Workplace safety: an untapped tool to attract and retain skilled workers

It’s easy for employers to be complacent about Workers’ Compensation when rates are declining and workplaces are safer overall. There are more pressing business matters in today’s competitive market, such as attracting and retaining skilled and committed workers. But failure to relate the two is a lost opportunity and complacency is a slippery slope to higher costs.

A strong safety record reflects positively on the quality of management, supervision, and all employees. While there are individual and generational differences in what attracts workers to a company, there are common denominators. Trust, respect, involvement, clear goals and expectations, engaged management, collaborative working environment, and recognition are regulars on the lists of most desirable workplace characteristics. All of these are integral to a sustainable safety culture.

There is one value everyone can share: to go home without an injury. Use it to tell your story. While the message, “we value and care about our employees,” is often boasted, it’s met with skepticism. The opinion that production and profit trump safety is still pervasive among many employees.

To combat this attitude, safety must become everyone’s responsibility. Management must walk-the-talk and model the safety behavior they expect from employees, as well as empower employees to voice their concerns and take it upon themselves to improve safety. If an incident occurs, the focus is not on blame, but on the worker’s full recovery and a cooperative effort to improve processes to prevent future occurrences.

With a strong safety culture, employers have a credible way to demonstrate they value, trust, and care about their employees. Here’s how to use it to give yourself an edge:

For recruitment:

  • Communicate that safety is a core value by personalizing the message. Don’t just talk about metrics, but how employees are valued, respected, and engaged
  • Explain the role employees have in safety and how employees are trusted to do the right thing
  • Describe how orientation training truly reflects what happens in the field/plant, occurs before they even set foot on the job, and how training continues throughout the year
  • Share how employees are rewarded or recognized for making safe behaviors and reporting incidents or near misses
  • Tell how your recovery at work program reflects the company’s values with real stories

For retention:

  • Focus on successes and recognize and reward safe behavior
  • Continually encourage reporting incidents and near misses
  • Use safety to build teamwork and strive for excellence
  • Take an active role in an injured worker’s treatment and recovery. Let them know their recovery is a priority by your actions
  • Reinforce there are no acceptable trade-offs between safety and productivity and that both are everyone’s responsibility
  • Encourage workers to speak freely about hazards and make suggestions for controlling risk

It’s important to recognize that employer complacency will filter down to employees. This can lead not only to a lax attitude about safety and an increase in injuries, but also fewer referrals. Word-of-mouth, as well as social media, can make or break recruitment efforts.

Hiring and retaining the right workers for the right positions

It takes work to maintain a strong safety culture and it begins with the hiring process. While making safety part of the recruiting process enhances the possibility of safety-conscious applicants, employers must be sure that they hire employees who are physically and mentally able to perform the job they are being hired to do.

A compliant way for employers to find out whether an applicant can do the job safely is to implement the Conditional Offer of Employment and Post-Offer/Pre-Placement Medical Questionnaire. When you hire someone who is not capable of doing the job, it’s not a question of if, but rather a question of when they are going to suffer an injury. Employers are less able to bear the burden of employees losing time today than at any time in the recent past.

With Workers’ Comp on the priority backburner, it’s easy to forget about including it in onboarding new employees or training current employees. Yet, the vast majority of employees who suffer an injury at work will find themselves inside the workers’ comp system for the first time. Even a minor injury may seem like a major occurrence because it is unfamiliar and frightening. “What am I going to have to pay?”, “How am I going to feed my family?”, “What do my co-workers think?”, and more fill their mind. When you communicate to workers how the workers’ comp process works, you can alleviate doubts and build confidence.

Getting injured employees back to work is always near the top of the list for best claims practices. While it’s been proven that Recovery at Work programs have an economic benefit, the human element is equally important. By providing support, encouragement, and opportunity, the employer makes the employee feel valued, protected, and confident appropriate work will be available.

Culture has been at the top of safety and health issues for more than a decade. Rethinking recruitment and retention strategies around safety may be the solution to one of the most pressing business matters today.

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

HR Tip: Bolstering recruitment efforts in 2019

Finding qualified applicants is one of the top challenges faced by employers. According to a new SilkRoad and CareerBuilder study, the problem begins with the job search process. A majority of employees believe their experience as a job candidate reflects how the company treats its people.

