Legal Corner

ADA 

Employee unable to wear safety shoes can be terminated

In Holmes v. General Dynamics Mission Systems Inc., a U.S. District Judge in Virginia dismissed an employee’s claims alleging violations of the ADA after she was terminated for being unable to perform the essential functions of her job, specifically, wear required safety shoes. She worked at the manufacturing facility for 18 years and was given an exemption in 2003, based on a note from her doctor.

However, the company stopped exempting her in 2013 because an outside auditor found violations of the protective footwear policy and stated that future violations could jeopardize the company’s certifications. The company did research and present alternative footwear to her and when none were acceptable, she was placed on an excused absence and encouraged her to seek custom-made safety shoes, which the company would reimburse.

After more than two years of absence and no evidence that she pursued the custom-made shoes, she was terminated.

Employer’s failure to raise “regarded as” defense results in jury award to employee

In Robinson v. First State Community Action Agency, a manager told an employee she either had dyslexia or didn’t know what she was doing and placed her on a performance plan. She sought a medical opinion about dyslexia, which was not conclusive, and gave it to her manager who gave it to HR. The HR Director told her the evaluation did not have any impact on her ability to perform essential job functions, and she was to follow the performance improvement plan and she then sought a reasonable accommodation. A few weeks later she was fired.

She sued, alleging the employer regarded her as disabled and failed to provide a reasonable accommodation and a jury agreed. The employer appealed, arguing that the jury instructions didn’t reflect changes that the ADA Amendments Act in 2008. While the 3rd Circuit agreed that the jury instruction was made in error, and “after the 2008 amendments went into effect, an individual who demonstrates that she is ‘regarded as’ disabled, but who fails to demonstrate that she is actually disabled, is not entitled to a reasonable accommodation,” the employer had waived the right to contest it because it had not opposed the use of the argument earlier.

The case is a harsh reminder of the importance of raising all possible defenses early in the litigation to preserve the rights on appeal.

Workers’ Compensation 

No liability for Six Flags in workers’ electrocution – California

In Ingram v. Six Flags Entertainment Corp., an appellate court declined to overturn a jury trial verdict that declared Six Flags was not negligent for the injuries suffered by two workers who were electrocuted while repairing a ride. Although one of the electricians thought he had deenergized the equipment at Magic Mountain, there was an arc flash explosion, which caused serious burns.

They sued the parent company, Six Flags, arguing it failed to provide appropriate personal protective equipment and made changes to its safety program after the incident. However, Six Flags has a policy that forbids working on energized electrical equipment, provides training on how to shut off power, and successfully argued to exclude its post-incident safety program changes from the trial.

Failure to return to light duty work nixes award of TPD – Florida

In MJM Electric Inc. v. Spencer, an appellate court reversed a judge of compensation claims’ decision in favor of an injured worker because the employer had offered suitable light duty work. The electrician was injured at work and saw an authorized physician, but never returned to work in spite of multiple messages from his employer that light-duty work that fell within his work restrictions was available.

After two weeks of no response, the company fired him for job abandonment. He argued he did not recognize the number and had no voice mails. The judge of compensation claims found he was not entitled to temporary partial disability benefits for the first two weeks after his accident, but he could receive disability benefits after his termination because the company failed to meet its burden of showing suitable employment opportunities. The appeals court reversed and remanded the case.

Tort suit against subcontractor can proceed – Florida

In Heredia v. John Beach & Associates, an appellate court ruled that a man working for a subcontractor can sue another subcontractor and an employee. The injured employee was working for QGS, a subcontractor doing roadwork for Lennar Homes LLC and was accidentally struck by a truck owned by another subcontractor, John Beach & Associates, that was doing surveying work.

Under the law, when a contractor sublets work to subcontractors, all employees of the contractor and subcontractors are considered employed in one and the same business and are protected by the exclusive remedy provision. However, the court found in this case, Lennar was not performing any work, was not subletting work, and therefore, was not a contractor. The case can proceed.

