require the immediate reporting of serious occupational injury, illness, or death to the Department of Industrial Relations’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health. A.B. 1805, modifies the definition of “serious injury or illness” by removing the 24-hour minimum time requirement for qualifying hospitalizations, excluding those for medical observation or diagnostic testing, and explicitly including the loss of an eye as a qualifying injury for the new reporting requirements. Both bills will take effect Jan. 1, 2020.
  • Legislators approved a landmark bill that requires companies like Uber and Lyft to treat contract workers as employees. The Governor is expected to sign it after it goes through the State Assembly. Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash have vowed to fight it.
  • Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara approved the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau’s annual regulatory filing that will, among other things, lower the threshold for experience rating.
  • The Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) announced that the temporary total disability rate will increase 3.8% next year, not more than 6% as the agency previously announced.
  • The DWC has issued an order modifying its evidence-based treatment guidelines for work-related hip and groin disorders. Effective October 7, 2019, the changes involved two addendums to the workers’ compensation medical treatment utilization schedule and incorporate the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine’s most recent hip and groin disorders guidelines.
  • The DWC launched an updated free online education course for physicians treating patients in the workers’ compensation system.

Illinois

  • Beginning July 1, 2020, hotels and casinos will be required to have anti-sexual harassment policies that include, for certain workers, access to a safety button or notification device that alerts security staff under the newly created Hotel and Casino Employee Safety Act.
  • Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation requiring freight trains operating in the state to have at least two crew members, challenging the Federal Railroad Administration’s recent effort to prevent states from regulating train crew sizes. Scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2020, S.B.24 is to be known as Public Act 101-0294.

Minnesota

  • Department of Labor and Industry has posted new workers’ compensation medical fee schedules that took effect Oct. 1. The schedules update reimbursement for ambulatory surgery centers, hospital inpatient, and outpatient services, and provide new resource-based relative values for providers.
  • The workplace fatality rate in Minnesota grew to 3.5 per 100,000 full-time workers in 2017, the highest rate in at least a decade, according to new data from the Safety Council. Almost one in three fatal workplace injuries involved driving a vehicle.

North Carolina

  • The Industrial Commission announced that the maximum for temporary and permanent total disability will go from its current level of $1,028 to $1,066, starting Jan. 1.

Pennsylvania

Tennessee

  • New rules for medical payments went into effect September 10, 2019. Not only are reimbursement rates increasing for providers and hospitals, but the conversion factor may now “float” or follow Medicare’s changes, rather than being fixed.
  • The NCCI is recommending a 9.5% decrease in loss costs for the voluntary market in 2020, a figure that’s half of what the rating organization recommended for this year.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

OSHA’s Top 10 violations: three action steps for employers

For the ninth consecutive year, Fall Protection – General Requirements is the most frequently cited standard, OSHA announced at the 2019 National Safety Council Congress & Expo. The rest of the preliminary list of the Top 10 violations for fiscal year 2019 also remained largely unchanged from FY 2018, with one minor change. Lockout/Tagout, which ranked fifth in FY 2018, advanced to No. 4, trading places with Respiratory Protection.The data, which covers violations cited from October 1, 2018 through August 31, 2019, is preliminary, and therefore, the numbers may change. However, the ranking is likely to remain consistent when the final numbers are released later this year.

Here are the top 10 violations:

