Work-related injuries can increase a company’s healthcare costs through underreporting and on-going care

Two new studies came to a troubling finding: the usual method of studying reported injuries using workers’ comp records may underestimate the true number of injuries due to underreporting and use of group health insurance. To understand the actual cost of workplace injuries and illnesses, NIOSH-supported researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health studied the cost of health insurance and patterns of underreporting.

One study focused on female healthcare workers. The injured workers’ combined insurance claims were $275 greater at three months post-injury, and at six months had climbed by $587.

Another study looked at whether injury reporting patterns differed among racial groups. Researchers compared the number of workers’ self-reported injuries to the number recorded by their employer’s official injury reporting system among a group of patient-care workers in a U.S. hospital. They found there were almost two times the number of self-reported injuries than those actually reported. While researchers noted that more research is needed, they found that self-reported injuries were more likely to go unreported to the hospital by black workers than were injuries to white workers.

Employer takeaway: These findings indicate that workers’ compensation costs do not reflect the true cost of work-related illness and injury. There are many explanations for why injuries are underreported, but the safety climate and supervisory enforcement behaviors, which are critically important to determining whether employees experience accidents at work, play a major role in whether employees are comfortable reporting injuries. Workers may fail to report injuries to their employer because they fear retaliation by their employer, stigma from their coworkers, or because they perceive the injury to be too minor or an accepted part of the job.

When an injury isn’t reported or properly cared for immediately, it can worsen and lead to higher health care costs, more lost time, and reduced productivity. One of the best ways to control costs is through early reporting and intervention through the work comp process. The often-quoted study by the Hartford Financial Services Group found that injuries reported four or five weeks after the incident are 45 percent more expensive than injuries reported within the first week due to increased health costs and possible legal fees (or even a lawsuit) associated with late reporting. Equally important, treating injuries through the work comp process will help to ensure an early return to work and improve safety programs.

In addition, employers may not recognize the hurdles employees face in filing a claim. Poor communication about the process, language barriers, cumbersome and paper-laden processes, no provisions for weekend or late-shift employees to report injuries immediately, and slow adoption of technology to report injuries are some of the common roadblocks to early reporting.

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Legal Corner

FMLA
Adverse actions shortly after medical leave spell trouble for employer

In Schram v. Dow Corning Corp., E.D. Mich., while traveling for business a long-term employee was accidentally struck on the head by another passenger’s luggage, causing a detached retina that required immediate surgery. She had recently changed positions within the company and her new manager asked her to postpone surgery, but she refused and was off work for approximately three weeks. Although no paperwork was filed for FMLA leave, Dow allowed the time off.

When she returned to work, she alleged the manager excluded her for meetings and began questioning her work, moved her office, refused accommodations for ongoing retina issues, and ridiculed her for vision problems in a meeting. Shortly thereafter, she was told her position was eliminated and she found another temporary position in the company for one year and then was terminated. Meanwhile, her former position was filled by a younger male employee with less marketing experience at a salary $40,000 higher than her old salary.

After leaving Dow, she sued alleging retaliation under the FMLA and Michigan workers’ compensation law, as well as disability and gender discrimination under Michigan law. The district court found in her favor, noting the timing of her injury, leave of absence, and her “position elimination” was sufficient to place her retaliation claims before a jury. The judge also found that the assignment of her identical role and job duties to a younger male with significantly less marketing experience could provide sufficient basis for a jury to find in favor on her discrimination claims.
Leave not available for insomnia following death of pet

In Buck v. Mercury Marine Corp., E.D. Wis., a machinist asked for, and was granted, a day off because he was upset that he had had to put his dog of 13 years to sleep. The next day, he called his supervisor and explained he had not been able to sleep since putting his dog to sleep and asked for the day off and was documented for an unexcused absence. The same day, he sought treatment and was diagnosed with “situational insomnia” and the doctor wrote him a note that he was in the clinic for evaluation of situational insomnia. Despite the note, the absence remained unexcused. Over the next three months, the employee accumulated several other unexcused absences that resulted in his termination and he filed suit under the FMLA.

While the court held that inability to sleep caused by the passing of a pet could arguably constitute a “serious health condition,” it noted the employee failed to show that his condition qualified under the act. Other than the one visit to the clinic, there was no treatment, no prescriptions, and the doctor’s note did not say he was unable to perform the functions of his job. Although the company did not provide the employee directly with information about his FMLA rights or provide him a copy of its FMLA policy, it did not mean the company had violated the act, since the act requires employers to provide an employee with notice only “when the employer acquires knowledge that an employee’s leave may be for an FMLA-qualifying reason.”
Other
Supreme Court ruling may mean employees have more time to file state-law claims

While employees can file a single lawsuit in federal court for both federal and state-law claims against an employer, when judges dismiss the federal claims, they can also decline to hear the state claims. The employee can refile the claims in state court, but lower courts have disagreed about how much time employees have to do so.

Federal law provides that state-law claims will be “tolled” or paused while the claims are pending in federal court and for a period of 30 days after they are dismissed-unless state law provides for a longer tolling period. In Artis v. District of Columbia, the relevant state law limitations period had already passed when the employee’s claims were dismissed by the federal judge. The employer, therefore, argued that the worker only had a 30-day grace period to file her claims in state court.

However, the employee argued the tolling period began when the claim was first filed in federal court. In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed and held that the employee had 30 days plus whatever time had remained under the state statute of limitations when the federal lawsuit was initially filed.
Workers’ Compensation
Landmark decision means employers can face civil penalties for safety violations – California

In Solus Industrial Innovations, LLC v. Superior Court of Orange County, the Supreme Court has upheld the right of prosecutors to seek civil penalties under unfair competition statutes against employers violating work-safety statutes. While the company argued that the state plan for occupational safety and health should govern how employers with work-safety violations are treated, the court sided with prosecutors who argued they were targeting unfair business practices that arose from work-safety violations, not for the work-safety violations themselves. Although the decision is considered a landmark, it essentially validated an avenue that prosecutors have been using to go after unsafe corporate employers for decades.

Grubhub driver ruled independent contractor; judge urges change in gig economy laws – California

When a delivery driver was fired by Grubhub for failure to make deliveries while on the app, he sued for back wages, overtime and expense reimbursement. While he received a fee for each delivery, the company also paid him a minimum hourly rate and, therefore, he argued he was an employee. Grubhub claimed that they are primarily a software development company, not a food delivery service, so delivery drivers are not key to their business and they did not have enough control over their drivers to classify them as employees. Noting the need to update the laws relating to the gig economy, the judge said overall Grubhub did not have control over his work and under current laws he is an independent contractor.

Treatment must be by authorized doctor – Florida

In Hernandez v. Hialeah Solid Waste Department, the treating physician prescribed facet joint injections and the claims adjuster approved, but with a different physician. The 1st District Court of Appeal said the statutes allow an employer to transfer the care of a worker from an attending provider only if the worker is not making appropriate progress in recuperation and the refusal to allow the treating physician to do the injections was “a de facto deauthorization of the doctor” and improper.

Court explains interest rate on benefits when employers unsuccessfully challenge awards – Illinois

In Dobbs Tire & Auto v. IWCC, two employers unsuccessfully contested the award of benefits to two injured workers. The employers paid the awards plus interest, one at 0.11% and the other at 0.13%. The employees contested the rates in different county courts, and one court dismissed the complaint, while the other found the interest rate should be 9%. The cases were consolidated upon appeal.

