Legal Corner

ADA 
Trucking firm settles suit over pre-employment screenings

Greeley, Colorado-based JBS Carriers Inc., which is the transportation affiliate of multinational meat processor JBS USA Holdings Inc., contracted with a third-party administrator, Denver-based ErgoMed Systems, to administer pre-employment screenings. The EEOC found that all applicants were subjected to a medical history questionnaire, a physical examination and nine physical abilities tests, and if an applicant failed any one of the tests, ErgoMed sent a negative job recommendation to JBS, which withdrew conditional job offers based on its recommendations.

The EEOC alleged this process unlawfully screened out people with disabilities and reached a $250,000 settlement with JBS. Under terms of the settlement, JBS will not contract with ErgoMed for three years and not implement any physical or medical screening for conditional hires apart from the DOT medical certification and urine analysis, among other provisions.

Perceived disability sufficient to reinstate suit

In Jonathan C. Baum v. Metro Restoration Services, an employee who worked as a scheduler for Louisville, Kentucky-based Metro Restoration Services Inc., began having heart problems and occasionally missed work for medical concerns. After a severe weather hit in 2015, he worked remotely to coordinate crews. He was fired a week later and the company’s owner told him it was because of his health issues and doctors’ appointments.

He filed suit, charging he was fired both because he was disabled and because the company regarded him as disabled. A lower court dismissed the case because he did not present an expert witness, but an appellate court found a jury could find that Metro fired him because the owner thought he was disabled, and reinstated the case.

Workers’ Compensation 
Widow loses civil suit based on “power press” exception to exclusive remedy – California

In Ochoa v. Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella Inc., a widow of a man who died when another worker accidentally started the machine he was maintaining filed a wrongful death suit, arguing the machine was a power press that, under certain conditions, can be exempt from exclusive remedy. The court agreed with the defendants that the machine in question was a conveyor-style “auger” and not a press that used a die. A product liability claim was also rejected.

Sawmill pays $375,000 in settlement of civil suit related to workers’ death – California

Morgan Hill-based Pacific States Industries Inc., doing business as Redwood Empire Sawmill, was sued by the district attorney following the death of a millworker, who died in a bark conveyor that the employees regularly walked on while they were unjamming it. The DA’s office investigation found a culture of production over safety at the mill and that the sawmill and its two other facilities in Sonoma County did not have written procedures for employees to work on, unjam or clean machinery and equipment.

Secondary treatment issues clarified – California

In a panel decision, Pena v. Aqua Systems, it was clarified that secondary treatment requests do not have to be initiated by the PTP and that selection of a secondary treater is not subject to Utilization Review (UR) and, therefore, does not require a Request for Authorization (RFA). Failure to promptly respond to and approve secondary treatment requests is likely to result in a penalty assessment.

Six-month limit on mental injuries upheld – Florida

In Kneer v. Lincare & Travelers Ins., an appellate court ruled that an employee was not eligible for benefits for psychiatric injuries because they occurred more than a year after he had reached MMI on his back injury. The court said the claim for temporary benefits for the mental condition was untimely because there is a six-month limitation for temporary benefits for psychiatric injuries (which follow a physical injury).

Remote workers beware: trip over dog not compensable – Florida

In a 12-2 decision, Sedgwick CMS v. Valcourt-Williams, an appeals court reversed the decision of a workers’ compensation judge. Working in Arizona, a home-based workers’ comp claims adjuster tripped over one of her two dogs, causing her to fall and sustain injuries to her knee, hip and shoulder as she was getting coffee in her kitchen. The court noted that there are limitations to the “arising out of” rule when risks unrelated to work lead to the injury. In this case, her non-employment life (her dog, her kitchen, reaching for a coffee cup) caused the accident, not her employment.

“One Day Rest in Seven” can’t circumvent exclusive remedy – Illinois

In Webster v. FirstExpress, Inc., a federal district court held that the state’s “One Day Rest in Seven Act” may not be used to circumvent the exclusive remedy of the Workers’ Compensation Act. An employee of a tire service company was killed in a collision with a vehicle owned by FirstExpress, Inc. It was argued that the worker had been required to work mandatory overtime and failed to get a full day of rest as called for in the statute. However, the court ruled that the employer was immune from tort liability because its actions did not rise to the level of “specific intent” to harm.

High court clarifies application of treatment guidelines – Minnesota

In Johnson v. Darchuks Fabrication, an employee was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome following a work-related incident. As part of the settlement, the company paid for ongoing medical expenses, which included over ten years of opioids. The employee was asked to go through a fourth IME, and for the first time, the medical examiner expressed doubt about the diagnosis. As a result, the company notified the employee it was discontinuing coverage for the medication. It argued the complex regional pain syndrome had been resolved and that the long-term opioid use did not comply with the workers’ compensation treatment parameters.