Among the key findings are:

  • Candidates expect proactive, transparent and frequent communications from employers.
  • The candidate experience speaks volumes about the employee experience.
  • Candidates are not willing to wait.
  • Candidates expect a fast and easy application experience.
  • Candidates keep looking for other jobs even when they accept an offer.
  • Successful onboarding for a new hire is critical for their long-term vision of culture and career potential at the new company.

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

Safety risks soar with workforce shortage

The USG U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index (CCI) is a quarterly economic index designed to gauge the outlook for, and resulting confidence in, the commercial construction industry. While earlier reports indicated that the shortage of skilled workers affected schedule performance and jobsite efficiency, the September index added a new dimension – 80 percent of contractors agree that the skilled labor shortage also impacts jobsite safety and it’s the number one factor increasing safety risk on the jobsite.

Tighter time schedules are the number two factor and exacerbate the safety risks. Aggressive scheduling may cause contractors to use workers with less experience or training, and can push employees to work longer hours, which can lead to shortcuts and compromised processes.

Addiction and substance abuse issues also decrease worker and jobsite safety. Almost 40% of contractors say they are highly concerned about the safety impacts of worker use/addiction to opioids, followed by alcohol (27%) and marijuana (22%). Notably, the report showed that while nearly two-thirds of contractors have strategies in place to reduce the safety risks presented by alcohol (62 percent) and marijuana (61 percent), only half have strategies to address their top substance of concern: opioids, which is a newer growing concern.

Language barriers also are a leading safety risk, particularly in the Northeast (34%) and West (31%).

 

Strategies to reduce safety risks

To address safety risks caused by workforce shortages, contractors believe the most effective strategies are an improved safety culture and more leadership training.

  • Improving the safety climate on jobsites (63 percent)
  • Improving the firm’s safety culture (58 percent)
  • Providing more leadership training for supervisors (48 percent)
  • Tracking and assessing safety records (34 percent)
  • Using safety-enhancing technologies (33 percent)

General Contractors in the Northeast are relying more than others on leadership training for supervisors. Large contractors are using safety-enhancing technology (47%) more than small contractors (27%).

The study dove deeper into the most impactful way to achieve a strong safety culture. It presented a list of practices associated with a strong safety culture and asked contractors to select those with the highest impact on safety outcomes. Training at all levels topped the list (67%). More than half (53%) of contractors believe that ensuring accountability at all levels has a high impact. Other indicators include improving communication (46 percent), demonstrating management’s commitment to safety (46 percent), improving supervisory leadership (43 percent) and aligning and integrating safety as a value (42 percent).

More general contractors consider empowering and involving employees (58%) and demonstrating management commitment (55%) to have a high impact on safety outcomes, compared with trade contractors (35% and 34%, respectively.)

The top strategies contractors are using to reduce safety risks caused by substance abuse are testing, prescreening before hiring, education, communication oversight by supervisors, zero tolerance policies, counseling, and access to rehab.

The labor shortage in the construction industry is projected to last another three years, requiring increased emphasis on safety training and supervision. Four out of five (80%) contractors said they experienced some competitive advantage from their safety programs, although larger companies with more resources and expertise gain a greater advantage. They cite insurance, liability, and new business as top benefits.

Even a few injuries can push worker comp rates sky high, raise the experience modifier, reduce bidding opportunities, lower morale, and put more pressure on workers who are already expected to do more with less. A renewed emphasis on safety that is inclusive and forward thinking will help curb the risks.

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

 

Legal Corner

ADA
Multi-month leave not required in 7th Circuit states – Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review a 7th Circuit decision that the ADA doesn’t require employers to allow workers with disabilities to be off the job for two months or more. In Raymond Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft Inc, the 7th Circuit ruling that a multi-month leave of absence is beyond the scope of a reasonable accommodation under the ADA does not comply with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity’s position and disagrees with other courts.

The Severson decision allows employers in the 7th Circuit to, without violating the ADA, terminate the employment of workers who make months-long leave requests, but employers should be cautious about denying leaves of less than two months and obtain written confirmation of the requested time off. Under Wisconsin law, there is a more lenient interpretation of reasonable accommodation than under the ADA, so it important to consider the state statute as well.