Average weekly wage should be based on actual earnings not pro-ration wage – Georgia

A school custodian worked a school year schedule, but had his wage spread out over a 12-month period. In Ware County Board of Education v. Taft, an appellate court ruled that his wages should be based on his contractual rate, not the lesser actual pro-rated amount he earned during the 13-weeks preceding his injury.

Supreme Court provides guidance on PTSD provisions – Minnesota

In Smith v. Carver County, the state Supreme Court reversed a decision by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals (“WCCA”), finding the 2013 PTSD statute does not require a compensation judge to conduct an independent assessment to verify that the diagnosis was in conformity with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) before accepting the expert’s diagnosis.

The case involved a deputy sheriff who resigned after 10 years and was diagnosed with PTSD by a licensed psychologist. However, an independent psychological evaluator opined that he did not have PTSD, although he had adjustment disorder with anxiety. A WCJ found this opinion more persuasive and denied the claim. The WCCA overturned, finding this opinion did not address the PTSD criteria in the latest version of the DSM.

Nonetheless, the Supreme Court reversed noting the compensation judge’s legalistic analysis of the DSM-5 was not to become a substitute for the professional judgment of psychiatrists and psychologists and the judge did not err in finding the independent evaluation more persuasive.

High court rules no fault auto insurer must pay for injured driver’s excess chiropractic charges – Minnesota

In Rodriguez v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., an injured bus driver received 12 weeks of chiropractic treatments, the maximum allowed under the state’s workers’ comp law. She then sought treatment from another chiropractor and payment from her personal automobile insurance policy, which denied payment based on the workers comp payments.

The case made its way to the Supreme Court, which ruled the additional care fell outside of the comp statute because it was with a separate provider whose services had never been characterized as excessive.

Jury verdict of $74.1 million upheld in worker’s death – Missouri

The Ford Motor Co. must pay the widow of a truck driver who was struck by machinery while making a delivery at the Kansas City Assembly Plant ruled an appellate court in Ford v. Ford Motor Co. The driver, who had worked for the trucking company for less than two weeks, was delivering vehicle seats, which were removed by an L-shaped pair of conveyor lines. He entered the area between the conveyor belts to manually clear a jam during seat removal and stepped into a “pinch point” between the tables and was crushed.

The company appealed a jury verdict that assigned the company 95% comparative fault for his death and awarded his widow and son $38 million in compensatory damages, and $38 million for aggravating circumstances. The appeals court disagreed and upheld the award. The company plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Right to cross-examine employer’s expert wrongfully denied – New York

In Matter of Ferguson v. Eallonardo Construction, an appellate court ruled that a worker was wrongfully denied the opportunity to cross-examine the insurance carrier’s medical consultant on how the permanent impairment rating of 40% was reached. While the counsel for the injured worker did not file a competing report, the court ruled that the right to cross-examine the carrier’s consultant was not predicated upon the filing of a competing report. The only requirement is that a request be made at a hearing, prior to the judge’s ruling on the merits.

Failure to complete application sufficient for denial – New York

In Matter of Jones v. Human Resources Administration, an appellate court ruled that an attorney’s failure to fill out every section of an application for administrative review was a proper basis for the Workers’ Compensation Board to deny it. While the worker received benefits for an work-related injury, she was later denied the request to add additional consequential injuries to her claim. There was a no information in the box for question 13 of the RB-89 form, which requested hearing dates, transcripts, etc.

Heart injury hours after accident compensable – North Carolina

In Holland v. Parrish Tire Co., a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals reversed the Industrial Commission’s decision that a worker’s heart injury that occurred hours after he was hit in the chest with a tire was not compensable. While unloading tires for a delivery, he was hit in the chest by a tire that weighed between 100 and 200 pounds. The owner transported him to an urgent care center because he had turned gray and was uncharacteristically slow, where he was sent to an emergency room. There he was diagnosed with an aortic dissection and a collapsed lung and admitted to the intensive care unit.

He underwent surgery and was told he would have a work restriction of being unable to lift more than 40 pounds indefinitely, and was diagnosed with major neurocognitive disorder due to the open-heart surgery, adjustment disorder, and depression. Later, he was rated permanently disabled and unable to work by a treating physician and filed for workers’ comp, which was denied.