The case found its way to the Supreme Court and the company argued that the treatment parameters applied in this case. The court agreed, noting the treatment parameters do not apply when liability for the benefits has been denied, but a challenge to the reasonableness and necessity of treatment is not a denial of liability. It ordered the case remanded for further proceedings.

PPD award for fall in employer’s parking garage affirmed – Missouri

In McDowell v. St. Luke’s Hosp., an appellate court affirmed a decision by the state’s Labor and Industrial Relations Commission awarding workers’ compensation benefits to an employee who fell while bringing her belongings from the garage to her work station. While the state statute generally means benefits are denied when the hazard or risk is one to which the worker would have been “equally exposed outside of and unrelated to the employment in normal nonemployment life,” the court found that her fall was the result of her need to pull and maneuver a two-wheeled cart containing work-related supplies through a congested entryway and, therefore, was compensable. She did not face such a hazard in her non-employment life.

The worker, who had worked for the hospital for 45 years, had undergone a hip replacement and used a cane. The hospital had provided her with the two-wheeled cart to transport her belongings from the garage during her recovery.

No survivor benefits for daughter of deputy killed in car crash while exchanging shift information on his cell phone – Nebraska

In Coughlin v County of Colfax, a deputy sheriff was driving home and on his cell phone exchanging shift information with another officer who just came on duty when his vehicle hit a deer’s carcass. He lost control of the car, collided with another vehicle driving in the opposite lane of traffic, and died.

His brother filed a workers’ comp claim, which was denied based on the going and coming rule. The course and scope of employment had not been expanded by the cell phone conversation, in spite of its work-relatedness. It was determined that he was in his personal vehicle and off duty at the time of the accident.

An appellate court considered whether the cell phone communication was an employer-created condition that rendered the going and coming rule inapplicable. It found that although the Department expected the deputy to exchange shift-change information, it did not prescribe any one way of doing so and, in fact, had a cellphone policy that prohibited using a cell phone while driving a county-owned vehicle. The denial was affirmed.

Appellate court overturns decision to disqualify worker from future benefits – New York

In Matter of Persons v Halmar Intl, an appellate court overturned a decision by the Workers’ Compensation Board that disqualified an injured construction laborer from receiving future wage replacement benefits because he made false statements about his physical condition in violation of the law. The appellate court found that the Board’s findings based on video footage of his work as a volunteer firefighter and another video were inaccurate and could not be ascertained without further medical testimony. Further, the worker had acknowledged and disclosed his work as a volunteer firefighter.

The court concluded, “Simply put, our review of the record reflects that the Board’s decision [was] not supported by substantial evidence as it [was] based upon speculation, surmise and mischaracterizations.”

Law barring undocumented workers from additional benefits upheld by high court – Tennessee

The Supreme Court ruled that a state statute limiting the benefits available to a worker without legal authorization to work in the United States is not pre-empted by federal immigration law. The case, Salvador Sandoval V Mark Williamson, involved an undocumented worker for Tennessee Steel Structure who was injured on the job and received PPD benefits. He did not return to work after benefits ended and filed for additional benefits, but state law precludes benefits for anyone who is not eligible or authorized to work legally in the US.

The worker argued the law was unconstitutional because it was pre-empted by the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). The Supreme Court concurred with the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel that the law does not conflict with any provision of the IRCA.

Attempt to guide hand truck does not constitute “lifting” in violation of safety rules – Virginia

In Snelling Staffing/Chesapeake & Ace Am. Ins. Co. v. Edwards, the employer argued that an employee violated a known rule that prohibited lifting more than 40 pounds without assistance when he was injured. The worker and a co-worker stacked three boxes of computers, each weighing approximately 120 pounds, on a hand truck. When the worker attempted to pull back on the truck, the weight shifted and he tried to steady it with his leg, injuring his back.

The appellate court agreed with the Commission that the employee’s actions did not constitute “lifting” in violation of employer’s safety rule.

Police officer’s slip on the grass not compensable – Virginia

In Conner v. City of Danville, a police officer was part of a surveillance team at a duplex and was interviewing a homicide suspect outside with a colleague. Rain turned to hail and a tornado was moving through, so they decided to seek shelter. She twisted her knee when she slipped on the grass and almost fell and reported the injury. Through treatment, it was found that three discs in her back had apparently been affected and that surgery was needed.

Her comp claim was denied by the deputy commissioner and affirmed by the Commission and an appellate court because her risk of exposure to the tornado was not increased because of her employment. The interview was suspended while they attempted to get out of the weather, which is an act of God. Therefore, this was not a work-related injury.