Telecommuting a reasonable accommodation

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a $92,000 verdict and $18,184.32 for back pay and lost benefits award for a city utility attorney who was denied her request to telecommute during her 10-week bed rest for pregnancy complications. The utility had reversed its policy on telecommuting in 2011, requiring all lawyers to work onsite, but she had been allowed to work from home when she recovered from neck surgery, shortly after the policy change.

In her 23rd week of pregnancy, her doctors placed her on modified bed rest for approximately 10 weeks. She made an official accommodation request with supporting documentation, which was denied based on the argument that physical presence was an essential function of the job, and telecommuting created concerns about maintaining confidentiality.

She filed a lawsuit for pregnancy discrimination, failure to accommodate and retaliation under the ADA and was awarded $92,000 in compensatory damages and $18,184.32 for back pay and lost benefits by a jury. Upon appeal, the attorney testified that in her eight years of employment, she had never tried cases in court or taken depositions of witnesses, even though those duties were listed in her position description. The court found that she was adequately performing her duties telecommuting, as her job duties were not tied to her presence in the office. Mosby-Meachem v. Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division, 6th Cir., No. 17-5483 (Feb. 21, 2018).

Workers’ Compensation
Worker entitled to attorney’s fees although benefits were less than he sought – Florida

In Portu v. City of Coral Gables, a fire fighter developed hypertension, but his impairment rating was based on those of a female patient and were adjusted from 35% to 4%. State statute provides that a worker will be entitled to a fee award if the claim is successfully prosecuted after being denied by his employer. Also, a fee award will not attach to a claim until 30 days after the date the claim petition was provided to the employer or carrier.

A judge denied the claim for attorney fees because the city paid benefits within 30 days of the revised impairment rating assessment, and it couldn’t have paid benefits earlier because it had no way of calculating the correct amount. An appellate court, however, found he was entitled to attorney’s fees because the carrier had denied the claim, the employee had successfully prosecuted the claim, and 30 days had elapsed from “the date the carrier … receives the petition.” It did not matter that the claim petition had sought benefits based on a higher impairment rating.

Police officer entitled to duty disability pension for injuries in training session – Illinois

In Gilliam v. Board of Trustees of the City of Pontiac Police Pension Fund, a police officer was injured during a voluntary bicycle patrol training session and was denied a line-of-duty pension because her disability had not been caused by an “act of duty.” An act of duty is defined as an act “inherently involving special risk, not ordinarily assumed by a citizen in the ordinary walks of life, imposed on a policeman.”

The decision went through a series of appeals and the courts determined that there are “special risks associated with bicycle patrol” and what mattered was whether she was injured while attempting a bicycle maneuver that involved a special risk.

No additional payment for provider who accepted partial payment from Medicaid – Minnesota

In Gist v. Atlas Staffing, a worker for a temporary employment agency was assigned to a position that involved working with silica-sand tanks. About two years later he stopped working and shortly after was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease. He received treatment in Minnesota and Michigan, which was partially paid for by Medicaid and Medicare.

He then filed a workers’ comp claim, asserting the exposure to silica had caused the kidney failure and the treating medical center intervened seeking payment for the portion that Medicaid and Medicare had not paid. A workers’ compensation judge found in favor of benefits but noted the medical center should be paid “in accordance with all other state and federal laws.”

The case made its way to the state Supreme Court, which noted that while a treatment provider is entitled to a payment for medical services provided to an employee, to the extent allowed under the workers’ compensation medical fee schedule, even if the provider has already received partial payment from a private, non-employer insurer, in this case payment was received from Medicaid. A federal regulation requires providers who participate in Medicaid programs to accept a Medicaid payment as “payment in full.”

Award of schedule benefits overturned because summary judgment is not a way to resolve factual disputes – Nebraska

In Wynne v. Menard, a retail worker injured her knee and in a later accident injured her shoulder. The court awarded her temporary total disability benefits and ordered that the benefits continue until she reached maximum medical improvement, at which time she underwent a functional assessment evaluation. While the evaluator imposed no restrictions on her ability to sit, her treating physician said she could not sit for more than 10 minutes at a time, and a court-appointed vocational expert questioned this finding.

The state Supreme Court said there was a triable issue of fact as to the extent of her disability and the Workers’ Compensation Court erred by weighing the relative merits of the evidence and awarding her schedule benefits for her knee and shoulder since summary judgment is not a way to resolve factual disputes. The case was reversed and remanded.