  1. Fall Protection (construction) – General Requirements (1926.501) – 6,010 violationsCommon violations included failure to provide fall protection near unprotected sides or edges and on both low-slope and steep roofs. Roofing, framing, masonry and new single-family housing construction contractors were among the most frequently cited. Although the fall protection standard was updated in 2016, some experts suggest it will take several years for employers to get the necessary facility updates into their budgetary cycle.
  2. Hazard Communication (1910.1200) – 3,671 violationsConsidered low-hanging fruit for inspectors, hazard communication has been #2 for several years. Lack of a written program, inadequate training, and failure to properly develop or maintain safety data sheets (SDSs) are common citations. Auto repair facilities and painting contractors were among the industries that received many hazard communication citations.
  3. Scaffolding (construction) – General Requirements (1926.451) – 2, 813 violationsMasonry, siding, and framing contractors are the most commonly cited employers for this violation. Lack of proper decking, failure to provide guardrails where required, and failure to ensure that scaffolds are adequately supported on a solid foundation are common violations.
  4. Lockout/Tagout (1910.147) – 2, 606 violationsEmployers cited under this standard failed to establish an energy control procedure, did not train employees in proper lockout/tagout procedures, failed to conduct periodic evaluations of procedures, and failed to use lockout/tagout devices or equipment. Plastics manufacturers, machine shops, and sawmills were frequently cited.
  5. Respiratory protection (29 CFR 1910.134) – 2,450 violationsCitations related to failure to fit test, establish a program, and medically evaluate employees who wore respirators were common violations issued. Auto body refinishing, painting contractors, masonry contractors, and wall covering contractors received many citations.
  6. Ladders (construction) (1926.1053) – 2,345 violationsLadders continued to be a common violation in the roofing, siding, framing and painting trades. Frequent violations include, ladders with structural defects, failure to have siderails extend three feet beyond a landing surface, using ladders for unintended purposes, using the top rung of a step ladder, and ladders with structural defects.
  7. Powered Industrial Trucks (1910.178) – 2,093 violationsForklift violations dominated this standard, including deficient or damaged forklifts that were not removed from service, failure to safely operate a forklift, operators who had not been trained or certified to operate a forklift, and failure to recertify forklift drivers and evaluate every three years. Violations were widespread across many industries, but particularly prominent in warehousing and storage facilities and fabricated and structural metal manufacturing.
  8. Fall Protection (construction) – Training Requirements (1926.503) – 1,773 violationsViolations of this standard include failing to provide training to each person required to receive it, failure to certify training in writing, inadequacies in training leading to the failure of retention by the trainee, and failing to retrain in instances where the trainee failed to retain the training content.
  9. Machine Guarding (1910.212) – 1,743 violationsWhile cited in many industries, machine shops and fabricated metal manufacturing saw many citations for failing to ensure that guards are securely attached to machinery, improper guarding of fan blades, and failure to properly anchor fixed machinery.
  10. Personal protective and lifesaving equipment (construction) – eye and face protection (29 CFR 1926.102) – 1,411Appearing on the list for the first time in FY 2018, this standard includes failing to provide eye and face protection where employees are exposed to hazards from flying objects, failing to provide protection from caustic hazards, gases, and vapors, and failing to provide eye protection with side protection. Violations were concentrated in the housing industry, with roofers, house framers and other contractors cited often.

Three action steps for employers

With little variation from year-to-year, this list is a reminder to employers that the same violations are putting employees at risk and costing employers thousands of dollars in citations. Here are three steps to take:

  1. Drill down to your industryEmployers can drill down even further and look at the most frequently cited Federal or State OSHA standards by industry for a specified 6-digit North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code. If your facility is inspected, there’s a very good chance it will include these issues.
  2. Be strategicA common approach is to conduct walk throughs, which can be helpful to identify new or previously missed hazards and failures in hazard controls. However, this is reactionary, not strategic. OSHA states, “an effective occupational safety and health program will include the following four main elements: management commitment and employee involvement, worksite analysis, hazard prevention and control, and safety and health training.” Having a risk management approach is the best possible defense.
  3. Continually reinforce training and commitment to safetyLearning does not start and stop with training. Safe practices have to be practiced and applied to be lasting. While most workers know not to stand on the top rung of a step ladder, it happens because they are in a hurry, careless, or not paying attention. Signage, toolbox talks, digital reminders all help; but most important is effective leadership and employee engagement. When managers enforce the safety rules and stand behind them 100%, workers understand it’s important to their health and well-being and are empowered to take ownership of their own and other’s safety.Further, employee complaints triggered 41% of the unprogrammed inspections and over 23% of all inspections. Employees who feel safe at work and believe the employer cares about their safety, are less likely to file a complaint.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Things you should know

Studies and reports:

The Relationship of the Amount of Physical Therapy to Time Lost From Work and Costs in the Workers’ Compensation System – Journal of Occupational Medicine

Finding: Injured workers who take time off work to recover, and whose treatment includes more than 15 sessions of physical therapy, are out of the workforce longer and are six times more likely to cost more.