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HR Tip: Retaliation tops list of EEOC charges for 8th consecutive year

A total of 39,469 retaliation charges were filed with EEOC in fiscal year 2018, which ended on Sept. 28, which accounted for 51.6% of the total charges filed. Retaliation means an adverse employment action was taken against the employee because they complained about discrimination on the job, filed a discrimination charge or complaint, or participated in any manner in an employment discrimination proceeding.

Following retaliation, sex was the second-most frequent charge filed with the agency in fiscal year 2018, at 24,655, or 32.3% of the total. This was a change from fiscal year 2017, when race was the second-most frequent charge.

Other charges were: disability, 24,605, or 32.2% of the total; race, 24,600, or 32.2% of the total; age, 16,911, or 22.1% of the total; national origin, 7,106, or 9.3% of the total; color, 3,166, or 4.1% of the total; religion, 2,859, or 3.7% of the total; Equal Pay Act, 1,066, or 1.4% of the total; and genetic information, 220 or 0.3% of the total.

The reason for the preponderance of retaliation claims is that they are easier to prove than discrimination claims. It’s difficult to defend when there was adverse action against an employee only days or weeks after filing an EEO charge.

Although retaliation cases for workers’ comp claims are not handled by the EEOC, but by state courts, the challenges of defending them are similar. Similarly, retaliation cases for reporting OSHA violations are heard by federal courts. Two recent cases were decided in favor of employees.

An employee of Lloyd Industries in Pennsylvania was operating a press brake that did not have machine guarding and three of his fingers were crushed and had to be amputated. Another employee took photos to assist the injured employee with his comp claim. After the incident, the injured employee was fired and he filed a complaint with OSHA.

Following the OSHA inspection, the owner stated that there was a “rat” in the facility and fired the employee who had taken the photo five days after the inspection. The inspection resulted in total fines of $822,000, which led the owner to terminate the plant manager for cooperating with the OSHA inspection. The jury found the timing of these terminations was no coincidence and the court will determine damages in the trial’s second phase.

In another case, a Pennsylvania jury awarded $40,000 for lost wages, pain and suffering and punitive damages to a former employee of Hamburg-based Fairmount Foundry Inc. who claimed he was terminated for reporting alleged safety and health hazards.

According to some attorneys, juries seem more inclined to believe that someone would retaliate than discriminate based on race, sex or other protected minority-status factors. Also, the larger verdicts seem to come from the fact that retaliation is viewed as a manager’s reaction (to get even) to the worker’s filing a complaint or for benefits.

To either avoid retaliation charges or successfully defend them, experts advise caution in taking any negative job action against a worker shortly after a case has been filed. However, employers can successfully defend against these claims by producing evidence of a legitimate, non-discriminatory basis for the adverse action, but there needs to be clear, thorough, written documentation of all the facts.

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

OSHA watch

Anti-retaliation provisions of electronic record-keeping rule survives employer challenge

An Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) administrative law judge’s decision to reject two defenses offered by the U.S. Postal Service to a citation preserves the controversial anti-retaliation provisions under its electronic record-keeping rule. The USPS allegedly issued a seven-day working suspension to a carrier because he reported a work-related injury. The USPS argued that the alleged standard and/or penalties were invalid because they were beyond the legal power or authority of OSHA and/or were arbitrary and capricious.

Process Safety Management standard extended beyond hazardous chemicals in ruling

Legal experts warn that a recent OSHRC ruling regarding safety violations in a deadly oil refinery explosion in 2012 could have wider implications for companies dealing with highly hazardous chemicals. OSHRC affirmed 12 violations of Process Safety Management standard by Wynnewood Refining Co, which argued the PSM was never intended to include processes that do not manage such chemicals – such as the steam boiler involved.

Prior to this ruling, it was widely understood that utilities unrelated to the manufacturing process were not included in the requirements for PSM. Experts say it is unclear how far the standard extends now.

Social media campaign to educate young workers

#MySafeSummerJob, a social media campaign to educate young workers about their rights in the workplace, how to speak up about dangerous work conditions, and how to protect themselves on the job, was launched in concert with several worker safety organizations. From April 15 through May 17 outreach will promote safety among young workers. Check out materials and ideas at the #MySafeSummerJob website.

Regional construction safety campaign shifts focus to falls

In concert with the Mid-Atlantic Construction Safety Council, a four-month campaign was launched to address the four leading causes of fatal injuries in construction. In March, the campaign focused on electrical hazards, and during April the emphasis was on struck-by hazards. This month is falls, and caught-in / between hazards will be the focus in June. The campaign serves employers and employees in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Email OSHA-Focus4-Region3@dol.gov for more information.