Board can reject medical decision but not misread records – New York

In Matter of Gullo v. Wireless Northeast, the Workers’ Compensation Board rejected the opinion of the worker’s doctor because he had testified that he could not offer an opinion on causation since he was not familiar with the employee’s work duties. However, when he was advised of her work duties, he confirmed his opinion. The appellate court found that the Board overlooked this fact when it held that the doctor could not offer an opinion on causation. Thus, the denial of benefits was reversed.

Employer’s lien against subrogation recovery determined when settlement is made – New York

In Matter of Adebiyi v. New York City Housing Authority, an employee was injured when an ultra-high-pressure washer malfunctioned. He filed tort suits against the manufacturer and lessor of the pressure washer and received settlements of $1.6 million and $800,000. When he received judicial approval of the settlement with the lessor, the Housing Authority was granted a lien of over $222,000. At the time, the Workers’ Compensation Board was deciding whether to reclassify him as permanently and totally disabled and the employee argued the lien should not be determined until the decision was made. While a trial judge ruled in his favor, the appellate court noted the lien was appropriately determined at the time of the settlement without consideration for reclassification.

Failure of employer to timely contest claim doesn’t guarantee benefits – New York

In Matter of Nock v. New York City Department of Education, a lunch helper alleged she suffered a work-related back injury. A judge found that the department did not file a timely contest and awarded benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Board reversed and Appellate Division’s 3rd Department agreed, explaining that an employer’s failure to file a timely notice will bar it from raising certain defenses, but it does not relieve a worker of the burden to prove that the medical condition was caused by work.

Medical claim for non-FDA approved compound cream upheld – North Carolina

In Davis v. Craven County ABC Bd, an employee injured his ankle and after four years of treatment was diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy and prescribed a compound cream. The carrier refused to pay for the cream, which was not approved by the FDA, or any further treatment from the prescribing physician. A new physician prescribed a similar, non-FDA-approved cream and the carrier again refused payment.

The North Carolina Industrial Commission affirmed a deputy’s order for the carrier to pay for the cream. The appellate court noted that the law did not limit the types of drugs that might reasonably be required solely to those that are FDA-approved. Reasonable treatment is a question that must be individually assessed in each case. “If requiring workers’ compensation providers to compensate injured workers for non-FDA-approved drugs is bad policy, it is for our General Assembly to change that law,” added the court.

No benefits for teacher’s stroke suffered while receiving unfavorable review – North Carolina

In Cohen v. Franklin County Schools, a high school principal received complaints about a math teacher and prepared a professional development plan. When he met with the teacher and the director of secondary education, he presented the plan, but she refused to sign it. After the meeting, which lasted about 15 minutes, the teacher experienced head pain and sought medical treatment three days later. It was determined she had had a stroke and she sought comp benefits.

The Industrial Commission denied the benefits and the Court of Appeals upheld the denial, noting that the meeting was neither unexpected nor inappropriate. “At most, Cohen received critical feedback that was unwelcome to her – an occurrence that is not unusual for an employee at any job.”

Uber limousine drivers are independent contractors – Pennsylvania

In what is believed to be the first ruling on the classification of Uber drivers under federal law, a U.S. District judge ruled that drivers for Uber’s limousine service, UberBlack, are independent contractors and not the company’s employees under federal law. The judge found that the drivers work when they want to and are free to nap, run personal errands or smoke cigarettes in between rides and, thus, the company does not exert enough control over the drivers for them to be considered employees. Razak v. Uber Technologies Inc.

Chiropractor cannot collect fee for office visits and same day treatments – Pennsylvania

In Sedgwick Claims Management Services v. Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Fee Review Hearing Office, an employer was obligated to pay reasonable and necessary medical expenses for an employee’s shoulder injury under a Compromise and Release Agreement. The employee saw a chiropractor as many as three times each week, who billed the TPA $78.00 per visit for office visits on dates on which he provided chiropractic treatment.

The TPA denied the office visit charges but paid for the other treatments. The state code permits payment for office visits “only when the office visit represents a significant and separately identifiable service performed in addition to the other procedure.” Thus, the Commonwealth Court overturned a hearing officer’s decision finding that a chiropractor was entitled to payment of the office visit fee, noting that payment for same day examinations was the exception, not the rule.