Suicide and drug-related mortality following occupational injury – American Journal of Industrial Medicine

Finding: Workplace injury significantly raises a person’s risk of suicide or overdose death.

Fatal occupational injuries to independent workers – BLS

Finding: Fatalities among independent workers accounted for about 12% of all workplace deaths in 2016-2017, and independent workers have a disproportionately higher share of fatalities due to falls, slips and trips.

Interstate Variations in Dispensing of Opioids, 5th Edition – Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI)

Finding: In 27 states, fewer injured workers received opioids recently as compared with previous years. But, injured workers continue to be treated for pain, as non-opioid pain medications (e.g., NSAIDs) increased to a lesser degree and non-pharmacologic treatments (e.g., physical therapy) without pain medication were more frequently provided.

The effects of sleep on workplace cognitive failure and safety (Construction) – Oregon Healthy Workforce Center

Finding: Among construction workers, there is a connection between poor quality sleep and the risk of workplace incidents and injuries.

Calories Purchased by Hospital Employees After Implementation of a Cafeteria Traffic Light-Labeling and Choice Architecture Program – Massachusetts General Hospital

Finding: Implementation of a traffic light-labeling and choice architecture program was associated with a 6.2% decrease in calories per transaction over 2 years, including a 23.0% decrease in calories from the least healthy food.

Drug trends: Evaluating Opioids – Coventry

Finding: The prescribing of drugs meant to treat opioid use disorder increased 5.4% in 2018 among workers compensation claims and 1.8% of claims with high doses of opioids received naloxone – an anti-overdose medication – at almost double the amount from 2017.

2019 RIMS Benchmark Survey – Business Insurance

Finding: The average total cost of risk for businesses rose by 2.1% in 2018, reversing four years of declines.

Workplace Secondhand Tobacco Smoke Exposure Among U.S. Nonsmoking Workers, 2015 – CDC

Finding: Nearly 1 out of 5 workers are exposed to secondhand smoke on the job. Results identify industries most at risk.

Commercial motor vehicle brake inspection event set for Sept. 15 – 21

Commercial motor vehicle inspectors throughout North America will perform brake system examinations Sept. 15-21 during the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s annual Brake Safety Week. While special emphasis will be placed on brake hoses and tubing, inspectors also will be looking for other critical non-brake-related violations.

State News

California

  • The Workers Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau (WCIRB) proposed that the Jan. 1, 2020 rates be about 5.4% lower than the current advisory pure premium rates, or $1.58 per $100 of payroll.
  • WCRIB’s X-Mod estimator is now available for 2020 at https://www.wcirb.com/estimator.

Florida

  • National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) filed a proposed 5.4% rate decrease with the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, effective January 1, 2020.

Minnesota

  • The Department of Labor and Industry has adopted an expedited rulemaking process, and has published new rules governing treatment and compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder in first responders.

Missouri

  • Department of Labor and Industrial Relations has adopted several new rule changes regarding administrative law judges, review applications and more.

Nebraska

  • Hospitals, insurers, self-insured employers, risk-management pools and third-party administrators can now make reports electronically. FAQ’s are on the website.

Virginia

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Legal Corner

ADA

Employer can require reassessment of restrictions

In Booth v. Nissan North America Inc., the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals found that Nissan did not violate the ADA when it required an employee on its assembly line to have a doctor review his restrictions to determine if they could be adjusted to allow him to perform more tasks. The company had accommodated the job restrictions for some time and then restructured the assembly line to include more tasks. When the employee claimed this would violate his job restrictions, the company asked him to get a new assessment and the doctor cleared him to perform the tasks. An employee under a work restriction does not have an automatic right to a preferred position or to prevent having the restriction re-evaluated from time to time, based on the legitimate business needs of the employer.