OSHRC finalizes revisions to its procedural rules

The OSHRC has finalized what it calls “comprehensive” revisions to its procedural rules, in part to reflect technological advances. Slated to take effect June 10, the changes include mandatory electronic filing for “represented” parties and a new method intended to streamline calculating time periods.

Proposal to watch: joint employer revisions

The Department of Labor announced a proposal to “revise and clarify” the issue of joint employers. The department is proposing a four-factor test “based on well-established precedent” that would consider whether the potential joint employer actually exercises the power to hire or fire the employee; supervise and control the employee’s work schedules or conditions of employment; determine the employee’s rate and method of payment; and maintain the employee’s employment records.

The proposal could differ from the interpretations put forth by other federal agencies and would not nullify regulations promulgated by individual states that have different standards.

The public has 60 days from April 1 to comment on the proposal.

Webpage on radiation emergency preparedness and response launched

A webpage intended to educate workers about how to protect themselves in radiation-related situations ranging from a small, isolated spill in a laboratory to a potentially catastrophic release at a nuclear facility is now live. The Radiation Emergency Preparedness and Response webpage provides resources on health and safety planning, medical monitoring and dosimetry, and other relevant topics for workers “who may be impacted by radiation emergencies” or “who may be involved in emergency response operations or related activities.”

Cal/OSHA proposing to re-adopt emergency rules for e-filing injury reports

Emergency rules were adopted Nov. 1, 2018 and the re-adoption would give additional time to proceed with regular rulemaking on a permanent basis. In addition to requiring electronic reporting for companies with at least 250 workers, the rules require businesses with 20 to 249 employees in industries such as construction, manufacturing and agriculture to electronically file injury logs.

A notice for proposed permanent rules is expected to be published by May 10.

MIOSHA launches emphasis program on roadway accident

The state emphasis program on roadway accidents will run through December 31, 2019 and is intended to increase the priority of inspections related to construction roadway safety and initiate inspections upon observing a roadway project with workers present.

Enforcement notes

California

  • Cal North Farm Labor Inc., a farm labor contractor and Crain Walnut Shelling Inc. face more than $100,000 combined in proposed penalties after a worker was fatally crushed by a bin dumper at a walnut processing and packing facility in Los Molinos.
  • Staffing agency Priority Workforce Inc. and JSL Foods Inc., a maker and distributor of pasta and baked goods face more than $300,000 in fines for serious citations after a temporary worker lost two fingers cleaning machinery at a Los Angeles food manufacturing facility.
  • Accurate Comfort Systems Inc. received four citations and faces $75,750 in penalties after a worker suffered serious injuries in a fall from a ladder on a 12-foot-high work area.

Florida

  • Inspected as part of the Regional Emphasis Program on Falls in Construction, Florida Roofing Experts, Inc. faces $132,598 in fines after inspectors observed workers performing residential roofing activities without fall protection.

Georgia

  • Investigated under the National Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavation, Riverside Military Academy Inc., a military college preparatory academy in Gainesville, was cited for exposing employees to trenching hazards, faces $381,882 in penalties, and was placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program. Citations included allowing employees to work inside a trench without cave-in protection and a safe means to enter and exit the excavation, and failing to locate underground utilities prior to work.
  • Specialty chemical manufacturer, Plaze Aeroscience, operating as Plaze GA, was cited for exposing employees to fire and burn hazards at the company’s facility in Dalton and faces $107,164 in penalties.

Michigan

  • Mt. Clemens-based Powder Cote II received seven citations and faces $65,000 in penalties for failing to provide fall protection or guardrail systems, guard rotating shafts and machinery, and failing to control the startup of machinery during maintenance.

New York

  • Remington Arms, LLC, based in Madison, North Carolina was cited for 27 violations of workplace safety and health standards and faces $210,132 in penalties after a worker’s fingertip was amputated while using an unguarded metalworking machine at its Ilion manufacturing plant.

Pennsylvania

  • Framing contractor, Navy Contractors, Inc. was cited for willfully exposing employees to fall hazards at residential construction sites in Royersford, Collegeville, and Center Valley after inspections saw employees working without fall protection. The company faces $603,850 in penalties.
  • A jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District has found that Lloyd Industries Inc., a manufacturing company based in Montgomeryville, and its owner William P. Lloyd unlawfully terminated two employees because of their involvement in a safety investigation. Damages will be determined in phase 2 of the trial.
  • A jury has concurred with the findings of a whistleblower investigation and awarded $40,000 for lost wages, pain and suffering, and punitive damages to a former employee of Fairmount Foundry Inc. The employee claimed that the Hamburg iron-casting company terminated him for reporting alleged safety and health hazards.
  • New Jersey contractor, Brutus Construction, Inc. was cited for exposing workers to fall hazards at a Souderton residential construction site. Inspectors saw employees working on roofs without fall protection and the company faces nearly $182,000 in penalties.