The appellate court found that the commission had not adequately considered physicians’ testimony that aortic dissections could be caused by trauma.

No comp for traveling salesman for car accident after celebration with coworkers – Pennsylvania

In Peters v. Workers Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB), a traveling salesperson drove past his house on his way to a happy hour with colleagues and was injured in a car accident when returning home. Although he argued that he was traveling home from a work-sponsored event in a work van, and that as a traveling employee, his accident should be compensable, a judge, the WCAB, and the Commonwealth Court disagreed. It found that the gathering was not furthering the interest of the employer, but rather was a social gathering. Further, while a traveling employee is presumed to be within the course and scope of employment when he is driving to or from work, he had abandoned his employment by driving past his house on his way to the happy hour with colleagues.

Failure to use an automated external defibrillator not breach of duty – Pennsylvania

In Desher v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, an appellate court judge affirmed a trial court ruling denying the guardian of a worker, who suffered a cardiac arrest and a subsequent brain injury at work, damages under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). The guardian claimed the former employer was liable for the incident for not administering an automated external defibrillator (AED).

While the company had an AED within 100 yards of the incident, it did not use it and paramedics arrived within two minutes and used one. There was no evidence suggesting a heightened risk of cardiac events for employees or that it provide assistance in the form of an AED.

Continuing denial of opioids affirmed – Pennsylvania

In Jason Golembesky v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Worth & Co. Inc.), a manufacturing worker had been on high doses of opioid oxycodone since his injury in 2010. In 2016, the employer filed a utilization review petition, and the reviewing doctor opined that the opioid prescription was excessive. The worker filed a petition for review of the findings, arguing he had tried alternative methods of controlling the pain, which had not worked. The employer also presented evidence from an independent review doctor who noted the worker was taking massive dosages, essentially three times what is considered a high dose of morphine equivalent.

A WCJ and the WCAB found the opinions of the independent reviewers more credible than those of the worker’s providers.

More than ten years after injury, worker awarded benefits for right knee condition – Virginia

In Nanochemonics Holdings, LLC v. McKinney, a worker sustained a work-related left knee injury. More than ten years later, he filed a claim for a right knee condition. Stressing that the employer is responsible for all sequelae that flow from the primary work-related injury, an appellate court affirmed the award benefits, noting that the problem was caused, at least in part, by an altered gait brought about by his earlier left knee injury. While it acknowledged that the worker was morbidly obese, this did not amount to a sufficient break in causation.

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

OSHA watch

FY 2018 Enforcement summary released

OSHA conducted 32,023 total inspections in FY 2018, a number that has remained relatively stable over the past three fiscal years. For more information see the related article, Insights from OSHA’s recently released enforcement summary.

Comments on updating Lockout/Tagout standard due August 18

Comments on a possible update of the Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout) standard are due by Aug. 18. Emphasis is being placed on how employers have been using control circuit devices and how modernizing the standard might improve worker safety without additional burdens for employers. It wants to hear from employers about how their operations would be affected if OSHA staff interprets the “alternative measures that provide effective protection” requirement of the minor servicing exception to include use of the same reliable control circuits. For additional details and information on how to file comments.

New training programs available to help protect construction workers from fall hazards

Two Susan Harwood Training Grant Program recipients have developed free training programs to help protect construction workers from fall hazards. The University of Tennessee training program offers three modules on OSHA’s role in workplace safety, health and safety standards affecting construction workers, and preventing common types of falls at construction sites. The University of Florida training program uses software to present 360-degree panoramas of construction scenarios to test trainees’ skills at identifying fall hazards. The training software is available in English and Spanish.

Whistleblower website updated

The streamlined design highlights important information for employers and employees on more than 20 statutes enforced by the agency. The new whistleblower homepage utilizes video to showcase the covered industries, which include the railroad, airline, and securities industries.

Whistleblower action: Truck driver reinstated after refusing to drive in winter storm

A box truck driver was reinstated and will receive almost $200,000, including $100,000 in punitive damages, from Kentucky-based Freight Rite, Inc. that fired him after he refused to drive in bad weather. Inspectors determined the termination is a violation of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA). For more information.