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

OSHA watch

Silica safety enforcement ramped up at construction sites

Since compliance requirements took effect Sept. 23, 2017, there have been 116 alleged silica violations at companies as of April 17, a Bloomberg Environment analysis of agency records show. The number of violations in the initial six months is likely to increase since it can take up to six months after an inspection to issue citations. A common misunderstanding of Table 1 among small contractors is that using respirators is the first option. Respirators are acceptable protection, but contractors are expected to first change construction methods or tools to reduce the amount of silica that becomes airborne.

Of the 116 silica violations cited, the most frequently mentioned provision was employers failing to measure silica exposure levels (29 C.F.R. 1926.1153(d)(2)(i)). Almost as frequently cited is incorrectly following Table 1’s procedures (29 C.F.R. 1926.1153 (c)(1)), intended to reduce silica exposure. Eighty percent of the cases were classified as serious violations.

Direct final rule revising Beryllium Standard for general industry issued

While enforcement of certain provisions of the beryllium rule began on May 11, the compliance date for the beryllium standard for general industry was extended and certain ancillary provisions in the final rule changed as a result of a settlement agreement with four petitioners.

The direct final rule clarifies certain definitions and provisions for disposal/recycling, along with those that apply in cases of potential skin exposure to materials containing at least 0.1 percent beryllium by weight. The direct final rule will go into effect July 4, “unless the agency receives significant adverse comments by June 4,” according to a press release.

New flier offers steps to keep tractor trailer drivers safe at destination

Developed in concert with the trucking industry, a new flier addresses the most common hazards for drivers after they reach their destination: parking, backing up, and coupling (attaching) and uncoupling (detaching) vehicles.

List of authorized outreach trainers now available online

The website now has a searchable list of authorized Outreach trainers to assist the public in finding authorized instructors for the 10- and 30-hour Outreach classes.

Mid-Atlantic regional construction safety campaign shifts focus to falls

The four-month campaign in the Mid-Atlantic states to address the four leading causes of fatal injuries in construction will focus on falls in May. Caught-in/-between hazards is the focus in June.

Enforcement notes

California

  • Mr. Good Vape LLC of Chino, was ordered to reinstate a former manager and pay $110,000 in compensation after he was fired for claiming the company’s production of flavored liquids for e-cigarette vapor inhalers violated federal environmental law.
  • California Premier Roofscapes Inc. was cited for repeat violations of fall protection safety orders and faces proposed $134,454 in penalties.

Florida

  • An administrative law judge of the OSHRC downgraded a citation issued against Ocala-based Jody Wilson Construction Inc. from willful to serious and reduced the penalty from $49,000 to $2,800, noting the contractor had attempted to comply with the standard, albeit incorrectly.

Georgia

  • In a settlement in a whistleblower case, Jasper Contractors, headquartered in Kennesaw, but performing roofing work in Florida, agreed to pay an employee $48,000 in back wages and compensatory damages.

Massachusetts

  • In a settlement with Lynnway Auto Auction Inc., the Billerica facility agreed to correct hazards, implement significant safety measures, and pay $200,000 in penalties, following a May 2017 incident in which a sport utility vehicle fatally struck five people during an auto auction.

Michigan

  • Grand Rapids-based excavation contractor Kamphuis Pipeline Co. faces proposed penalties of $454,750 for exposing employees to trench cave-ins and other serious hazards while installing water metering pits and lines at a North Dakota municipal project.
  • RSB Construction Services LLC, in Goodrich, faces $147,000 in penalties for failing to train workers on fall hazards, and provide required guardrail, safety net, or personal fall arrest systems for workers on a pitched metal roof.

Mississippi

  • An administrative law judge of the OSHRC affirmed two items of a serious citation issued to Southern Hens after an employee’s partial thumb amputation, but vacated a third item, noting the standard is concerned with the ‘how’ of the lockout procedures, not the ‘when.’ The penalty was reduced from $19,134 to $12,000.

Nebraska

  • Contractor Premier Underground LLC was cited for failing to protect its workers from excavation collapse hazards. The company faces proposed penalties of $46,930.
  • Omaha-based plumbing contractor Gavrooden Inc., doing business as Mr. Rooter Plumbing, was cited for the second time in less than six months for failing to protect its workers from excavation collapse hazards. Proposed penalties are $38,061.

