Legal Corner

ADA 
More appellate court decisions support regular attendance as an essential function of most jobs

In Trautman v. Time Warner Cable Tex., LLC, (5th Cir. Dec. 12, 2018), Vitti v. Macy’s Inc., (2d Cir. Dec. 21, 2018), and Lipp v. Cargill Meat Sols. Corp., (8th Cir. Dec. 19, 2018), the Fifth Circuit, Second Circuit, and Eighth Circuit each found that employees claiming disability discrimination were lawfully terminated for attendance policy violations and affirmed summary judgment in favor of the employer. While the decisions show that unreliable attendance can render an employee unqualified for his or her job, it’s not a given and rests on the facts of the case- employers need to be vigilant in their documentation and process and consistent in the treatment of all employees.

FMLA 
Employee must turn over social media posts

In Robinson v. MGM Grand Detroit, LLC, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan found that an employer does have the right to Facebook and other social media accounts when an employee sues for discrimination and violations of the FMLA. The case alleged that an employee of MGM Grand was terminated because of his race and disability and in retaliation for taking FMLA leave. In discovery, the employee refused to provide his social media posts. A federal magistrate ruled that the employee’s Facebook, Google Photo, and Google location accounts were relevant for the case and ordered the employee to turn them over for the time he was out of work.

Workers’ Compensation 
NLRB: independent contractor test overturned

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has returned to a previous standard for evaluating the status of independent contractors versus employees. In the SuperShuttle DFW Inc. case, which involved shuttle-van-driver franchisees of SuperShuttle at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, the board concluded that the franchisees are not statutory employees under the National Labor Relations Act, but rather independent contractors excluded from the law’s coverage.

This decision overrules FedEx Home Delivery, a 2014 NLRB decision that modified the applicable test for determining independent-contractor status by severely limiting the significance of a worker’s entrepreneurial opportunity for economic gain.

Federal appeals court sends Browning-Ferris joint employer standard back to NLRB

The federal appeals court in the District of Columbia has partially upheld the Obama-era Standard in Browning-Ferris Industries of Cal., Inc. v. NLRB. The court said that it was permissible for the Board to create a standard that considered both an employer’s reserved right to control and its indirect control over employees’ terms and conditions of employment. However, the Board failed to articulate the scope of what it considers “indirect” control, so the issue was remanded. The impact on the Board’s rulemaking remains to be seen.

Employer not vicariously liable for a fatal car accident caused by an intoxicated employee – California

In an unpublished decision, Pryor v. Fitness International, an appellate court ruled that an employer was not vicariously liable for a fatal car accident caused by an intoxicated employee. When a supervisor determined that a membership counselor was impaired and sent him home early, the counselor’s car struck a bicyclist, who died from his injuries. The widow asserted the company was vicariously liable for the employee’s negligence because he was acting within the scope of his employment when he became intoxicated, and/or when he struck her husband. Further, they were negligent in hiring, retaining and supervising.

The court found that the employee was acting in a purely personal capacity when he became intoxicated and killed the bicyclist. The fact that he was sent home by the supervisor did not implicate the “special errand” rule under workers’ comp. Further, the company had no duty to try to prevent the collision, so it could not be held directly liable for negligence.

Job placement agency can’t be sued by worker who passed drug tests but was not offered job – Florida

In McCullough v. Nesco Res. LLC, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that a job applicant who was required to take two drug tests (and passed) but was not offered a position cannot sue the placement agency. The Drug-Free Workplace Program Statute does not provide an aggrieved applicant with a private right of action. The Court said the “penalty” for the employer’s failure to abide by the statute was its loss of the discount in workers’ compensation premiums that it could enjoy with full compliance.

Lawsuit against employer for off-duty worker’s death can proceed – Minnesota

In Henson v. Uptown Drink, the Supreme Court ruled that a lawsuit filed against a bar after the death of an off-duty employee may proceed. The bartender and other employees, including an off-duty employee, forcibly removed two men who had become drunk and belligerent. The off-duty employee fell and hit his head on concrete, causing a traumatic brain injury that led to his death. His family sued, but the district court ruled the suit was barred by the exclusive remedy of workers’ comp.