Wisconsin

  • A follow-up inspection revealed that Beloit-based Avid Pallet Services, LLC, failed to correct violations related to wood dust and respiratory hazards. The company faces penalties of $188,302.

For additional information.

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

Ten most dangerous jobs

Going by the sheer number of on-the-job deaths, the truck drivers and sales drivers classification was by far the most dangerous, accounting for nearly 1,000 (987) deaths in 2017. However, the chances of a fatality are much higher in specific industries when the fatal work injury rate, calculated per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, is used. According to a recent report in EHS Today, the ten most dangerous jobs of 2019 are:

No. 1 – Fishers and related fishing workers

Moving up from number 2 to become the most dangerous profession, fishers and related fishing workers experienced 41 fatalities in 2017, an increase of almost 58% from 2016. The fatality rate was 99.7 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers. Risks: drowning, struck by lightning, crushed by equipment.

No. 2 – Loggers

Falling from the most-dangerous profession to number 2, loggers experienced 55 fatalities, a drop of almost 65% from 91 fatalities in 2016 for a fatality rate of 84.3. Risks: falls, struck-by, dangerous tools such as chainsaws and axes.

No. 3 – Aircraft pilots and flight engineers

Pilots and flight engineers experienced 59 fatalities in 2017 for a fatality rate of 58.6, a drop from 2016. Risks: crashes.

No. 4 – Roofers

Roofers experienced 91 fatalities in 2017 for a fatality rate of 45.2, slightly lower than in 2016. Risks: falls, struck-by, and heat.

No. 5 – Refuse and recyclable material collectors

Refuse and recyclable material collectors experienced 30 fatalities in 2017 for a fatality rate of 35.0, very similar to 2016. Risks: dangerous machinery, crushed by equipment, struck-by, traffic accidents, struck by vehicle.

No. 6 – Structural iron and steel workers

Steel and ironworkers experienced 14 fatalities in 2017 for a fatality rate of 33.4, a slight decrease from 2016. Risks: falls, struck-by, heat, crushed by materials.

No. 7 – Truck drivers and other drivers

Employees who drive for work – including truck drivers – experienced 987 fatalities in 2017 for a fatality rate of 26.8 out of 100,000 workers, which was higher than in 2016. Risks: traffic accidents, struck by vehicle, other drivers, construction zones, sleep deprivation, texting/talking while driving.

No. 8 – Farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers

Agricultural workers experienced 258 fatalities in 2017 for a fatality rate of 24.0 out of 100,000 workers, very similar to 2016. Risks: dangerous machinery, chemicals, heat.

No. 9 – Grounds maintenance workers

Grounds maintenance workers experienced 244 fatalities in 2017 for a fatality rate of 21.0, a decline from 2016. Risks: heat, cold, noise, chemical exposure, ergonomics-related issues, machinery.

No. 10 – Electrical power-line installers and repairers

New to the list, electrical power-line installers and repairers experienced 26 fatalities for a fatality rate of 18.7. Risks: electrocution, falls to a lower level, transportation incidents.

Supervisors of construction workers (which ranked at #9 last year), fell off the list of the top 10.

Other key findings:

  • There were a total of 5,147 fatal work injuries recorded in the United States in 2017, down slightly from the 5,190 that were registered in 2016.
  • Fatal falls were at their highest level in the 26-year history of the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), accounting for 887 (17 percent) worker deaths.
  • Transportation incidents remained the most frequent fatal event in 2017 with 2,077 (40 percent) occupational fatalities.
  • Violence and other injuries by persons or animals decreased 7 percent in 2017 with homicides and suicides decreasing by 8 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
  • Unintentional overdoses due to non-medical use of drugs or alcohol while at work increased 25 percent from 217 in 2016 to 272 in 2017. This was the fifth consecutive year in which unintentional workplace overdose deaths have increased by at least 25 percent.
  • Fatal occupational injuries involving confined spaces rose 15 percent to 166 in 2017 from 144 in 2016.
  • Crane-related workplace fatalities fell to their lowest level ever recorded in CFOI, 33 deaths in 2017.
  • Fifteen percent of the fatally-injured workers in 2017 were age 65 or over – a series high. In 1992, the first year CFOI published national data, that figure was 8 percent. These workers also had a higher fatality rate than other age groups in 2017.

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