While the Appellate Court explained that the Code of Civil Procedure Section 2-1303 provides that judgments recovered in any court will draw interest at a rate of 9% per year until satisfied, it only applies “if and when the arbitrator’s award or commission’s decision becomes an enforceable judgment,” because the employer has failed to pay. An employer that makes payment of an award, accrued installments, and Section 19(n) interest before the injured worker files a motion to enforce is not subject to the 9% interest. Section 19(n) provides for interest at a rate equal to the yield on indebtedness issued by the United States government with a 26-week maturity next previously auctioned on the day on which the decision is filed.

After firing an adjuster following a comp claim, insurance company faces ADA and retaliatory termination case – Illinois

In Buhe v. Amica Mutual Insurance Co., a federal judge ruled against an insurance company’s summary judgment in a suit filed by a former adjuster fired after an 11-month, unresolved workers’ comp claim. The adjuster fell off a roof while investigating a homeowner’s claim and suffered injuries to his lower limbs and shoulder, requiring several surgeries and rehabilitation.

The insurance company knew that the adjuster ran a mortgage company on the side.

While he said someone else oversaw the office activities of his mortgage firm when he was injured, an adjuster said surveillance revealed he was working for his own company while collecting workers’ compensation. He filed for bankruptcy but did not include his comp payments, claiming ignorance. He then filed the suit against Amica, asserting claims of discrimination under the ADA when the company allegedly failed to accommodate him, and retaliatory discharge and promissory estoppel, related to his bankruptcy filing. Amica followed with a summary judgment against his claims.

A judge ruled in part against the summary judgment, finding merit in both claims related to the ADA and retaliatory termination: “…A disability leave of absence that an employee seeks as a reasonable accommodation ‘is a factual issue well suited to a jury determination,'” his ruling stated. He also found that “a reasonable jury could conclude that the real reason for the termination was not the violation of company policy but the workers’ compensation claim.”

“Unusual strain” from daily work routine is compensable – Missouri

In Clark v. Dairy Farmers of America, a woman worker who was the shortest worker in the plant broke her rib and doctors discovered she had a lesion near the fracture. Further tests revealed that the lesion was Langerhans cell histiocytosis, a rare malignancy which can weaken a bone to the point where it can fail under a force that is less than normal. While an administrative law judge denied the claim for comp, the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission reversed and the Court of Appeals agreed.

A worker is entitled to benefits if there is “personal injury” that was caused by an “accident.” Although the worker was injured performing her normal job duties, this time was unusual because she felt and heard a pop in her chest and she could not raise her right arm.

Treating physician’s opinion does not have to be given greater weight than others – Missouri

In Blackwell v. Howard Industries, the Court of Appeals ruled that a worker who suffered an elbow injury and who refused to participate in physical therapy (PT) sessions was not entitled to permanent total disability benefits. The Court of Appeals noted the worker received varying levels of treatment, evaluation and medical records reviews from at least 15 different physicians.

All of the doctors, except for the treating doctor, concluded that the best form of treatment was PT. While a treating physician’s opinion is “of great import,” the court said, “the commission is not required to abide by it or required to give it any greater weight than other physicians’ opinions.”

Employer does not have to pay for “unfamiliar and undocumented” treatments – Nebraska

In Escobar v. JBS USA, the Court of Appeals ruled that a worker was entitled to temporary total disability benefits for a back injury but said the compensation court had erred in determining which medical bills the employer had to pay. A tenderloin puller, the worker allegedly injured his back and received treatment from an onsite nurse but continued to complain of pain and saw several doctors, with one stating that the subjective back pain was out of proportion to the physical examination.

The compensation court determined that he suffered a compensable back injury and that he was entitled to temporary total disability benefits. However, the Court found that the compensation court ordered payment for “unfamiliar and undocumented” treatments that were not clearly related to the work injury.

State has jurisdiction for resident injured while working for out of state employer – New York

In Galster v. Keen Transport, an appellate court ruled that the state workers’ compensation system had jurisdiction over a resident’s claim for an out-of-state accident while working for an out-of-state employer. A trucker who resided in New York worked for a Pennsylvania company, making deliveries of highway construction equipment all over the U.S. He injured his shoulder while shifting equipment in his trailer in Illinois.

After his injury, the company secured medical care for him in New York, as well as a light-duty job. The trucker filed a comp claim in New York, while the company filed one in Pennsylvania and contested the New York claim. The Appellate Division’s 3rd Department affirmed lower court decisions, noting New York has jurisdiction over a claim for an injury occurring outside the state where there are “sufficient significant contacts” between the employment and New York.

Compensation for exacerbation of pre-existing fibromyalgia denied – New York

In Park v. Corizon Health Inc., a worker was exposed to pepper spray while working in a prison when a guard discharged a canister to subdue an inmate. She sought medical care for her symptoms, returned briefly to work, and then took off almost one year. She filed a claim, asserting that her exposure to pepper spray had exacerbated her pre-existing fibromyalgia.

The Workers’ Compensation Board overturned the award by a workers’ compensation law judge, finding there was no causal connection. The Appellate Division’s 3rd Department said the board determines the factual issue of whether a causal relationship exists, and its determination will not change when supported by substantial evidence. The court noted there was conflicting medical testimony, there is no known medical cause of fibromyalgia, and that its symptoms are fleeting and vary considerably among individuals. Therefore, the Board’s decision to credit the opinion of the IME rheumatologist over that of the other physicians was entirely reasonable.

Construction worker receives comp for repetitive lifting injury – New York

In Garcia v. MCI Interiors, an employee worked as a plasterer in the construction industry for over 30 years. He filed a comp claim asserting he had suffered injuries to his neck and back from his repetitive heavy lifting. A neurosurgeon and the treating physician found that his chronic back pain was caused by “repetitive use at work.”

The Appellate Division’s 3rd Department said that a worker can establish an occupational disease by demonstrating a recognizable link between the medical condition and a distinctive feature of employment and with no contradictory medical evidence, the worker had succeeded in doing so.

Commission must review its denial of benefits to worker in light of recent Supreme Court ruling – North Carolina

In Neckles v. Harris Teeter, a meat cutter injured his hip, back, and arm at work and a functional capacity evaluation revealed that he would not be able to return to his job. A vocational rehabilitation specialist reported it would be “difficult” for him to secure a job in an open job market because of his limited work history, transferrable skills and age.

A few years later the company filed a motion asserting that the worker was no longer disabled. The Court of Appeals reversed the ruling of the Industrial Commission, which said the worker had not met his burden of proving that it would be futile for him to look for work. When appealed to the Supreme Court, it ordered the matter remanded to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration in light of the 2017 decision in Wilkes v. City of Greenville. In Wilkes, the Supreme Court ruled that a worker who can demonstrate a total incapacity for employment because of physical and vocational limitations does not also need to show that a job search would be futile. The Court of Appeals noted the case has to go back to the commission to make specific findings addressing the worker’s wage-earning capacity in light of his pre-existing and coexisting conditions.

Commonwealth Court ruling denying benefits for mental injury is published – Pennsylvania

The ruling in Frankiewicz v. WCAB (Kinder Morgan) denied benefits to a chemical operator for a psychiatric injury from exposure to a diesel fuel leak. Under state law, a claim must involve a combination of physical and mental injuries in order for mental injuries to be compensable, unless the mental injury was the result of exposure to “abnormal working conditions.” In this case, it was found that the worker only experienced transient symptoms that did not constitute a physical injury. These included headache, nausea, violent vomiting, choking, a runny nose and watery eyes after he was exposed to a discharge of diesel fuel from a plant a mile away. Following the incident, he began to suffer from panic attacks, anxiety and depression and doctors agreed the exposure had caused a mental injury.

The courts determined that he did not prove that he had been exposed to an abnormal working condition and the “transient” physical symptoms were insufficient to support an application of the physical-mental standard.