Reminder: Hurricane preparedness and response

The Hurricane Preparedness and Response webpage provides information on creating evacuation plans and supply kits and reducing hazards for hurricane response and recovery work.

Cal/OSHA emergency wildfire smoke regulation takes effect

The emergency wildfire smoke regulation took effect July 29 after being approved by the state’s Office of Administrative Law.

Effective through January 28, 2020 with two possible 90-day extensions, the regulation applies to workplaces where the current Air Quality Index (AQI) for airborne particulate matter (PM 2.5) is 151 or greater, and where employers should reasonably anticipate that employees could be exposed to wildfire smoke.

Recent fines and awards

California

  • After a worker’s hand was crushed while cleaning a rotating auger, food processing company, SFFI Company, Inc., faces six citations and $79,245 in penalties related to lockout/tagout and training.
  • Resource Environmental, Inc., faces $49,500 in penalties after an unstable, unsupported wall collapsed during a building demolition, resulting in fatal injuries to a worker.
  • Gladiator Rooter & Plumbing was working in a crawl space replacing underground sewer pipes for airline caterer Gate Gourmet, Inc. at the San Francisco International Airport when two plumbers were poisoned by carbon monoxide, one requiring hospitalization. Gladiator Rooter & Plumbing was fined $50,850 for eight violations and Gate Gourmet faces $18,000 in proposed penalties for one violation.
  • In Secretary of Labor v. Bergelectric Corp., an OSHRC judge vacated three citations levied against the electric company, based in Carlsbad, after finding that the company did have an adequate fall protection program in place.

Florida

  • Jimmie Crowder Excavating and Land Clearing Inc. faces $81,833 in penalties for exposing employees to amputation and other safety hazards at the company’s facility in Tallahassee. An employee suffered an arm amputation after it was caught in a conveyor belt that started unexpectedly as an employee removed material.
  • The Jacksonville Zoological Society Inc. was cited for exposing employees to workplace safety hazards at the Jacksonville zoo after a zookeeper was injured by a rhinoceros. The animal park faces $14,661 in proposed penalties.
  • Tampa-based Edwin Taylor Corp., failed to provide fall protection on several occasions, one resulting in the death of a worker who fell 22 feet while building homes must pay a $101,399 fine, an administrative law judge with the OSHRC ruled.

Georgia

  • Transdev Services Inc. was cited for exposing employees at a Norcross worksite to safety and health hazards. The company faces $188,714 in penalties for obstructing access to emergency eyewash and shower stations, failing to label hazardous chemicals, provide training on hazardous chemicals and incipient stage firefighting and fire extinguisher use, and train and evaluate forklift operators properly. The company had been cited previously for similar violations.
  • Woodgrain Millwork Co., operating as Woodgrain Distribution Inc, was cited for exposing employees to chemical and struck-by hazards at the company’s distribution facility in Lawrenceville. The company faces $125,466 in penalties.
  • Norcross-based Fama Construction must pay nearly $200,000 in penalties because it was the controlling employer on a worksite and found to have repeat violations according to an OSHRC ruling.

Illinois

  • Inspected after an employee was electrocuted, Hudapack Metal Treating of Illinois Inc, based in Glendale Heights, was cited for 21 serious health and safety violations related to electrical safety and PPE. The company faces penalties of $181,662.

Missouri

  • R.V. Wagner Inc, based in Affton, was cited for exposing employees to trench engulfment hazards as they installed concrete storm water pipes in St. Louis. The company received two willful violations for failing to use a trench box or other trench protection techniques in an excavation greater than five feet in depth and to provide a safe means to exit the excavation and faces proposed penalties of $212,158.

New York

  • Northridge Construction Corp. was cited for willful and serious violations of workplace safety standards at the company’s headquarters in East Patchogue. The company faces $224,620 in penalties following the death of an employee when a structure collapsed during installation of roof panels on a shed. The penalties are being contested.
  • U.S. Nonwoven Corp., a home and personal care fabric product manufacturer, was cited for repeat and serious safety violations after an employee suffered a fractured hand at the plant in Hauppauge. The company faces $287,212 in penalties.