FMLA

Employer can ask employee to explain misconduct while on FMLA leave

While employers can’t make an employee on FMLA leave do work or participate in on-call activities, the 3rd Circuit Court held that they can insist upon a prompt response to allegations of misconduct, including serious breaches of policy as in Reagan v. Centre LifeLink Emergency Medical Services Inc. Prior to her leave, the employee had started her own business that competed with LifeLink. When the company found out, they required her to sign a non-compete agreement to continue employment. While the employee was on FMLA leave for a non-work-related injury, her supervisor discovered several breaches of the non-compete agreement.

The general counsel sent a letter to the employee requesting explanations within 10 days for the apparent violations. The employee responded by email one day after the due date and did not address the concerns, but said she was seeking legal counsel. The company immediately fired her and she sued in federal court, claiming that LifeLink interfered with her rights under the FMLA. LifeLink filed a motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of the claim, which the district court granted.

Workers’ Compensation

Injured worker receives $630,000 in damages on disability and retaliation claim – California

In an unpublished decision, Abarca v. Citizens of Humanity LLC, the 2nd DCA upheld an award of $630,000 in damages to an injured worker on his disability discrimination and retaliation claim. When he experienced pain, he was referred to HR, but was not advised to fill out a claim form. When a doctor imposed restrictions, he was fired. He sued asserting retaliation, disability discrimination, wrongful termination, and other violations of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. A second doctor diagnosed him with degenerative disk disease, insomnia, anxiety, and depression and opined he was temporarily totally disabled.

Question of Social Security eligibility nixes PTD for injured worker – Florida

In SBCR Inc. v. Dos, an appellate court overturned an award of PTD for an injured worker when he turned 62. A JCC had awarded the benefits believing the employee did not meet the requirements for Social Security disability to have at least 40 quarters of coverage by age 62. The worker stated his injury prevented him from working enough, but provided no documentation of his denial. Therefore, the court found there was not enough evidence to support the JCC’s award.

Widow denied death benefits for husband’s auto accident – Massachusetts

In Yang’s Case, an appellate court upheld earlier rulings that a business owner’s death in an auto accident was not work related. The case demonstrates the complexity of intertwined businesses as the deceased owned a business in Massachusetts, which had comp coverage and one in New Hampshire that did not. Despite being a separate company in a separate state with no connection other than ownership, the company’s finances were entwined.

When the NH company failed, he closed it. He was traveling to NH to meet with a prospective buyer of the property when the accident occurred. The court agreed with earlier rulings that he was traveling to serve his personal interests.

State supreme court overturns benefits for Ex-NFL player with head trauma – Minnesota

In Noga v. Minnesota Vikings Football Club, a former defensive linesman for the Minnesota Vikings, was denied compensation for dementia arising from head trauma because the statute of limitations had passed. The ruling reversed an award of total permanent disability benefits. He stopped playing football in 1994 and was awarded comp for orthopedic injuries in 2004. At the time, the doctor identified neurological issues, including blackouts and headaches, which could be attributed to injuries incurred while playing for the Vikings.

He became legally blind and was diagnosed with dementia in 2011 and filed a comp claim for the head injuries in 2015. The six-year statute of limitations had passed since both Noga and the Vikings knew of the issue in 2004, but Noga argued the team waived the statute of limitations because they acknowledged he had a neurological health issue when they treated him while playing. The supreme court disagreed.

Court of appeals revives teacher’s case for benefits for fall injuries – Missouri

In Maral Annayeva v SAB of the TSD of the City of St. Louis, an ALJ and the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission denied benefits for a teacher who fell after entering the building. The denial was based on the employee’s credibility and medical opinions based on subjective descriptions, as well as the questioning of her attorney. Although she initially described the floor as “normal,” upon questioning by her attorney she mentioned dirt, ice, dust and moisture.

The court of appeals reversed and remanded the commission’s decision, finding there was no conflicting evidence or testimony to dispute the employee’s statements about the condition of the floor. The court ruled the employee’s injury did arise out of her employment because she was required to walk the hall each day to clock in, thus, she was exposed to the inherent condition of the employer’s workplace.