Pennsylvania

  • The OSHRC has reversed an administrative law judge’s decision to vacate a one-item serious citation with a proposed penalty of $7,000, issued against Calpine Corp. because access to the exposure was reasonably predictable.

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

Things you should know

Cell phone users twice as likely to be involved in a crash – study

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety compared drivers’ odds of crash involvement when using a cell phone relative to driving without performing any observable secondary tasks. The study found that “visual-manual interaction with cell phones while driving, particularly but not exclusively relative to text messaging, was associated with approximately double the incidence of crash involvement relative to driving without performing any observable secondary tasks.”
Health care environment named top concern in comp – survey

The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) surveys senior carrier executives in its annual Carrier Executive Pulse. The top challenges that executives identified for 2018 are:

  1. Rising costs, advances, and uncertainty in healthcare
  2. Political, regulatory, legislative, and legal environment
  3. Maintaining profitability both today and tomorrow
  4. The changing workplace and workforce
  5. The future of the workers’ compensation industry
  6. Opioid abuse and medical marijuana

Impact of worker obesity can be managed with prevention, treatment programs: ACOEM

Wellness programs and insurance coverage that includes bariatric surgery can help manage worker obesity and alleviate its economic costs to employers, according to a released guidance statement from the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).
First Edition of NCCI’s court case update

The first edition of NCCI’s Court Case Update provides a look at some of the cases and decisions being monitored by NCCI’s Legal Division, that may impact and shape the future of workers’ compensation.
New guidelines intended to reduce fatigue among EMS workers

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the National Association of State EMS Officials have partnered on a set of guidelines aimed at reducing work-related fatigue among emergency medical services workers.
State News

California

  • Cal/OSHA adopted a new rule to help reduce injuries for hotel housekeepers. The rule will require employers to establish, implement, and maintain an effective written musculoskeletal injury prevention program that addresses hazards specific to housekeeping.
  • The Division of Occupational Safety and Health is moving to create a new safety standard to prevent and handle workplace violence for general industries.
  • The state is drafting workplace safety rules for the burgeoning marijuana industry.

New York

  • State Workers’ Compensation Board is inviting public comment on a proposed Pharmacy Formulary. The comment period expires on February 26, 2018.

North Carolina

  • Industrial Commission recently announced an update in the rules for the workers’ compensation system addressing the opioid crisis. Published January 16, 2018, in Volume 32 Issue 14 of the North Carolina Register, the rules are for the utilization of opioids, related prescriptions, and pain management treatment. A public hearing is scheduled for March 2, 2018 at 2:30 p.m., and the Commission will accept written comments until March 19, 2018.

Pennsylvania

  • The Governor signed a statewide disaster declaration related to the opioid crisis to enhance state response, increase access to treatment, and save lives. It will utilize a command center at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to track progress and enhance coordination of health and public safety agencies.

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

HR Tip: Less stringent test for intern pay adopted by DOL

On Jan. 5, the Department of Labor (DOL) introduced a less stringent test to determine whether employers must pay their interns at least a minimum wage and overtime. The new approach involves a primary-beneficiary test and abandons a rigid test where six parts all had to be met for someone to be considered an unpaid intern and not an employee. Four appellate courts rejected the DOL’s six-part test and the newly adopted seven factor primary-beneficiary test was used by these courts.

The new test does not require each of its factors to be met and the seven factors to be considered are the extent to which:

  • Both parties understand that the intern is not entitled to compensation
  • The internship provides training that would be given in an educational environment
  • The intern’s completion of the program entitles him or her to academic credit
  • The internship corresponds with the academic calendar
  • The internship’s duration is limited to the period when the internship educates the intern
  • The intern’s work complements rather than displaces the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits
  • The intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the internship’s end

The new standard is more flexible and aligned with court rulings. It’s expected to be easier to defend unpaid internships if they’re set up properly and there’s a good agreement between the intern volunteers and the employer. However, it is not a license to use unpaid interns without restraint. The test still exists and the question of who’s the primary beneficiary of the program – the employer or the intern – ultimately needs to be answered.

Companies that use internships should revise all program-related documentation-such as policies, advertisements and recruiting materials-to use the language of the seven factors in the primary-beneficiary test and the student intern and the employer should sign agreements incorporating the language.