Failure to undergo surgery does not warrant shift in liability from employer to the Second Injury Fund – Tennessee

In Tankersley v. Batesville Casket Co., a long-term employee injured his arm and shoulder and surgery was recommended. However, the worker had congestive heart failure and decided not to undergo surgery. He returned to work with restrictions but eventually was laid off because the company had no work within his restrictions. A vocational counselor determined he had no transferrable skills and was 100% vocationally disabled because of the restrictions.

When a judge apportioned 90% of the liability for the award to the company and 10% to the state’s Second Injury Fund, the company appealed arguing the disability was caused in large part by pre-existing medical conditions. The court found that the ruling was based solely on the arm and shoulder injuries and the vocational counselor’s findings were based on the restrictions, thus the evidence did not preponderate against the trial judge’s apportionment decision.

Temp workers can choose to sue or apply for workers’ comp – Wisconsin

In Ehr v. West Bend Mut. Ins. Co. (In re Estate of Rivera), the Court of Appeals issued a decision that temporary workers have the right to file a suit against their temporary employer if they do not make a workers’ compensation claim. The case involved Carlos Rivera, a temporary employee of Alex Drywell, who was killed on the job in a one-car accident. Assigned to work for Alpine Insulation, Rivera was in an Alpine-owned vehicle, driven by an Alpine employee when the car crashed. The Alpine employee was later found to be at fault in the accident.

His estate filed a wrongful death suit against Alpine and the insurance company rather than claim death benefits under workers’ comp. The appeals court overturned a lower court and said that the exclusive remedy portion of the Workers’ Compensation Act doesn’t bar a temporary employee from bringing a claim against their temporary employer, if they had not made a claim for compensation, even if they were a “loaned employee.” The court determined that his estate could not bring a suit against Alex Drywall but was free to bring a suit against Alpine since Alpine was not technically his employer.

It’s expected that the case will be appealed to the Supreme Court.

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

Legal Corner

FMLA
Employee can be terminated for unexcused absences while entitled to FMLA absences

In Bertig v. Julia Ribaudo Healthcare Group, a nurse was certified for FMLA leave for cancer and asthma. Her employer, a local hospital, had a policy that employees are subject to termination when they accrue seven absences in a rolling 12-month period. She incurred a total of 13 intermittent absences in a 12-month period, only three of which were related to her cancer or asthma.

The hospital had thoroughly documented the reasons for each absence, made its expectations clear, and the nurse acknowledged most of her absences were not related to her cancer or asthma. The court found that she was properly terminated.

Workers’ Compensation
Exclusive remedy does not bar suit against employer under Insurance Fraud Prevention Act (IFPA) – California

In The People ex rel. Mahmoud Alzayat v. Gerald Hebb et al., the 4th District Court of Appeals’ Second Division allowed a workers’ IFPA claim to proceed, noting the act contains qui tam provisions, which allow private citizens to file civil suits on behalf of the state. In this case, an employee argued he suffered a legitimate workplace injury, but his supervisor lied on the reports causing the claim denial. While the company argued that the suit was barred based on the litigation privilege of a workers’ compensation proceeding, the Court of Appeal reversed and found in favor of the worker, holding that the IFPA is an exception to the litigation privilege.

Exclusive remedy doesn’t protect supervisor from assault claim – California

In Lee v. Lang, three employees of the Christian Herald filed suit against the director of the publication for multiple wage-and-hour violations and one asserted claims for assault, battery and the intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Court of Appeals reversed in part the judgement in favor of the director, noting “the Labor Code provides an employee may sue his or her employer, notwithstanding the exclusive remedy provision of workers’ compensation, ‘[w]here the employee’s injury – is proximately caused by a willful physical assault by the employer.”

Injuries in vanpool accident limited to workers’ comp – Illinois

In Peng v. Nardi, a buffet restaurant provided a 15-passenger van for workers, which an employee drove and was paid for his driving duties. He wasn’t allowed to use the vehicle for personal errands and he was not allowed to let anyone else drive. A passenger suffered a pelvic fracture in an accident and filed a negligence suit against her co-worker and the other two drivers involved in the accident.

While the court noted accidents when an employee is traveling to or from work generally are not treated as occurring within the course of employment, there is an exception when the employer provides a means of transportation or controls the method of the worker’s travel. Although the injured worker was not required to use the van, she relinquished control over the conditions of transportation and, thus, the exclusive remedy of workers’ comp applies.

No loss of wage earning capacity means no benefits – Mississippi

In Pruitt v. Howard Industries, a worker suffered a back injury, received conservative treatment, and returned to work without restrictions in the same plant, with the same job title, and a higher wage. He filed for PPD benefits, but was denied. The Court of Appeals explained that except for scheduled-member cases, indemnity benefits are made for diminished wage-earning capacity and not medical impairment.

Heart attack not accident and not compensable – Missouri

In White v. ConAgra Packaged Foods, a long-term machinery worker collapsed and died on a particularly hot day in the machine shop, which was not air-conditioned. His widow filed a claim for benefits, asserting that his death was the result of heat stroke and/or his physical exertions in the machine shop. While it was acknowledged that the worker had high cholesterol, hypertension, and other risk factors for a heart attack, the question was whether work activities were the prevailing factor that caused the fatal heart attack.

After two denials, the Court of Appeals awarded benefits to the widow, but the Supreme Court reversed. It noted that the worker’s death must have been caused by an “accident.” An accident is defined as an unexpected traumatic event or an unusual strain that is identifiable by time and place of occurrence and that produces objective symptoms of an injury. Further, the law provides that a cardiovascular event is an injury only “if the accident is the prevailing factor in causing the resulting medical condition.”

Long-term exposure to dust leads to PTD benefits – Nebraska

In Moyers v. International Paper Co., a worker suffered respiratory problems over his 42- year employment at a paper company. When a pulmonologist suggested he stop working, he filed for comp. The court found he had a compensable occupational disease and referred him to a vocational counselor who opined that his breathing problems would prohibit working. He was found to be permanently and totally disabled by his occupational disease and this finding was upheld by the Court of Appeals.

Fall while in line for security log in and pass compensable – New York

In Hoyos v. NY-1095 Avenue of the Americas, a worker for a subcontractor slipped and fell off an elevated loading dock while standing in line with other workers at a security check point to obtain a pass to enter the building and get to his job site. Four feet off the ground, the loading dock had no guardrails, chain, rope or other indication where its platform ended and the ledge began.

The court found that even though the worker was not working at the time, he was following the rules of the contractor and had no alternate place to check in. Refusal to treat that spot as a “construction site” under the circumstance of the case would place an “unintended limitation” on the scope of Section 240(1).

Comp claim for PTSD upheld for claims adjuster – New York

In Matter of Kraus v. Wegmans Food Markets, the company had an internal policy that was unpopular with union drivers regarding no-fault benefits. Claims that arose out of a motor vehicle accident were automatically assigned to a workers’ compensation claims service provider that administered the employer’s no-fault claims, but claims that involved the use or operation of a motor vehicle, however, were not.

The in-house adjuster received threats from unionized drivers and was known to be inconsistent in applying the policy, which contributed to his termination. He filed a workers’ comp claim, asserting he had suffered a psychiatric injury from the stress caused by the drivers’ threats and accusations of dishonesty. The case went through several appeals and the Appellate Division’s 3rd Department found he was entitled to benefits for PTSD, noting he was in “an extremely stressful and untenable situation” because of his employer’s “questionable” no-fault policy.

Civil case settlement does not bar workers’ comp claim – North Carolina

In Easter-Rozzelle v. City of Charlotte, the Supreme Court overturned a state appeals decision that questioned whether a worker who sues a third party gives up the right to comp. The case involved a city employee who suffered a work-related injury and was in a serious car accident on his way to a doctor’s appointment to obtain an “out of work” note. He settled his civil suit and the case to continue to collect comp worked its way through a series of appeals.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled that pursuing a third-party action does not affect a worker’s ability to bring a comp claim. The law does not require that an employer consent to the worker’s settlement of a third-party action, and the city is entitled to reimbursement of its lien from benefits due to the worker per state law.