North Carolina

  • Burlington-based Conservators Center Inc. received three serious citations totaling $3,000, after an intern was killed by a lion during a routine cleaning,

Pennsylvania

  • In Francis Palo Inc. v. Secretary of Labor, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia declined to review the OSHRC decision finding that substantial evidence supported an administrative law judge’s ruling that due diligence by the company would have prevented the collapse that injured two workers.

Wisconsin

  • Following a fatality, Pukall Lumber Company Inc, a lumber mill in Arbor Vitae, was cited for exposing employees to multiple safety hazards. The company faces penalties of $348,467 for 15 violations, including two willful citations for failing to implement energy control procedures, and ensure the conveyer had adequate guarding to prevent employees from coming in contact with the moving parts.

For additional information.

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

HR Tip: Supreme Court ruling alerts employers to quickly compare EEOC complaints and lawsuits

In Fort Bend County v. Lois M. Davis published on June 3, the US Supreme Court ruled that Title VII’s charge-filing requirement is a processing rule, not a jurisdictional prescription, and an objection to it may be forfeited “if the party asserting the rule waited too long to raise the point.” This ruling revolves around the fact that employees filing suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 must first file a complaint with the EEOC.

It means that employers must immediately check if charges in litigation filed under Title VII jive with those in the previously filed EEOC complaint. If the charges do not match, and employers act immediately, then they can get that claim dismissed, but delaying the action, which occurred in this case, means that chance is forfeited. The question of how long an employer can wait before raising an objection or defense without risking forfeiture was not decided by the Supreme Court and will be litigated and developed in the lower courts going forward.

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

Things you should know

Deadline to submit pay data to EEOC extended

A federal court judge has granted the EEOC’s request to extend the deadline for employers to report equal pay data (known as Component 2) of the EEO-1 to September 30, 2019. Notice has been posted on the EEOC website.

Preventing falls in construction: NIOSH issues fact sheet

NIOSH has published a new fact sheet intended to help construction employers and workers prevent falls from roofs, ladders, and scaffolds.

FMCSA webpage answers FAQs on upcoming database of CMV drivers who fail drug, alcohol tests

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has created a webpage that outlines specifics of the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, a national online database intended to provide – in real time – the names of commercial motor vehicle drivers who have failed drug and alcohol tests.

‘Dirty Dozen’ list of workplace safety violators released

The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (NCOSH) released its 2019 “dirty dozen” companies that the organization says failed to protect workers from preventable illness, injury and death.

This year’s list includes:

  • Amazon.com Inc., Seattle
  • Atlantic Capes Fisheries Co., Cape May, New Jersey, and the staffing firm it uses, B.J.’s Service Co Inc., New Bedford, Massachusetts
  • Bedrock Detroit LLC, Detroit
  • Beiza Brothers Harvesting LLC, Moultrie, Georgia
  • Facebook Inc., Menlo Park, California, along with contractors Accenture PLC, Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., PRO Unlimited Inc. and Tech Solutions Co.
  • Genan Inc., Houston
  • Integra Health Management Inc., Timonium, Maryland
  • The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore
  • McDonald’s USA LLC, Oak Brook, Illinois
  • Purdue Pharmaceuticals LP, Stamford, Connecticut, and the opioid industry
  • Tooma Enterprises Inc., Sterling Heights, Michigan
  • XPO Logistics, Greenwich, Connecticut

 

Report on women and safety in the workplace

The American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) released a report on women and safety in the modern workplace. The report focuses on three main challenges faced by women and offers potential solutions.