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

OSHA and EEOC regulatory updates and enforcement stats on first year of Trump administration

OSHA

Rule and policy status

  • Maximum penalties for violations increased to adjust for inflation as of Jan. 2, 2018.OSHA is required to annually adjust civil penalties under a 2015 law that significantly increased the maximum penalties allowed for violations. In January, the maximum penalty for willful and repeat violations increased from $126,749 to $129,336. The maximum fines for other-than-serious, serious, and failure to abate violations rose from $12,615 to $12,934 per violation.
  • General industry compliance date for Beryllium Standard – March 12, 2018
  • General industry compliance date for Silica rule – June 23, 2018
  • Certification of crane operators – Nov. 10, 2018
  • Elements of Walking-Working Surfaces & Fall Protection – Nov. 19, 2018
  • Rewrite of Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) remains active in the final rule stage under the Standards Improvement Project to make non-controversial changes to confusing or outdated standards. The proposal is to remove “unexpected energization” language from the standard.
  • Injury Data Electronic Submission. OSHA is working on a draft of a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) to “reconsider, revise, or remove provisions of the “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses” final rule. While July 1, 2018 remains the deadline for the next data submission, OSHA recently changed its website to read: “Covered establishments with 250 or more employees are only required to provide their 2017 Form 300A summary data. OSHA is not accepting Form 300 and 301 information at this time.” Pundits are speculating that changes will include increasing the thresholds for high hazard industries and small employers, limiting submission to Form 300A, and eliminating the Anti-Retaliation provisions.
  • There has been no pullback in the criminal prosecution of employers for willful violations that result in a fatality. A.G. Sessions has not archived the Yates memo, which was issued under the Obama administration and expanded individual accountability for corporate wrongdoing and encouraged use of the tougher environmental statutes. Many expect continued criminal prosecutions.
  • There has been a shift away from the enforcement-heavy philosophy of the Obama administration and an increase in compliance assistance programs and alliances. NBC News recently reported that the number of OSHA inspectors fell 4 percent over the first nine months of 2017; 40 inspectors had left the agency and not been replaced. Impact varied by region, with the Southeast region losing 10 inspectors and experiencing a 26% decline in inspections in the first eight months of the Trump administration. However, inspections in 2017 did increase overall.
  • To date, there has been no change to the expanded scope of the Obama administration’s repeat violation policies. However, this should be watched as many expect a return to the treatment of individual, independent workplaces rather than an umbrella corporate approach and a lookback period of three, rather than five years.
  • There is an effort underway to revitalize the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP).
  • There was a significant shift away from public shaming. Only 45 press releases related to fines were published in 2017, compared to an average of 463/year for the previous five years. (Conn Maciel Carey L.L.P.)
  • Even though Fed OSHA is reducing the emphasis on enforcement, some state OSH programs, such as California, are increasing enforcement.

Enforcement stats

A recent webinar by the law firm, Washington-based Conn Maciel Carey L.L.P. took a look at OSHA enforcement action in 2017 and the results may surprise you:

  • While the number of OSHA inspections declined each year from 2012 to 2016, they increased 1.4% from 31,948 in 2016 to 32,396 in 2017
  • The number of violations issued has declined since 2010. Between 2016 and 2017, the number of violations declined from 59,856 to 52,519 or 12.2%
  • The percentage of inspections that resulted in no citations issued has remained relatively stable – between 23% and 27%
  • The average penalty per serious violation was $3,645 in 2017, up from $3,415 in 2016
  • The cases with proposed penalties of $100,000 of more jumped dramatically from 154 in 2016 to 218 in 2017, but million-dollar cases fell from an average of 8.4 per year to 6 in 2017
  • The number of repeat violations dropped from 3,146 in 2016 to 2,771 in 2017

 

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Rule and policy status

  • The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has vacated the EEOC’s wellness rule effective Jan. 1, 2019, instructing the agency that its goal of revising the rule by 2021 is too slow
  • The Obama rule for large companies to report wages by race and gender on the EEO-1 form was stayed by the Office of Management and Budget in August 2017, except for the new March 31 filing deadline. Covered employers must file their 2017 Form EEO-1 no later than March 31, 2018 and the snapshot period used to compile data should be one pay period during the period from October 1, 2017 to December 31, 2017
  • A pullback on efforts to expand Title VII to cover sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination is expected