Two-year jurisdiction rule includes out-of-state medical care – North Carolina

In Hall v. United States Xpress, Inc., payments to out-of-state medical care providers meet the criteria that a claim must be filed within two years after the last payment of medical compensation when no other compensation has been paid and when the employer’s liability has not otherwise been established. The injured worker met the “no other compensation has been paid” criteria since the benefits he had received, which exceeded $8 million in medical care, were provided under Tennessee’s-not North Carolina’s-Workers’ Compensation Act.

Massage service covered by comp – Pennsylvania

In Schriver v. WCAB (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Transportation), an injured worker received benefits for treatment of a back injury, including chiropractic services. The chiropractor referred him to a licensed massage therapist within the office, and the worker paid $60 for each massage session, but requested reimbursement. The case made its way to the Commonwealth Court, which reversed lower decisions denying payment for the massage services. It noted workers’ comp obligates an employer to provide payment for all reasonable services that an injured employee receives from “physicians or other health care workers,” including chiropractors and their employees or agents.

Earning power, not employment, determines reduction in benefits – Pennsylvania

In Valenta v. WCAB, a worker was collecting total disability benefits for a back and shoulder injury. The former employer’s comp carrier ordered a labor market survey (LMS) and earning power assessment (EPA) performed and six available jobs were identified. The employer then filed for, and was awarded, a modification of payments.

The Commonwealth Court explained the law does not require a worker be offered a job in order to have “earning power,” but meaningful employment opportunities must be available. The court said failure to be hired did not mean that the positions were not open and available, although the evidence of lack of success was relevant to the issue of earning capacity.

Pressured to quit, employee’s disability claim is upheld – Tennessee

In Alicia Hunt v. Dillard’s Inc., a manager of a makeup counter was denied surgery when her work-related ankle and knee injury did not heal. While working with restrictions, she said her supervisor pressured her to take a lower paying job. She resigned, had surgery, and sought to get her job back, but the company indicated she had voluntarily quit.

A trial court judge’s decision that the worker was pressured to resign and had not had a meaningful return to work at a wage equal to or above her pre-injury wage, was upheld by the Supreme Court. Therefore, she was entitled to permanent partial disability benefits up to six times the medical impairment rating, not, as argued by Dillard’s, the cap of 1.5 times the impairment rating when there is a meaningful return to work.

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

Important takeaways from recent studies and reports

Strategies to reduce costs and risks of musculoskeletal disorders

A report by the Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH) urges employers to look at their own experiences with claims, disability, workers’ compensation and health risk assessment data to best prioritize program selection and implementation to better manage MSDs. It addresses several strategies to mitigate cost and health issues and suggests using onsite ergonomics training, online courses on the subject and workplace redesigns. It also suggests new approaches to treatment, such as online pain education, direct access to physical therapy by bypassing physician referrals, and directing employees away from “unnecessary diagnostic imaging and expensive visits to specialists.” Finally, the report examined ways to ensure that if surgery is needed, that the care is performed in an efficient and cost-effective way.

Obesity and worker productivity by occupational class

The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine has published a new study, “Impact of Obesity on Work Productivity in Different US Occupations: Analysis of the National Health and Wellness Survey 2014-2015”, which examines the impacts of obesity by different occupational classes on work productivity and indirect costs of missed work time.

BMI results were as follows:

  • Protective Services: 38% overweight, 39% obese
  • Transportation: 38% overweight, 36% obese
  • Manufacturing: 35% overweight, 30% obese
  • Education: 31% overweight, 30% obese
  • Healthcare: 31% overweight, 30% obese
  • Construction: 38% overweight, 29% obese
  • Hospitality: 32% overweight, 27% obese
  • Arts: 34% overweight, 26% obese
  • Finance: 36% overweight, 25% obese
  • Computer: 36% overweight, 25% obese
  • Legal: 38% overweight, 24% obese
  • Science: 37% overweight, 21% obese

The researchers concluded that there was a positive association between work productivity impairment and increases in BMI class that varied across occupations. Obesity had the greatest impact on work productivity in construction, followed by arts and hospitality, and health care occupations. Work impairment was least impacted by increases in BMI in Finance, Protective Services, Computers, Science, and Legal. It was estimated that the indirect costs associated with the highest BMI group in construction was $12,000 compared to $7,000 for those with normal BMI.

Would your floors pass the slip and fall test? 50% fail

Half of the floors tested for a slip-and-fall study failed to meet safety criteria, suggesting that many fall-prevention programs may overlook the effects of flooring selection and ongoing maintenance on slip resistance, according to a study by CNA Financial Corp.

Given the high frequency of slips and falls, these findings underscore the need for attention to floor safety and regular surface resistance testing to avoid fall accidents and related injuries.

Fatigue costs employers big bucks

Key findings from a recent study on fatigue by the National Safety Council (NSC) include:

  • More than 43 percent of all workers are sleep-deprived, and those most at risk work the night shift, long shifts or irregular shifts. As employees become tired, their safety performance decreases and their risk of accidental injury increases.
  • Missing out on sleep makes it three times as likely to be involved in an accident while driving. Also, missing as little as two hours of sleep is the equivalent of having three beers.
  • Employers can see lost productivity costs of between $1,200 to $3,100 per employee per year.
  • The construction industry has the highest number of on-the-job deaths annually. In a 1,000-employee national construction company, more than 250 are likely to have a sleep disorder, which increases the risk of being killed or hurt on the job.
  • A single employee with obstructive sleep apnea can cost an employer more than $3,000 in excess healthcare costs each year.
  • An employee with untreated insomnia is present but not productive for more than 10 full days of work annually, and accounts for at least $2,000 in excess healthcare costs each year.

Experts say employers can help combat fatigue by offering breaks, scheduling work when employees are most alert, and promoting the importance of sleep.

Workers welcome employers’ help in dealing with stress

Workers want their employers to offer assistance in coping with work-related stress, according to a new report from the American Heart Association’s CEO Roundtable.

The report also concludes that employees think more highly of employers offering resiliency programs. Valued programs include methods for dealing with difficult people, improving physical health, remaining calm under pressure, coping with work-related stress and accurately identifying the causes of work-related problems. It also includes actionable strategies for effective workplace resilience programs.

Supportive communication and work accommodation help older workers return to work

While early supportive contact with injured workers and offers of work accommodation are important to all injured workers, a recent webinar hosted by the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) and presented by Dr. Glenn Pransky, founder of the highly acclaimed, but now-defunct Center for Disability Research within the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, noted that these two strategies are particularly effective with older workers.

His research involved workers’ comp cases in New Hampshire related to low back and upper extremity problems. Negative responses, including lack of support, anger, disbelief, blaming the worker, or discouraging the worker from filing a claim resulted in significantly longer disability, and the effect was especially strong among older workers.

Click to hear the DMEC webinar

Loss control rep visits cut lost-time injuries in construction

Visits by insurance loss prevention representatives to construction job sites can lead to fewer workplace injuries, according to a study by a Center for Construction Research and Training supported research team at the University of Minnesota. One contact was associated with a 27% reduction of risk of lost-time injury, two contacts with a 41% reduction of risk, and three or more contacts with a 28% reduction of risk, according to the study. The study also found that these visits are often low cost and that the reduction in lost-time injuries reduced workers’ comp costs.

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

Things you should know

Return to work more likely with less-invasive back surgery

A recent study of 364 Ohio workers diagnosed with degenerative spinal stenosis who underwent back surgery found that those who underwent primary decompression, a surgical procedure to alleviate pain caused by pinched nerves, had higher return to work rates than those who had the more-invasive, more-expensive fusion surgery. The study was published in July’s Spine medical journal.