Lack of English skills not sufficient reason to excuse compliance with the notice statute – New York

In Matter of Nukicic v. McLane Northeast, an appellate court found that the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) acted within its statutory powers when it found that a worker failed to provide the employer with the required notice of injury. The truck driver, who was not proficient in English, told two supervisors that he had pain in his knee and that a physician placed him “off work” for a short period. However, he never connected the pain to his work.

Heart attack after dealing with difficult customers did not arise out of an in course of employment – New York

In Issayou v Issayuou Inc, the owner of a hair salon sustained a heart attack minutes after dealing with difficult customers. The WCB found the employer’s medical expert, who concluded the condition was advanced, triple vessel, obstructive coronary artery disease, most credible. The appellate court agreed and also noted that the level of stress faced by the salon owner was no greater than that experienced by other similar workers.

Paralysis from car accident not compensable – North Carolina

In Bache v. Tic-Gulf Coast, the Court of Appeals affirmed an Industrial Commission’s finding that a traveling worker was not in the course and scope of his employment when he was in a car accident that took place after he had dinner and a beer. The employee, who lived in Florida, worked for a company that had been contracted to perform construction at a power plant in Wayne County. He received an hourly rate and a per diem rate to cover duplicate living expenses.

While driving home from a restaurant after work, he was in a single car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. He had a blood alcohol level of 0.10. He filed for comp benefits, arguing he was a traveling employee and that state law provides that “employees whose work requires travel away from the employer’s premises are within the course of their employment continuously during such travel.”

However, an appellate court upheld earlier rulings denying benefits. He was living locally and his job was conditional on his moving to North Carolina for the two-year project. It was unlike a business trip and the travel was entirely personal.

Rare comp and tort claim net settlement of over $9 million – North Carolina

A temp employee who was assigned to work for a manufacturer as a janitor suffered severe burns over most of his body in an explosion. Initially, the temp agency was identified as the employer, but when an issue of negligence was raised, the plant argued that the worker was a joint employee of the factory and of the temp agency and it was protected by the exclusive remedy of workers’ comp.

However, the contract between the plant and the temp agency clearly stated that the temp agency was to be considered the employer. Therefore, the tort claim against the plant could proceed. Mediation and reports from expert witnesses showed the factory had violated its own safety policies and was vulnerable to a negligence claim and heavy damages. The tort claim was settled for $8 million and the workers’ comp carrier agreed to waive the subrogation lien and pay a settlement of $1.25 million.

The terms of the settlement require that the names of the factory, its insurer and the worker be kept confidential.

Bank teller’s carpal tunnel not compensable – Pennsylvania

In Elsa Olivo v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board et. al., the Commonwealth Court affirmed the ruling of an WCJ and the WCAB that a bank teller failed to prove that her work caused her carpal tunnel. She had worked as a teller for eight years and spent about 25% of the time counting money and sought total disability after being diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists.

Two examining doctors opined that she was able to return to work with no restrictions and an IME found that she exaggerated her symptoms. One of the doctors noted “for something to be deemed work-related carpal tunnel it would have to be something that involves a high force, (high) torque vibration situation…bank teller not being one of them.”

Violation of restraint policy does not nix benefits – Tennessee

While a residential treatment facility argued an employee violated its policies, the Supreme Court’s Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board ruled he was entitled to benefits for an injury he sustained while trying to restrain a patient because he did not willfully violate the policy. Further, it was noted the facility failed to show they engaged in a serious enforcement of the policy.

In Tennessee Clinical School v. Johns, a relatively new employee was asked to stay beyond his shift and get a group of teenage boys up for breakfast. One boy resisted, and when a scuffle occurred, the employee attempted to restrain the boy and seriously injured his shoulder. The court found the restraint policy was not a “hard and fast rule” and permitted restraining actions if a resident posed a threat.

Psychological injuries from assault compensable – Tennessee

In Natchez Trace Youth Academy v. Tidwell, the Supreme Court affirmed a trial court’s disability finding and monetary award to an employee, who was injured by a youth living at the residential treatment facility where he worked. His facial injuries required plastic surgery. Following a week’s time off, he returned to light duty with the stipulation he would not have to interact with the residents.