Enforcement stats

  • Retaliation charges accounted for the largest number of charges (41,097) filed in fiscal year 2017 for the seventh consecutive year and represented 48.8% of all charges
  • While the overall number of charges filed declined by 7.9%, there was only a slight decline in retaliation charges
  • Following retaliation, race was the second most frequent charge filed with the agency in fiscal year 2017 (28,528) – 33.9% of the total. This was followed by disability, 26,838, or 31.9% of the total; sex, 25,605, or 30.4% and age, 18,376, or 21.8%.
  • The agency also received 6,696 sexual harassment charges and obtained $46.3 million in monetary benefits for victims of sexual harassment

According to the 14th annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report issued by Chicago-based law firm Seyfarth Shaw L.L.P, key 2017 trends were:

  • The monetary value of top workplace class action settlements rose dramatically, with the top 10 settlements in various employment-related class action categories totaling $2.27 billion, an increase of more than $970 million from 2016’s $1.75 billion
  • Evolving case law precedents and new defense approaches resulted in better outcomes for employers in opposing class certification requests
  • There was no “head-snapping pivot” in filings and settlement of government enforcement litigation despite the change in administration. In fact, government enforcement litigation increased in 2017
  • Several key U.S. Supreme Court rulings over the past year were arguably more pro-business than past year’s decisions

Despite the change in the administration and the Trump deregulatory agenda, the enforcement stats suggest workplace issues are still a high priority for OSHA and the EEOC. Some speculate this will change when new leadership is fully in place. Others suggest that significant enforcement will continue since the language and requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act make deregulation difficult without legal challenges and even if the risk of being subjected to systemic EEOC litigation lessens, employers who do not have robust and effective anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies and practices will remain at significant risk of litigation from private attorneys.

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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

HR Tip: NLRB overturns Obama-era rulings related to joint employment and handbooks

A newly appointed Republican majority on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) returned to the standard that companies must have “immediate and direct” control over a worker to be considered a joint employer. Under the Obama rule indirect control by one organization over another was enough to establish a joint employer relationship (Browning-Ferris decision). Applying the reinstated pre-Browning Ferris standard, the Board agreed with an administrative law judge’s determination that Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors, Ltd. (Hy-Brand) and Brandt Construction Co. (Brandt) were joint employers and, therefore, jointly and severally liable for the unlawful discharges of seven striking employees.

In the employee handbook case, the board overruled a prior decision placing limits on employer handbook policies that could be “reasonably construed” by workers to limit their right to engage in protected concerted activity-so-called Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) rights.

The underlying case in the ruling involved a policy by The Boeing Company that prohibited employees from taking photos on company property “without a valid business need and an approved camera permit.” The company argued this was necessary to protect sensitive information and the NLRB found that the no-camera rule was lawfully maintained.

In this decision, the board replaced the “reasonably construe” standard with a new balancing test that will consider the following factors with regard to a “facially neutral” handbook policy:

  • The nature and extent of the potential impact on NLRA rights.
  • The employer’s legitimate justifications associated with the rule.

The board outlined three categories of employment policies, rules and handbook provisions:

  • “Category 1 will include rules that the Board designates as lawful to maintain, either because (i) the rule, when reasonably interpreted, does not prohibit or interfere with the exercise of NLRA rights; or (ii) the potential adverse impact on protected rights is outweighed by justifications associated with the rule. Examples of Category 1 rules are the no-camera requirement maintained by Boeing, and rules requiring employees to abide by basic standards of civility. Thus, the Board overruled past cases in which the Board held that employers violated the NLRA by maintaining rules requiring employees to foster “harmonious interactions and relationships” or to maintain basic standards of civility in the workplace.”
  • “Category 2 will include rules that warrant individualized scrutiny in each case as to whether the rule would prohibit or interfere with NLRA rights, and if so, whether any adverse impact on NLRA-protected conduct is outweighed by legitimate justifications.”
  • “Category 3 will include rules that the Board will designate as unlawful to maintain because they would prohibit or limit NLRA-protected conduct, and the adverse impact on NLRA rights is not outweighed by justifications associated with the rule. An example would be a rule that prohibits employees from discussing wages or benefits with one another.”

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