WCRI releases comp state trends reports

The 18 states in the CompScope report are Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

According to an article in Business Insurance, key findings include:

  • The median indemnity costs per claim across the states for three years starting in 2015 was $17,778, with North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Georgia ranked in the top three and Wisconsin, Indiana and Texas in the bottom three.
  • The median cost per claim with more than seven days lost time between 2015 and 2018 was $41,888, with Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Virginia ranked in the top three and Minnesota, Tennessee and Texas in the bottom three.
  • The median medical payments per claim in 2017 was $13,524, with Wisconsin, Virginia, and Indiana ranked in the top three and Massachusetts, California and Texas ranked in the bottom three.
  • Twenty-nine percent was the median percentage of 2015 claims with more than seven days of lost time and 36 months of experience that had a defense attorney involved. Among the states with the highest attorney involvement were Illinois, New Jersey and California. Those with the lowest were Texas, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

New resource to help employers understand mental health issues

The DOL, in coordination with the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and its Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN), has launched a new resource, Mental Health Toolkit to help employers better understand mental health issues and to provide guidance on how to cultivate a supportive workplace.

Workers’ marijuana use major contributor to rise in positive drug tests, analysis shows

The rate of positive drug tests for illicit substances among U.S. workers in 2018 reached a 14-year peak, with marijuana playing a significant role, according to the annual Drug Testing Index from lab services provider Quest Diagnostics.

Researchers found that 4.4% of the combined U.S. workforce tested positive – up from 4.2% in 2017 and 2016 and the highest since 2004 when the rate was 4.5%. “Post-accident” positive tests showed rate increases: to 8.4% from 7.7% in 2017 among employees in the general workforce, and to 4.7% from 3.1% among workers in safety-sensitive jobs.

Boom lift scenario now part of NIOSH simulation tool

NIOSH has added a boom lift scenario to its Aerial Lift Hazard Recognition Simulator.

The training tool includes a scissor lift operation simulation, provides realistic workplace scenarios “to help potential aerial lift operators acclimate to aerial lift operation and to identify the common occupational hazards during use,” but is not intended to be a replacement for required training.

Protecting first responders from fentanyl exposure: NIOSH releases video

NIOSH has released a 13-minute video intended to protect first responders who face potential exposure to fentanyl – a synthetic opioid considered up to 50 times more potent than heroin – and other illicit drugs.

State News

California

  • The number of independent medical review determination letters calling for review of treatment denials and modifications peaked to 184,733 in 2018, 7.3% more than in 2017 according to the California Workers’ Compensation Research Institute. Full report.
  • 55% of medical bill reviews were overturned according to a report by the California Department of Industrial Relations.
  • The Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau determined that the modest improvement in pure premium workers’ compensation rates so far in 2019 does not warrant a midyear filing.

New York

  • The New York State Workers’ Compensation Board announced that the maximum weekly wage benefit rate will climb, from $905 to $934, effective July 1.

Pennsylvania

  • Insurance Commissioner approved a nearly 13% reduction in loss costs for workers compensation insurance.

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

Legal Corner

ADA 
Trucking firm settles suit over pre-employment screenings

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

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

Perceived disability sufficient to reinstate suit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secondary treatment issues clarified – California

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

Six-month limit on mental injuries upheld – Florida

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

Remote workers beware: trip over dog not compensable – Florida

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

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

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

High court clarifies application of treatment guidelines – Minnesota

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HR Tip: Two important FMLA documents

ABA’s summary of 2018 FMLA decisions

Each year, 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 2018 in a user-friendly manner.

Opinion letter

In a recent opinion letter, the U.S. Department of Labor addressed whether an employee could delay FMLA leave and instead utilize accrued paid leave when the absence clearly would qualify as FMLA leave. The answer was a straight forward “no”.

An employer is prohibited from delaying the designation of FMLA-qualifying leave as FMLA leave. Once an eligible employee communicates the need to take leave for an FMLA-qualifying reason, neither the employee nor the employer may decline FMLA protection for that leave.

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

PPE and women: 13 do’s and don’ts

The recent cancellation by NASA of the highly publicized first-ever all-woman spacewalk is a good reminder of the importance of proper fitting PPE. Even with extensive training on the ground, getting the right fit for a spacesuit in microgravity can be a challenge since the body changes slightly in space due to fluid shifts or spine elongation.