However, when staff did not arrive to replace him he was required to wake up the children. He began to experience anxiety and depression. Although he was released for full duty work without restrictions, it was unclear if this was just for his physical injuries. He did not contact the Academy and they considered him to have abandoned his position.

A trial court ruled he suffered an injury and developed depression and PTSD as a result of the incident and required a psychiatric evaluation before returning to work. The court awarded him nearly $100,000 in disability as well as additional unpaid temporary total disability benefits.

Two-cause rule does not apply to cases involving dissimilar disabilities – Virginia

In Virginia,when a work-related disability combines with a nonwork-related disability to prevent the employee from working, the entire total disability is the responsibility of the employer under the “two-cause” rule. In Carrington v. Aquatic Co., a long-term employee suffered from preexisting kidney disease that did not affect his ability to work. In a work-related accident, he injured his arm and received comp benefits. He was cleared to return to light duty, which he did.

Shortly thereafter, his kidney condition deteriorated such that he was unable to work and filed for TD benefits, arguing the two-cause rule should apply. He died during the appeals process which led to the state Supreme Court. It upheld lower rulings that the sole cause of his total disability, was his kidney failure that was unrelated to his employment. The key question was which injury kept him from working at all – thus rendering him totally disabled. Further, the compensable arm injury did not contribute to his kidney deterioration.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

OSHA watch

Comments sought on possible revision to silica standard

request for information was published August 15 in the Federal Register for input on potential revisions to Table 1 of the respirable crystalline silica standard for construction. Table 1 includes the task or equipment, engineering / work practice control methods, and required respiratory protection / minimum assigned protection factors for all shifts. The deadline to comment is Oct. 15.

New webpage on leading indicators

A new webpage is aimed at helping employers use leading indicators to improve their health and safety programs.

Employers reminded to submit Form 300A data

media release reminds employers who have not already done so to submit their 2018 Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses (Form300A). The deadline was March 2.

Access FREE electronic OSHA 300 Recordkeeping Software that creates the OSHA required data transmission file for online reporting here.

New way to track OIG recommendations

The Department of Labor Office of Inspector General has launched a Recommendation Dashboard website showing the status of its 235 recommendations for 12 agencies, including OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Recent fines and awards

California

  • Garden Films Productions LLC, based in Culver City, was cited for failing to protect employees from hazards while filming a movie in Norcross, Georgia and faces penalties of $9,472.

Florida

  • L N Framing Inc. was cited for exposing employees to fall hazards at a Jacksonville worksite and faces $58,343 in penalties.
  • Point Blank Enterprises Inc., operating as The Protective Group in Miami Lakes, was cited for exposing employees to amputation and other safety hazards and faces $92,820 in penalties.
  • Brad McDonald Roofing & Construction Inc. was cited for exposing employees to fall and other safety hazards at two construction sites in Lutz and Palmetto. The residential and commercial roofing work company faces $274,215 in penalties.

Georgia

  • Atlanta Kitchen LLC was cited for exposing employees to amputation, silica, and other safety and health hazards at its Decatur manufacturing facility. The countertop manufacturer faces $132,604 in penalties.

New York

  • Arbre Group Holding, doing business as Holli-Pac Inc., was cited for willful and serious violations of workplace safety and health standards at its Holley facility. The company, which packages frozen fruits and vegetables for retailers, faces a total of $200,791 in penalties.

Indiana

  • Five Star Roofing Systems Inc., based in Hartford City, was cited for repeatedly exposing employees to fall hazards while performing roofing work at a commercial building site in Lake Barrington, Illinois. The company faces $220,249 in penalties.

Missouri

  • H. Berra Construction Co., based in St. Louis, was cited for exposing employees to excavation and trenching hazards at a residential construction site in Saint Charles, and faces penalties of $143,206.
  • Missouri Cooperage Company LLC, a subsidiary of Independent Stave Company, was cited for exposing employees to amputation, noise, and other safety and health hazards at the spirits and wine barrel-making facility in Lebanon, and faces $413,370 in penalties.