Ohio adopts rule requiring initial conservative back treatment

The Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation’s new spinal fusion rule requires workers to first undergo at least 60 days of comprehensive conservative care, such as physical therapy, chiropractic care and rest, anti-inflammatories, ice and other non-surgical treatments before lumbar surgery. Conditions that require immediate intervention, such as spinal fractures, tumors, infections and functional neurological deficits, are exceptions to the rule.

DOL will again issue opinion letters on FMLA, FLSA and other laws

The U.S. Department of Labor will again issue opinion letters to assist employers and employees in interpreting laws like the FMLA and Fair Labor Standards Act. The DOL has established a new webpage to submit requests for opinion letters and to review old opinion letters.

New I-9s must be used beginning Sept. 18, 2017

USCIS released a revised version of Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, on July 17. Employers can use this revised version or continue using Form I-9 with a revision date of 11/14/16 N through Sept. 17. On Sept. 18, employers must use the revised form with a revision date of 07/17/17 N. Employers must continue following existing storage and retention rules for any previously completed Form I-9. Changes to the form are considered minor.

Free safe driving kit from National Safety Council

The Safe Driving Kit, sponsored by Wheels, Inc., aims to create safer roads and protect employees through multi-media resources and engaging materials. The kit addresses the key contributors to car crashes, including distraction, alcohol, other drugs, fatigue and seatbelt use. It also brings attention to lifesaving technology that helps prevent crashes.

Workers’ comp making more progress in reducing opioid prescriptions

According to research released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average days’ supply per opioid prescription increased from 13 days in 2006 to almost 18 days in 2015. Meanwhile, nearly half of the states included in a study of opioid prescribing in workers’ compensation cases have seen reductions in the frequency and strength of opioids given to injured workers, according to a study released in June by the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Workers Compensation Research Institute.

More than 1,000 unsafe CMVs pulled from service during ‘Operation Airbrake’

Brake violations prompted the removal of 1,146 commercial motor vehicles from service as part of a recent unannounced, single-day inspection blitz across the United States and Canada on May 3. According to the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), 12 percent of CMVs inspected were taken out of service for brake violations, and 21 percent were removed for other violations.

More than half of workers aren’t trained on first aid, CPR: survey

About 10,000 cardiac arrest situations occur in the workplace each year, yet only 45 percent of U.S. employees have been trained in first aid – and only 50 percent of workers know where to find an automated external defibrillator – according to the results of a survey recently conducted by the American Heart Association.

‘Sleeping in’ on weekends may be bad for your health: study

Going to bed later and waking up later on weekends than during the week – also known as social jet lag – may be linked to poor health and higher levels of sleepiness and fatigue, according to the preliminary results of a study conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona. Results showed each hour of social jet lag was linked to an 11.1 percent increase in the chances of developing heart disease. In addition, participants who experienced social jet lag were 28.3 percent more likely to report their health as “fair/poor.” The study abstract was published in an online supplement to the journal Sleep.

Safety measures lacking on plastic injection molding machines, peripheral equipment: study

Factories with plastic injection molding machines that interact with peripheral equipment – such as robots or conveyors – could do more to improve safety, Canadian scientific research organization IRSST concluded in a recent study. The study was published in May along with a technical guide.

State news

New rule requires preauthorization of all compounds, regardless of price – Florida

  • To clear up a “misunderstanding” among stakeholders, the Florida Division of Workers’ Compensation has clarified that all compounded drugs, regardless of cost, are now subject to preauthorization.

Legislators pass budget without workers’ comp reform – Illinois

  • While the state faces one of the highest workers’ compensation insurance rates in the country, legislators were unable to reach a consensus on reforms.

Prescription drug monitoring program implemented – Missouri

  • Missouri was the only state that lacked a prescription drug-monitoring program prior to last month when the governor signed an executive order directing the Department of Health and Senior Services to create a prescription drug-monitoring program.

Workers’ comp rules tightened – Missouri

  • The new legislation redefines “maximum medical improvement (MMI)” as the point when the condition of an injured employee can no longer improve, and bans any claims for benefits beyond that time period. It also puts more emphasis on the employee proving an employer discriminated against them after they filed a workers’ compensation case.

4.5% decrease in workers’ comp for businesses – New York

  • The New York Department of Financial Services has approved the 4.5% workers compensation premium rate decrease recommended by the New York Compensation Insurance Rating Board effective Oct. 1.

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

Legal Corner

FMLA
Appeals court overturns jury verdict in favor of employer

In Cassandra Woods, Tina Hinton v. START Treatment & Recovery Centers Inc., Addiction Research and Treatment Corp, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York reversed a jury verdict in favor of the employer in a Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) case. According to the court the judge had wrongfully instructed the jury to apply the “but for” cause of her termination, that she would not have been terminated if she had not taken FMLA leave.

On appeal, Ms. Woods argued that she only had to establish the FMLA leave was a motivating factor in her termination, which is a lower standard. The court agreed, citing a U.S. Department of Labor rule that interpreted the statute in this way. The case was remanded for further proceedings.

Workers’ Compensation
Employer must pay $3.64 million in additional premiums based on audit classifications – federal

Aviation ground services company Servisair L.L.C., which is now a subsidiary of Cheshire, England-based Swissport S.A. L.L.C., contracted with Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. for a guaranteed cost insurance policy in which the final premium would be determined based on an audit of Servisair’s payroll classifications at the end of the policy period. The estimated premium was based on payroll information submitted by the company, which, according to Liberty Mutual, was knowingly over allocated to the inexpensive clerical classification.

The company refused to pay and argued that the policy was a product of a mutual mistake about the premium calculations and that the policy’s premium calculation provisions were ambiguous. The US District Court in Houston and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans disagreed.

Exclusive remedy nixes remaining claims in NFL painkiller lawsuit – federal

A federal judge in California dismissed three remaining claims from a wide-reaching lawsuit filed by players alleging mistreatment with medications because the players had previously sought relief through workers’ compensation. The lawsuit argued that the underlying claims should be exceptions to workers’ compensation exclusivity because they were triggered by intentional acts by the teams, team doctors and trainers.

Second appellate court rules that untimely IMRs are valid – California

Recently, the 3rd District Court of Appeal (DCA) issued an unpublished decision in Baker v. WCAB (Sierra Pacific Fleet Services), agreeing with the decision of the 2nd DCA in California Highway Patrol v. WCAB (Margaris). “The interpretation of Section 4610.6, subdivision (d), as directory rather than mandatory is consistent with case law and implements the Legislature’s stated policy that decisions regarding the necessity and appropriateness of medical treatment should be made by doctors, not judges,” the 3rd DCA said.

Decision overturning total disability benefits limits to 104 weeks applies to case pending at the time – Florida

In June 2016, the Supreme Court (Westphal decision) ruled that terminating disability benefits after 104 weeks to a worker who is totally disabled and incapable of working but who has not yet reached maximum medical improvement is unconstitutional. In Ft. Walton Beach Medical Center/Broadspire v. Young, the question is raised whether the ruling applies to a case that was appealed the month before the ruling was issued. The 1st DCA noted the claims were filed in 2014 and 2015 while the Westphal decision was pending in the appellate court. The Supreme Court accepted jurisdiction of Westphal in December 2013, so its ruling applies to this case.