Only one suit for a medium-size torso, which is the size that best fits the two astronauts, is ready for use on the station. While the decision was made by one of the astronauts who thought a large-size suit would be fine, but after a spacewalk a week earlier decided the medium-size was a better fit, it was met by some with disbelief on Twitter. The number of women entering traditionally male-dominated fields continues to grow and many have encountered improperly fitting personal protective equipment (PPE) and personal protective clothing (PPC). (The two female astronauts were part of a class that had 50/50 gender representation.)

According to The Washington Post, “Across social media platforms, women told of giant overalls, wading boots that were the wrong size, oversize gloves that kept them from being nimble, a lack of bulletproof vests that accommodated their chest sizes and a dearth of petite-size personal protective equipment at construction sites.”

While there is increased awareness and significant strides have been made in PPE for women, the fact remains that most PPE was designed based on average male body measurements and it has only been in recent years that manufacturers have tailored PPE to women. When there are products specifically designed for women some worksites just don’t have them readily available.

The best practices of providing PPE for women are very similar to those for men. Here are 13 do’s and don’ts:

  • Don’t assume your PPE is appropriate for all of your employees. Find out what is and isn’t working by getting feedback from employees. Monitor the use and identify situations where it is not used when it should be.
  • Don’t ask women to wear PPE that is too big. It is not going to provide adequate protection and in some cases creates even more serious safety risks.
  • Don’t alter PPE. It should be certified to specific standards, and alterations beyond built-in adjustment features can make the garment no longer compliant – and unsafe.
  • Don’t subject women to derogatory remarks or disingenuous humor about how they look in PPE.
  • Don’t assume women are only concerned about “how it looks.”
  • Don’t criticize, ignore, or retaliate against employees who report ill-fitting PPE.
  • Don’t penalize employees who refuse to work when appropriate PPE is not available.
  • Do involve employees in the selection of PPE.
  • Do provide the same range of sizes for women as for men, and ensure suppliers have properly assessed the appropriateness of their equipment to women and men.
  • Do ensure employees try on several sizes or types of PPE before it is issued to ensure the best fit.
  • Do educate employees about why the PPE is to be worn and train how to properly use it.
  • Do make appropriate provisions for pregnant women.
  • Do get supervisor buy-in.

The gender pay gap is substantially less in many non-traditional jobs than in other professions, and training and apprenticeships present great opportunities for women. Yet, as noted in the Construction Productivity Blog, “recruitment bias, company cultures where harassment isn’t thoroughly addressed and even reasons as simple as tools and gear not made for women in mind, also all play a critical role into why more women aren’t considering building as a career.”

Attracting women to non-traditional fields can help industries deal with an acute labor shortage and have economic benefits. According to the Peterson Institute, construction companies that were in the top 25% in gender diversity of their workforce were 46% more likely to outperform their industry average. Providing the right PPE is another way companies can recruit and retain more female talent.

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

HR Tip: Court ruling does not affect ACA obligations

The recent court ruling by a federal judge in Texas that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is unconstitutional, does not affect the coverage and reporting obligations for employers. The ruling is a declaratory judgment and not an injunction to freeze the ACA and most expect the case will make its way to the Supreme Court.

Similar to the past two years, the IRS has extended the original Jan. 31, 2019, deadline for employers to distribute 2018 Forms 1095-C or 1095-B to employees to March 4, 2019. The critical 2019 filing deadlines for forms that detail 2018 coverage are now as follows:

ACA Requirement Deadline
Paper filing with IRS Feb. 28
1095 forms delivered to employees March 4 (extended from Jan. 31)
Electronic filing with IRS April 1

Employers that file 250 or more information returns with the IRS must file the returns electronically. Because of the extension, the 30-day extension that would normally be available on a showing of good cause is not available – March 4 is a hard deadline.

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

HR Tip: New FMLA forms available from DOL

The Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) certification forms and notices are now valid until Aug. 31, 2021. DOL didn’t make any substantive changes to the forms, other than the new expiration date. Here they are:

Notices

Certification forms

The DOL must submit its FMLA forms to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval every three years. OMB review is required to ensure the FMLA certification and notice process isn’t too bureaucratic.

While the forms aren’t mandatory, many employers use them. Some employers copy and paste the DOL form into their own form, replacing the DOL logo with their own.

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