Pennsylvania

  • A federal judge in the U.S. District Court has awarded $1,047,399 in lost wages and punitive damages to two former employees of a Montgomeryville-based manufacturer, Lloyd Industries, after a jury found the company and its owner fired them in retaliation for their participation in a federal safety investigation.
  • New Finish Construction, LLC, based in Fairchance, must pay $25,000 in fines for safety violations that led lead to the death of a worker. An ALJ of OSHRC affirmed two citations relating to working near energized sources, but vacated three citations and their accompanying penalties.

Tennessee

  • The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was ordered to reinstate a former employee who was placed on paid administrative leave, and then later terminated in retaliation for raising nuclear safety concerns and pay $123,460 in back wages and interest, and $33,835 in compensatory damages, as well as attorney fees.

Wisconsin

  • Choice Products USA LLC was cited for continually exposing employees to machine safety hazards at the cookie dough manufacturing facility in Eau Claire. The company faces $782,526 in penalties, and was placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

For additional information.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

HR Tip: DOL opinion letter: Parent attendance at school IEP meetings are covered by the FMLA

In a recent opinion letter, the DOL concluded that the FMLA covers an employee’s attendance at a school meeting where their child’s individualized education program (IEP) will be discussed. In so doing, the DOL concluded that the employee’s attendance at the IEP meetings constitutes “care for a family member…with a serious health condition.”

FMLA guru, Jeff Novak, suggests employers:

  • Treat a request for FMLA leave to attend an IEP meeting consistent with how all other intermittent FMLA leave requests are handled, including requiring the employee to provide notice for a foreseeable leave of absence and provide appropriate certification to support the leave request. The medical certification should contain specific language supporting the need for the employee to attend IEP meetings for the child.
  • Since it may be difficult to determine if it is an actual IEP meeting, closely review the need for attendance specifically at school meetings so that there is some connection to the child’s IEP or issues that implicate the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • Unless there is objective evidence that the employee is lying about attendance at the IEP meetings, employers should tread carefully in requesting documentation to support attendance at every IEP meeting.
  • Train your managers about this new obligation so that these requests are not being outright rejected in the context of FMLA leave, which may be their knee jerk reaction.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Update: marijuana in the workplace remains daunting for employers


With changes in state and local statutes, court decisions trending toward acceptance and protecting employee rights, and the burgeoning popularity and availability of unregulated CBD, it’s no surprise that many employers and insurers identify marijuana as one of the top challenges in maintaining a safe workplace. Here’s an update:

Legislation affecting workers’ comp

While there has been much activity on the legislative front related to medical marijuana and the workplace, the landscape remains hazy for most employers. 2019 enacted legislation includes: Illinois legalized marijuana for recreational purposes; Nevada prohibits employers from refusing employment to applicants who test positive for marijuana in a preemployment drug test; New Jersey amended its medical marijuana statute to prohibit employers from taking adverse employment actions against employees based solely on their status as a medical marijuana patient; and Rhode Island enacted legislation that employers are not required to pay for medical marijuana costs, but employers may not refuse to “employ or otherwise penalize a person solely for their status as a medical marijuana cardholder,” with certain exceptions. In April, the New York City Council passed a law that prohibits employers from testing applicants for marijuana.

Nonetheless, lawmakers in Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Maryland and Vermont considered, but did not pass various proposals that would have allowed or required reimbursement for medical marijuana. A bill in Kentucky to clarify that employers and insurers are not required to reimburse an injured worker for marijuana failed.

At the federal level, while decriminalization is viewed as unlikely in the short term, there are pending proposals to decriminalize marijuana (S1552), allow state regulation without federal interference (HR2093), and protect financial institutions and insurance companies that provide services for legitimate cannabis businesses (HR1595).

Shift in court case decisions favors employees

A recent article in the National Law Review, “Courts Are Siding with Employees Who Use Medical Marijuana,” notes that while the first wave of court cases related to marijuana legalization and the workplace tended to side with employers, the tide is now turning. “Recent decisions in federal and state courts indicate that employers need to proceed with caution when they make employment decisions concerning drug tests for cannabis use.”