Ex-farm employee’s agricultural work precludes workers’ comp benefits – Indiana

In Charles O’Keefe v. Top Notch Farms, an employee drove a semi-truck and tanker and did a variety of other jobs on a farm. He was injured when he was picking up liquid fertilizer and the tanker overflowed. The injured worker argued that he should be considered a truck driver, not an agricultural employee exempt from the Workers’ Compensation Act. However, the Workers’ Compensation Board and the Court of Appeals disagreed, noting it must exam the “whole character” of the work to determine if it is agricultural in nature, so maintenance work is not categorically non-agricultural. His work as truck driver, granary sweeper, painter and truck washer, collectively, was agricultural in nature.

Undocumented worker placed on unpaid leave after filing workers’ comp claim may have a retaliatory case – Minnesota

In Sanchez v. Dahlke Trailer Sales, a divided Supreme Court held that an injured undocumented worker had raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether an employer had discharged him because he sought workers’ compensation benefits. The employer argued it was not a discharge – the worker was placed on unpaid leave until the worker could show that his return to employment would not violate federal immigration law. However, the worker argued the company had long known and accepted his undocumented status. The Court also found that federal immigration law does not preempt an undocumented worker’s claim for retaliatory discharge under Minn. Stat. ยง 176.82, subd. 1 (2016).

General contractors must provide workers’ comp for all subcontractors – Mississippi

In Builders and Contractors Association v. Laser Line Construction Co., the Supreme Court ruled that Mississippi Section 71-3-7 requires general contractors to purchase workers’ compensation coverage for the employees of subcontractors, even if the subcontractors are exempt from a requirement to hold workers’ compensation coverage themselves.

Appeals court narrows compensability of horseplay – Missouri

In Hedrick v. Big O Tires, the Court of Appeals upheld the denial of benefits to a tire shop employee who sustained severe burns when he used a lighter to ignite a can of glue held in a coworker’s hand during an apparent lull in the workday. It noted that the worker’s ignition of the glue was not an accident and that it is the accident, and not the injury, that must be the prevailing factor in causing both the resulting medical condition and disability. Even if the extent of the injuries from the “non-accident” is more serious than expected, it does not warrant coverage.

Pre-existing asthma condition insufficient for relief from Special Disability Fund – New York

In Matter of Murphy v. Newburgh Enlarged City Sch. Dist., the court found that the employer had failed to demonstrate that a preexisting asthma condition hindered, or was likely to hinder, an injured worker’s employability. The court ruling was consistent with earlier decisions, which had held that preexisting conditions that are controlled by medication generally do not constitute a hindrance to employability.

Home health care services must be paid to injured worker, not spouse – New York

In Matter of Buckner v. Buckner & Kourofsky, LLP, the court found it was an error for the Workers’ Compensation Board to directly pay the wife, who was authorized to provide some home health services to her hemiplegic and wheelchair bound husband. Citing multiple earlier decisions, the appellate court held the award must be paid to the worker.

Construction worker independent contractor, not employee – North Carolina

In Bentley v. Jonathan Piner Construction, a construction worker printed business cards in the name of Bentley Construction and Maintenance, placed a decal on his truck with the company name, started a website to advertise the business, hired his own crew, set their hours, and used many of his own tools when working on various jobs. He and some of his crew were hired by a subcontractor to do framing work. The subcontractor offered to pay the business for the work, but was asked to issue a separate check for each man on the crew.

The owner of Bentley Construction and Maintenance sustained an eye injury and filed for workers’ comp, which was denied by the carrier. Applying the eight-factor test set forth in the North Carolina Supreme Court’s 1944 ruling in Hayes v. Elon College, an appellate court determined he was an independent contractor and not entitled to benefits.

Worker who jumped off roof entitled to benefits – Pennsylvania

In Wilgro Services, Inc. v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Mentusky), a HVAC mechanic, working on the roof of a building, had used a ladder roofers had been using to get up and down from the roof. One day he was the last one on the job, and there was no ladder available. He chose to jump from the lowest part of the roof, perhaps 16 to 20 feet from the ground and ended up with multiple fractures. The carrier denied the claim but the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) granted benefits, noting although the jump was ill advised, the worker did not intentionally injure himself.

On appeal, the case made its way to the Commonwealth Court, which agreed that the worker was in the scope and course of his employment and entitled to benefits.


Employer’s denial of benefits does not preclude right to subrogation – Pennsylvania

In Kalmanowicz v. WCAB, a divided Commonwealth Court ruled that an employer’s denial of a workers’ compensation claim does not forfeit its ability to partake in any recovery from a subrogated claim. In Pennsylvania, an employer’s subrogation right is often described in terms of being “absolute” and there are only “very narrow circumstances” in which that right can be waived.

In this case, the employer was contesting a claim for PTSD that arose from a fatal automobile accident where an oncoming vehicle swerved into the employee’s lane with the driver pressing his head against the windshield and staring at the employee. The employee argued that employer could not recover a subrogation lien because it had not accepted liability for the PTSD. Since the employer had not acted in bad faith nor failed to exercise due diligence in enforcing its subrogation rights, the court said the employer had not waived its right to subrogation.

Pension offset for workers’ comp based on maximum amount, not what was actually received – Pennsylvania

In Harrison v. WCAB, a divided Commonwealth Court ruled that an employer was entitled to an offset against an injured worker’s pension benefits based on the maximum monthly amount of pension benefits he could receive, even though he was receiving a lower monthly rate that provides a survivor benefit for his spouse. The court argued even though he received a reduced payment, his employer needed to provide funding to the pension plan to pay the survivor benefits to his wife and, therefore, both pensions would be “actuarially equivalent.”

Worker cannot sue co-worker for injuries in auto accident – Tennessee

In Williams v. Buraczynski, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville found that an injured worker could not sue his co-worker who was driving at the time of the accident for negligence. It noted the exclusive remedy was workers’ compensation and that case law provided the rights under the system. One of those rights is to “not be subject to a tort suit by another employee for actions taken in furtherance of the employer’s business.”

Claim for surgery treating pre-existing condition, not injury, disallowed – Wisconsin

In Flug v. Labor and Industry Review Commission, a divided Supreme Court ruled that a worker was not entitled to benefits for her surgery to treat her degenerative disc disease, even though she had a good-faith belief that the surgery was reasonable and necessary treatment for her work-related back and shoulder injuries.

A Wal-Mart supervisor suffered an injury to her shoulder and received conflicting opinions from three physicians regarding treatment. Following the recommendations of a neurosurgeon, she underwent surgery for an anterior cervical discectomy. However, the carrier only provided coverage for a muscle sprain based on the opinion of the doctor hired by Wal-Mart to perform an independent medical evaluation who concluded she suffered a cervical and shoulder strain that was resolved long before the surgery and that she had pre-existing degenerative disc disease.

While the Court of Appeals found that she was entitled to disability benefits for her surgery as long as she had a good-faith belief that it was necessary treatment for her industrial injury, the majority of the Supreme Court held “if the disability-causing treatment was directed at treating something other than the employee’s compensable injury” it is not compensable.

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

Things you should know

Opioid abuse rises with length of prescription

According to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of opioid abuse rises with lengthy prescriptions. If received a one-day prescription, 6% were still on opioids a year later; when prescribed for 8 days or more, this rises to 13.5%; when prescribed for 31 days or more, it increases to 29.9%.

Blacklisting rule repealed

President Trump repealed the so-called “blacklisting rule” that required federal contractors to disclose labor violations. The executive order had required employers bidding for federal contracts worth at least $500,000 to disclose any of 14 violations of workplace protections during the previous three years.

FMCSA will not reinstate overnight rest regulations for commercial drivers

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) regulation that required CMV (Commercial Motor Vehicle) drivers to take breaks in the hopes of preventing driver fatigue has been suspended since 2014 so that further research could be done to understand the efficacy of the program. A study from the Department of Transportation found that stricter mandated breaks did not do much to reduce driver fatigue or improve safety. Thus, the rule will not come out of suspension.