The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the evidence was insufficient to establish that the death arose out of and in the course of his employment. The case then proceeded under innkeeper negligence and violation of the Dram Shop Act and went through several appeals. The Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court decision, ruling in part that “a reasonable fact-finder could determine that (the patron’s) intoxication, violent outburst, and subsequent physical resistance, taken together, were the proximate cause of the fall that killed…”

Comp carriers must split death claim in spite of mistaken duplicative coverage – Missouri

In Employers Preferred Ins. Co. v. Hartford Accident and Indem. Co., a husband and wife each procured a workers’ compensation policy for a bakery they owned. An employee died in an automobile accident in the course of his employment and Employers paid the claim, but sought an equitable contribution from Hartford. When a Hartford agent told the husband after the accident that the Hartford policy was active, the husband filed a cancellation request, Hartford retroactively cancelled the policy, and issued the bakery a full refund of the premium and maintained it did not owe any contribution to Employers.

However, the Eighth Circuit found state law barred Hartford from cancelling a policy and eliminating its duty to defend and indemnify, after an insured had become liable for a workers’ compensation claim.

Nebraska resident hired in state but injured in Alaska cannot collect in state – Nebraska

A Washington seafood company recruited, drug tested, and hired prospective employees in Nebraska, but did no actual work in the state, therefore it was not an “employer” for purposes of the Workers’ Compensation Act. In Hassan v. Trident Seafoods & Liberty Mut., an appellate court held that a resident who was hired in Nebraska and later sustained work-related injuries in Alaska, receiving some workers’ compensation benefits from that state, could not maintain a workers’ compensation claim in Nebraska

Worker must sue third party in state that paid benefits – Nebraska

Drivers Management LLC, a Nebraska trucking company, contracted with Eagle KMC LLC, an Arizona company, to train employers. A truck-driver-in-training was injured and collected workers’ comp from Drivers Management. Almost two years later, she filed a personal injury suit against Eagle and other parties. Because Drivers Management had a subrogation claim against any third-party recovery, it was named as a defendant. The suit was filed in Arizona and upon appeal, the court held that Arizona laws do not apply because workers’ compensation benefits were adjudicated and paid in Nebraska, which “governs subrogation, lien, and assignment rights in this action.”

Causal link must be more than a “possibility” – New York

In Bufearon v City of Rochester Bur. of Empl. Relations, a worker was injured in a work-related auto accident and received medical treatment for his left shoulder, left hip, low back,and cervical spine. The self-insured employer accepted liability for all treatment except for the cervical spine.

While a workers’ compensation law judge found that the cervical spine injury was compensable, the Workers’ Compensation Board reversed and the appellate court agreed, noting the Board had the power to determine the causal relationship based on substantial evidence. The court found the medical testimony conflicting, and neither treating physician reviewed the employee’s medical records from his prior cervical spine surgery. Therefore, the Board’s finding the physicians’ opinions regarding causation were mere expressions of possibility and speculation was proper and the injured worker failed to prove that his cervical spine issues were causally related to his accident.

No “grave injury” nixes 3rd party claim for indemnification – New York

In Alulema v. ZEV Electrical Corp., a worker allegedly suffered a brain injury while at work, resulting in disabling cognitive and emotional symptoms and filed a tort claim against a subcontractor. The subcontractor filed a third-party complaint against the employer, seeking indemnity or contribution.

Under state law, if an employee suffers a “grave” injury, the employer may be liable to third parties for indemnification or contribution. To be classified as a grave injury, it must leave the worker unemployable “in any capacity.”

An appellate court overturned the trial court and found no grave injury. Testing did not substantiate his claims of cognitive and emotional symptoms and he was actively looking for employment and had obtained his GED.

Court dismisses worker’s claim against Trump campaign for distress – North Carolina

In Vincent Bordini v. Donald J. Trump for President Inc. and Earl Phillip, an appellate court ruled it had jurisdiction rather than a workers’ compensation court over a suit alleging a Trump 2016 presidential campaign data director pointed his gun at a co-worker causing emotional distress and other damage. The director, who possessed a concealed carry permit, allegedly took out his gun and held it against the worker’s knee with his finger on the trigger while in the car.