In Arizona, the court found an employer wrongfully terminated an employee who was a registered user of medical marijuana and failed a drug test following an injury. In Delaware, a court held that a medical marijuana user may proceed with a lawsuit against his former employer after a positive post-accident drug test result for marijuana led to his termination. In Connecticut, a federal judge ruled that the employer violated an anti-discrimination provision of Connecticut’s medical marijuana law when it withdrew the job offer to a “qualified patient” using medical marijuana.

In New Jersey, an appeals court ruled that medical marijuana use is covered under the state’s ban on disability-based employment discrimination. The case, Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc, is expected to be heard by the state supreme court. In Oklahoma, the court of appeals concluded that the presence of THC in an employee’s blood after a workplace accident does not automatically mean that the employee was intoxicated and could be denied workers’ compensation benefits. The case, Rose v. Berry Plastics Corp, is on appeal to the state supreme court.

Employers and insurers were victorious in Florida when a workers’ compensation judge (JCC) found that Florida’s medical marijuana statute prohibits reimbursement under workers’ compensation, and that requiring employers and insurers to pay for a worker’s medical marijuana would violate the federal Controlled Substances Act. The JCC also determined that employers and insurers should not be required to pay for a worker’s medical evaluation to obtain medical marijuana because the cost of the evaluation would be part and parcel of the cost of obtaining marijuana. The case, however, has been appealed to Florida’s First District Court of Appeal.

CBD is everywhere and unregulated

Late last year, the Agricultural Improvement Act removed hemp-derived CBD with less than 0.3% Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal cannabinoid in cannabis, from the list of Schedule I drugs. The popularity of CBD, cannabinol-based products, skyrocketed with an aggressive marketing campaign, promoting its value as an alternative to pain meds with none of the psychoactive effects associated with cannabis. While states and local governments are beginning to make their own regulations for the hemp industry, the void in oversight has given rise to shady companies looking to capitalize on the burgeoning CBD market.

Available online, in supermarkets, coffee shops, convenience stores, retail establishments, and pet stores, there is so much variability in the potency and purity of CBD products, it is raising havoc in the positive testing for THC. Packaging for CBD oil may claim to be THC-free or below traceable limits, but they can contain enough to be detected during a drug screen.

While the DOT has made it clear a positive test for THC as a result of CBD use will not be excused, employers are struggling with how to address situations where an employee defends a positive drug test by claiming use of CBD.

More research on medicinal benefits and testing, but few definitive results

There continue to be many studies with varying results and heated debate about the medicinal benefits of marijuana. Addressing the often-discussed association between medical marijuana and lower levels of opioid overdose deaths, a study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found it unlikely that medical cannabis – used by about 2.5% of the U.S. population – has had a large offsetting effect on opioid overdose mortality.

While more testing options are being researched, tests can only detect tetrahydrocannabinol components, which means that the individual used it anywhere for a day or two to several weeks prior to testing. It does not make a determination of impairment. While some states have adopted laws about levels for driving under the influence, there is still no agreement about levels of impairment.

All of this is compounded by the fact that there are few state or federal guidelines concerning maximum, minimum, or even standardized dosages for treatment. There are only three prescription drugs derived from cannabinoids that are approved by the FDA.

What employers can do

Employers need in be diligent in their focus on mitigating cannabis-related risks in their workplaces:

  1. Stay abreast of state regulations and recent court cases.
  2. Continue to update drug and fitness for duty policies with legal counsel. Determine how CBD use will be treated.
  3. Train supervisors to detect signs of possible impairment and what to do when they suspect impairment.
  4. Discuss with your testing provider how CBD is monitored.
  5. Educate employees that almost all CBD products are not regulated by the FDA and to adopt a “buyer beware” approach. Consumers purchasing online or at unlicensed retailers are taking a risk of products that contain THC and additives such as pesticides or chemicals, that can result in a positive drug test.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com