Study reveals occupations with sleep deprived workers

If your industry is health care, food service, or transportation, your workers are probably not getting adequate sleep, according to a study published March 3 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Workers who averaged fewer than seven hours of sleep per night were classified as having short sleep durations. Occupation groups that failed to average seven hours of sleep included:

  • Communications equipment operators: 58 percent
  • Rail transportation workers: 53 percent
  • Printing workers: 51 percent
  • Plant and system operators: 50 percent
  • Supervisors, food preparation and serving workers: 49 percent
  • Extraction workers: 45 percent
  • Nursing, psychiatric and home health aides: 43 %

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend that adults 18 to 60 years old get at least seven hours of sleep every day. A lack of sleep can contribute to cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, and other health issues, as well as contribute to more injuries on the job.

NIOSH announces free health screenings for coal miners

A series of free, confidential health screenings will be available for coal miners as part of the NIOSH Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program. The first set of screenings will take place from March 26 to April 15 in coal mining regions throughout Alabama. The second set will occur from May 10 to May 31 throughout Indiana and Illinois. Finally, testing will take place from July 30 to Aug. 26 throughout Eastern Kentucky.

NIOSH updates mine hazard assessment software

Mine operators and workers now have access to updated hazard assessment software from NIOSH. According to the agency, EVADE 2.0 – short for Enhanced Video Analysis of Dust Exposures – offers a more comprehensive assessment of the hazards miners face by pulling together video footage and exposure data on dust, diesel and other gases, as well as sound levels.

Study: PT as effective as surgery for carpal tunnel

Physical therapy is as effective as surgery in treating carpal tunnel syndrome, according to a new study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. Researchers in Spain and the United States report that one year following treatment, patients with carpal tunnel syndrome who received physical therapy achieved results comparable to outcomes for patients who had surgery. Further, physical therapy patients saw faster improvements at the one-month mark than did patients treated surgically.

When hospital inspectors are watching, fewer patients die

A recent report in the New York Times cited a study in JAMA Internal Medicine which found death rates dropped when inspectors were onsite. In the non-inspection weeks, the average 30-day death rate was 7.21 percent. But during inspections, the rate fell to 7.03 percent. The difference was greater in teaching hospitals – 6.41 percent when the inspectors were absent, and 5.93 percent during survey weeks. While the difference may seem low, an absolute reduction of only 0.39 percent in the death rate would mean more than 3,500 fewer deaths per year.

Although the reasons for the effect are unclear, it was suggested when docs are being monitored, diligence ramps up.

Wearing eye protection can prevent 90 percent of work-related eye injuries, experts suggest

Ninety percent of on-the-job eye injuries could be avoided if workers wore eye protection, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). AAO offers the following tips for avoiding workplace eyestrain or injury:

  • Wear protective eyewear appropriate for the type of hazard you may encounter
  • Position your computer monitor 25 inches away
  • Follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a break by looking at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds
  • Reduce glare on your cell phone or digital device
  • Adjust environmental lighting near your workstation

 

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

Legal Corner

Workers’ Compensation
Worker has right to obtain medical report from doctor of his choice – California

In Davis v. WCAB (City of Modesto), Davis filed two workers’ compensation claims stating his prostate cancer developed because of his exposure to carcinogens while working as a firefighter. A qualified medical examiner (QME) issued opinions that the cancer was not work-related and Davis then hired a doctor to review the reports, which were sent to the QME for review. The city protested that this violated the discovery process and the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) rescinded a judge’s order that had allowed the review.

Upon appeal, however, the WCAB filed a letter brief to the Court of Appeals, asking for review to be granted and for its decision to be vacated, since the decision had not addressed Labor Code Section 4605. Section 4605 says there is no limitation on the right of a worker to obtain a medical report, at his own expense, from the doctor of his choice. While the report cannot be “the sole basis of an award of compensation,” Section 4605 specifically allows a QME to address the report and respond to its contents.

Traveling worker denied benefits for fall in motel parking lot – Georgia

In Avrett Plumbing Co. v. Castillo, an hourly employee lived in Atlanta, but his job required him to work in Augusta. The company paid a weekly rate to provide him a hotel room and allowed him to use it on weekends at no cost. On a Sunday evening when returning from grocery shopping he tripped and fell in the parking lot, breaking his ankle. When he filed for workers’ comp, the company argued that the accident had not occurred during the course of employment, since it happened outside of normal work hours and the employee was engaged in activities unrelated to his job.

An administrative law judge disagreed and found the injury compensable under the “continuous employment” doctrine, because the employee was “required by his employment to live away from home while working.” The case went through several more appeals, and benefits were ultimately denied with the court finding the employee was there “merely as a personal convenience” (lack of money and transportation prevented travel to Atlanta) and that the errand was for the sole benefit of the employee.

Willful misconduct may bar comp benefits – Georgia

An employee who disobeys an employer’s instructions and acts in a dangerous fashion may not be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, the Supreme Court ruled. Chandler Telecom v. Burdette revolved around the question of willful misconduct. A cellphone tower employee sustained serious injuries attempting a “controlled descent” from a tower, even though a supervisor ordered him not to attempt the descent and to climb down and the crew’s lead tower repeatedly protested his actions.

The Board of Workers’ Compensation concluded the employee could not receive comp benefits because he engaged in willful misconduct by defying his supervisor’s instructions, a decision that was affirmed by a Superior Court. However, the Court of Appeals reversed, saying his actions did not constitute willful misconduct because his actions were not of a “quasi criminal nature…”

The Supreme Court found that the appellate court erred in its ruling, noting the proper interpretation of a 1993 decision defining willful misconduct is “an intentional and deliberate action done either with the knowledge that it is likely to result in serious injury, or with a wanton and reckless disregard of its probable consequences.” The Supreme Court said it did not have enough information to make a determination about whether willful misconduct had occurred. It remanded the case to the Board of Workers’ Compensation for further fact-finding.

Worker killed by exploding shell can only claim comp – Illinois

An employee was killed by the explosion of a live mortar shell that had been transferred from the U.S. Army’s National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California to the Totall Metal Recycling’s (TMR) facility in Granite City. The lawsuit alleged the employer acted intentionally in transporting dangerous materials, but not that the company acted intentionally in injuring the employee. As such, the judge noted any allegation of TMR’s intent to injure the employee would fly in the face of the complaint, which alleges a claim of negligence. Thus, the exclusive remedy of workers’ comp barred the wrongful death claim. Muenstermann v. United States

Exclusive remedy bars negligence suit for borrowed worker – Illinois

An employee of a temporary staffing agency was assigned to work for Lindoo Installations Inc. and suffered a partial amputation of his right index finger when it was trapped between a bundle of shelving and a forklift. He filed for workers’ comp with the staffing agency and filed a negligence claim against Lindoo. While the trial court granted Lindoo’s motion for summary judgment under the exclusive remedy provision, the employee appealed arguing that the staffing agency’s branch manager periodically checked in.

The appeals court affirmed the decision, noting Lindoo met several factors that determine a borrowed employee relationship and qualified as a borrowing employer because it had the right to direct and control the employee’s work. TerranceFalge v. Lindoo Installations Inc.

Undocumented worker due benefits – Kansas

In Mera-Hernandez v. U.S.D. 233, the court found the injuries suffered by an undocumented school custodian were compensable even though she used a false name and submitted falsified documents to the school district when she was hired. The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals ruling that her immigration status does not dispute the work she performed for the school district and she fits the broad definition of employee under the law.