While the campaign contended the case should be heard as a workers’ comp claim, the court noted, “The risk of being intentionally assaulted at gunpoint by a coworker is not one which a reasonable person may have contemplated when accepting an information technology job on a presidential campaign.” Therefore, it was not preempted by workers comp law.

Nevertheless, the court found that the campaign could not be held vicariously liable because the director was an independent contractor, not an employee. He was hired through a political consulting firm, had no set work hours, and was not under a regular employment contract.

Disability commences on the work day following the injury – Pennsylvania

While neither the statute nor case law addresses when a disability commences if an injured employee is paid full wages the day of their injury, the Commonwealth Court ruled the disability commences on the work day following the injury. It noted the bureau’s interpretation states that payment is to be made “on the date the claimant is unable to continue work by reason of injury unless he is paid full wages for the day.”

In Stairs v. Workers Compensation Appeal Board, a worker was injured and taken to the hospital by ambulance and did not return to work, but received full pay for the day of the injury. The employer sent a notice of temporary compensation payable, acknowledging the worker had suffered a back injury on Friday, March 27, 2015, and stated that the 90-day period to contest his claim would run from March 30 through June 27, 2015.

Under state statute, if the employer does not file to contest within 90 days its notice of temporary compensation payable will be converted into a notice of accepting liability for the claim. On the 90th day of the disability the company filed to contest the claim, although the Bureau issued a notice of conversion the following day. The worker appealed but the commonwealth court ruled that the employer’s notice was timely filed and the notice of conversion issued by the bureau was void.

Although symptoms abated, bricklayer entitled to ongoing benefits but not penalties from employer – Pennsylvania

In Kurpiewski v. WCAB (Caretti) and Caretti v. WCAB (Kurpiewski), the Commonwealth Court found a bricklayer was entitled to ongoing benefits, although he no longer had symptoms nor did he need treatment for a skin condition arising from his long-term exposure to chromium. His chromium sensitivity prevented him from working as a bricklayer. The worker also sought penalties, based on the employer’s failure to timely accept or deny liability for his claim.

The court found the employer had violated the law by failing to acknowledge or deny the claim within 21 days. Although it filed an answer contesting his claim, it did not issue a separate notice of denial. However, the court noted not every violation requires a penalty and remanded the imposition of a penalty to the judge.

Worker awarded benefits in spite of “close question” on causation – Tennessee

In Butler v. Tennessee Municipal League Risk Management Pool, a laborer worked on installing a water line at the county landfill. Two days later he was diagnosed with invasive pulmonary aspergillosis and has not returned to work.

While he argued it was a result of working in the trench, the pool said he had developed it on his farm. Since aspergillus spores are everywhere, causation is difficult to prove. However, through the testimony of his coworkers, it was established that several workers developed respiratory ailments after installing the water line at the landfill. In addition, four doctors opined that the invasive aspergillosis was caused by a massive exposure to the aspergillus fungus while digging the trench.

In overturning the denial of benefits, the Supreme Court’s Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel noted it was “strangely coincidental” all of the men fell ill with similar symptoms while working at the landfill and given the beneficent purpose of the workers’ compensation system, it found in favor of the worker.

Falling asleep at the wheel nixes benefits – Virginia

In Norris v. ETEC Mechanical Corp., a master electrician fell asleep while driving home from a job site and suffered serious injuries.The court found that the accident occurred in the course of employment, but did not arise out of his employment. The state uses the “actual risk” test to determine whether an injury arose out of employment. While he said he fell asleep because he was tired, he did not relate the drowsiness to his work.

To keep benefits, employee must be bound by release – Virginia

In Giles v. Prince George Cty. Pub. Sch, a worker suffered multiple injuries and filed several claims. Later, with the help of an attorney, she entered into a settlement agreement that included some exceptions to her treatment and prohibited further claims arising from the accident. Shortly after the settlement, she demanded benefits for her right shoulder, which was an exception in the agreement. The commission treated this as a request to review the settlement, but the worker argued she did not want a review, but wanted additional benefits. The Court of Appeals upheld the commission’s denial of benefits, noting she could not keep the benefits of her agreement and at the same time not be bound by her release.

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