Clarifying Schoemehl window, court awards widow comp benefits – Missouri

For a very brief time, Missouri espoused a rule, known as the “Schoemehl doctrine,” that allowed for a permanently and totally disabled worker’s weekly benefits to be passed on to his dependents upon his death. The doctrine is limited to claims that were in existence as of January 2007, the date of the Supreme Court’s decision in Schoemehl v. Treasurer, and had not yet been fully resolved by June 2008, when the legislature then abrogated the doctrine.

In Ogden v. Conagra Foods, Ogden suffered serious injuries to his skull and spine in a 2001 motor vehicle accident and collected more than $2.4 million in benefits until his death in 2014. In 2009, the Ogden’s attorney filed a Form 21 Claim for Compensation for the employee and his wife. After Ogden died, his wife demanded payment on her claim for Schoemehl benefits.

The Industrial Commission determined she was entitled to payment, and Conagra appealed. The Court of Appeals approved benefits, explaining it didn’t matter that the wife’s claim for Schoemehl benefits wasn’t filed within the window of January 2007 to June 2008 because the claim was open and active during this time.

 

Credibility of doctors’ conflicting testimony weighed in appeal – Nebraska

In Hintz v. Farmers Cooperative Association, a worker was injured when a tire exploded, but he did not seek medical care and returned to work after a day-and-a-half absence. About three weeks after the accident, he tripped on the stairs at home and sought medical attention, which revealed a labral tear and other problems with his hip. His physician took him off work and performed surgery, and Farmers’ Cooperative terminated him after several months’ absence.

The worker filed a workers’ comp claim, and his physician testified although the worker had given inconsistent accounts about whether the hip injury was caused by the explosion at work or the trip down the stairs, when he performed surgery he observed a serious labral tear that seemed more likely to have been caused by the workplace explosion. An IME disagreed, testifying the injury was more likely caused by the fall down the stairs.

The Workers’ Compensation Court denied the claim, finding the IME’s testimony to be more reliable, but the Court of Appeals overturned, noting the treating physician had personally seen the extent of the injury during surgery.

Country club worker can proceed with lawsuit after general manager struck him in the groin with a golf club – New York

A country club employee whose left testicle was surgically removed after the club’s general manager struck him in the groin with a golf club is entitled to sue for damages beyond workers’ compensation benefits ruled an appellate court. The locker-room attendant was observing the assembly of golf clubs in the pro shop when the general manager entered and picked up a golf club shaft and struck him in the testicle, then left the room laughing.

The employee and his wife sued the general manager, who sought dismissal of the case based on workers’ comp exclusive remedy. The Court concluded that questions of fact existed as to whether the general manager acted in a ‘grossly negligent and/or reckless’ manner when he swung the golf club shaft and struck the employee and whether the country club condoned the action, thus the civil case can proceed. Montgomery v. Hackenburg.

Blackout caused by non-work conditions does not prohibit benefits – New York

In Nuclear Diagnostic Products, 116 NYWCLR 211, the New York Workers’ Compensation Board awarded benefits to a driver, who crashed his work vehicle after losing consciousness. The driver reported that he started coughing due to an asthmatic reaction to a new air freshener in his house and lost control of the car. The Board explained that since the driver’s accident occurred in the course of his employment he was entitled to a presumption that the accident arose out of his employment and that the driving of the employer’s vehicle was an added risk of employment.

Severe disability from Legionnaires’ Disease compensable – Pennsylvania

An employee of Nestle’s New Jersey office did most of his work in Pennsylvania performing maintenance on beverage machines. He fell ill, was hospitalized, lapsed into a coma, and was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ Disease. The illness left him wheelchair-bound, affected his speech, and the treatment he received may have caused brain damage. Nestle denied the allegations that he contracted the disease while working on fountain and soda drink machines that contained contaminated water, and argued the disease was not a result of work-related exposure. After testimony from a number of personal witnesses and medical experts, a workers’ comp judge determined that the employee was temporarily totally disabled and entitled to workers’ comp benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board and the Commonwealth Court affirmed. Nestle USA Inc./Vitality vs. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board

Seasonal worker difficult to prove – Pennsylvania

Two recent decisions of the Commonwealth Court illustrate how difficult it is for an employer to establish that a worker is a seasonal employee. While there is a specific formula for calculating the average wage when a worker is engaged in an “exclusively seasonal” occupation, the law does not provide a definition for the term. The controlling standard comes from a 1927 Supreme Court case which declared seasonal occupations are “those vocations which cannot, from their very nature, be continuous or carried on throughout the year, but only during fixed portions of it.”

In Toigo Orchards v. WCAB (Gaffney), a tractor driver who was hired for a single apple harvest doesn’t fall within the “exclusively seasonal” category. The argument was that the injured employee was “itinerant agricultural labor,” a tractor driver, and that short-term employment is not synonymous with seasonal work. Had he been treated as a seasonal employee his weekly benefits would have been only $31.99, compared to $315.90 weekly, which he was awarded.

In Lidey v. WCAB (Tropical Amusements), a carnival ride fabricator wasn’t an “exclusively seasonal” employee, even though his employer did business only during the summer months. He was awarded $917 per week, based on his weekly wage of $2,000.

Philadelphia Eagles must pay workers’ comp and a penalty for failing to report player’s injury – Pennsylvania

A defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles ruptured his right Achilles tendon during the team’s training camp and underwent surgery and PT until he became a free agent. The team paid for his treatment and surgery and paid his regular salary until his contract expired, but failed to file workers’ comp documents. As a free agent, he rehabilitated at a private facility, which the team paid for, and ruptured his left Achilles tendon and the team paid for the surgery, but he paid for the rehabilitation. He filed for disability benefits and the team argued it should not be responsible for the second injury because it was not work related.

A workers’ compensation judge, and on appeal the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, ruled that the Eagles violated regulations by failing to report his first injury and awarded the claim petition as well as a 50 percent penalty to be paid by his employer on past-due compensation. The Eagles argued it was “not practically possible” to report every injury that occurs as a workers’ compensation claim as they see between 800 to 1,000 injuries during the season and practice. They file workers’ compensation claims only when players need treatment beyond what can be treated in the training facility, and they file NCPs on request.

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

Legal Corner

ADA
Jury verdict for needle-phobic pharmacist overturned

In Christopher Stevens v. Rite Aid Corp. et al. a federal appeals court overturned a $1.8 million jury verdict and ruled Rite-Aid did not violate the ADA when it terminated a pharmacist who was afraid of needles. When the company started requiring pharmacists to perform immunizations in 2011, the pharmacist, who had worked as a Rite Aid pharmacist and its predecessor pharmacies for 34 years, provided a doctor’s note that he suffered from trypanophobia (needle phobic) and would likely faint if he had to administer an injection. Shortly thereafter he was fired and filed a wrongful termination suit.

At trial, a U.S. District Court jury in Binghamton, New York, awarded him a total of $1.8 million. But on appeal, the court found that immunization injections were an essential job requirement for Rite Aid pharmacists at the time of Stevens’ termination and, therefore, Rite Aid did not violate the ADA.

Firing of bad-tempered bipolar employee did not violate ADA

In Michael Waggoner v. Carlex Glass America L.L.C., an employee of Nashville, Tennessee-based Carlex Glass America L.L.C., had been disciplined twice for violent outbursts while working for his plant’s previous owner. The second time he was suspended but allowed to return to work under a “last chance” agreement. After two more outbursts, he was terminated with the employer citing a work rule against using abusive language toward co-workers.

While he cited examples of other employees who had similar violations of the work rule, the court concluded that his outbursts may have posed a greater workplace safety threat and that the other employees did not have a history of infractions.

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HR Tip: ABA’s summary of 2016 FMLA cases

Every February, the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Federal Labor Standards Legislation Committee publishes a comprehensive report of FMLA decisions handed down by the federal courts in the previous year. This handy report summarizes every FMLA decision from 2016 in a user-friendly manner.

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