HR Tip: Employees cannot decline FMLA leave even when a collective bargaining agreement says otherwise

In March 2019, the DOL issued an opinion letter that neither an employee nor an employer may decline FMLA leave when an eligible employee is absent for an FMLA-qualifying reason. The letter noted this is particularly true even if the employee wants the employer to delay the designation of FMLA leave.

Apparently, this created confusion in union environments where there is a collective bargaining agreement that allows the employee to use paid leave first and then use FMLA leave after paid leave is exhausted. In a new opinion letter , the DOL made it clear that an employer still may not delay designating paid leave as FMLA leave even if the delay otherwise complies with a collective bargaining agreement.

The bottom line is that in all cases once the employer has sufficient information to determine that an employee’s leave is covered by the FMLA, it must designate the leave as FMLA leave.

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

Seven ways to improve Workplace Health Promotion Programs for all-sized employers

While workplace wellness programs began as a niche industry, they eventually morphed into comprehensive programs for worksites of all sizes. They’re touted as an effective business strategy to improve the health and productivity of workers, reduce health care costs, attract new employees, and retain existing ones.

Studies of wellness programs have produced conflicting results. Some find that the programs are a good investment with a 3 -1 return, while others have found they may change certain behaviors, but don’t improve job performance. Although the result vary, there’s a common thread – utilization did not live up to expectations.

A recent study, “Availability of and Participation in Workplace Health Promotion Programs (WHPP) by Sociodemographic, Occupation, and Work Organization Characteristics in US Workers” by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that just under half of employees have access to them and among those who do have access, just about half utilize them. The study found that although approximately 47 percent of workers have access to WHPPs, only 58 percent of those with access actually participate. That’s roughly one in every four workers.

Occupations such as farming, fishing, forestry, food preparation and serving, construction, and extraction had the lowest availability of WHPP’s and workers in these occupations were also the least likely to participate in the programs. Workers who worked less than 20 hours a week, worked regular night shifts, were paid by the hour, or worked for temporary agencies were also less likely to participate. Researchers also identified barriers that keep workers from participating, including time constraints, lack of awareness, low supervisory support, and perceived need, but noted such barriers vary by industry.

The report concludes that employers should gauge workers’ priorities before designing and implementing WHPPs to customize programs to their employees’ specific needs and maximize participation. Another recent survey by Future Workplace and View sought to identify which wellness perks were most important to workers and how these perks impact productivity.

The results were surprising. It was not fitness facilities or technology-based health tools that topped the list, but air quality and natural light. Air quality and light were the biggest influencers of employee performance, happiness and wellbeing. Only 1 in 4 of the 1,600 employees surveyed say the air quality in their office is optimal for them to do their best work and nearly one-half say the quality of air makes them sleepy. In the number three spot was water quality, followed by comfortable temperatures, then acoustics and noise levels.

Just as people want to have a personalized consumer experience, employees want to be able to customize their work environment – control the temperature, mask noise, have natural light and so on. It’s not as impossible as it sounds. Cisco, for example, has managed the acoustic levels in their space by creating a floor plan without assigned seating that includes neighborhoods of workspaces designed specifically for employees collaborating in person, remotely, or those who choose to work alone. Similar arrangements can be made for temperature and light.

Here are seven steps employers can take to improve their results:

  1. Make WHPPs employee-centric. Complement the workplace health assessment with a survey of your employees to determine their workplace wellness priorities and tailor or modify the program accordingly.
  2. Integrate WHPPs with workplace safety programs. The synergistic possibilities of integrating common safety issues such as work schedules, workplace culture, ergonomics, substance exposures, noise levels, fatigue, and so on with the wellness program are significant.
  3. Personalize as much as possible. Employees expect the ability to personalize their workspace. More workers expect the company that employs them to take their well-being into account in all aspects of work.
  4. Recognize that workplace wellness is more than physical health. Studies show that most worksite health programs focus on physical activity, nutrition, and stress management. Environmental factors such as air, light, temperature, and acoustics are overlooked.
  5. Recognize the challenge of changing human behavior. Personal behaviors, including health and safety, are very difficult to change. They are embedded in routines and habits. It’s going to take time, effort, and reinforcement and there will be setbacks. Employees who are cynical and are distrustful of their employer will not be committed.
  6. Give employees a sense of ownership. Much like a culture of safety, employees must buy into a culture of wellness. Consider a wellness committee from a cross-section of departments and employees to provide input and drive participation.
  7. Monitor employee satisfaction. While employers often struggle with measuring the ROI of WHPPs, common factors include health care costs, absenteeism, disability claims, and workers’ comp claims. It’s important to incorporate “soft” measures such as satisfaction and morale.

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

OSHA’s Top 10 violations: three action steps for employers

For the ninth consecutive year, Fall Protection – General Requirements is the most frequently cited standard, OSHA announced at the 2019 National Safety Council Congress & Expo. The rest of the preliminary list of the Top 10 violations for fiscal year 2019 also remained largely unchanged from FY 2018, with one minor change. Lockout/Tagout, which ranked fifth in FY 2018, advanced to No. 4, trading places with Respiratory Protection.The data, which covers violations cited from October 1, 2018 through August 31, 2019, is preliminary, and therefore, the numbers may change. However, the ranking is likely to remain consistent when the final numbers are released later this year.

Here are the top 10 violations:

  1. Fall Protection (construction) – General Requirements (1926.501) – 6,010 violationsCommon violations included failure to provide fall protection near unprotected sides or edges and on both low-slope and steep roofs. Roofing, framing, masonry and new single-family housing construction contractors were among the most frequently cited. Although the fall protection standard was updated in 2016, some experts suggest it will take several years for employers to get the necessary facility updates into their budgetary cycle.
  2. Hazard Communication (1910.1200) – 3,671 violationsConsidered low-hanging fruit for inspectors, hazard communication has been #2 for several years. Lack of a written program, inadequate training, and failure to properly develop or maintain safety data sheets (SDSs) are common citations. Auto repair facilities and painting contractors were among the industries that received many hazard communication citations.
  3. Scaffolding (construction) – General Requirements (1926.451) – 2, 813 violationsMasonry, siding, and framing contractors are the most commonly cited employers for this violation. Lack of proper decking, failure to provide guardrails where required, and failure to ensure that scaffolds are adequately supported on a solid foundation are common violations.
  4. Lockout/Tagout (1910.147) – 2, 606 violationsEmployers cited under this standard failed to establish an energy control procedure, did not train employees in proper lockout/tagout procedures, failed to conduct periodic evaluations of procedures, and failed to use lockout/tagout devices or equipment. Plastics manufacturers, machine shops, and sawmills were frequently cited.
  5. Respiratory protection (29 CFR 1910.134) – 2,450 violationsCitations related to failure to fit test, establish a program, and medically evaluate employees who wore respirators were common violations issued. Auto body refinishing, painting contractors, masonry contractors, and wall covering contractors received many citations.
  6. Ladders (construction) (1926.1053) – 2,345 violationsLadders continued to be a common violation in the roofing, siding, framing and painting trades. Frequent violations include, ladders with structural defects, failure to have siderails extend three feet beyond a landing surface, using ladders for unintended purposes, using the top rung of a step ladder, and ladders with structural defects.
  7. Powered Industrial Trucks (1910.178) – 2,093 violationsForklift violations dominated this standard, including deficient or damaged forklifts that were not removed from service, failure to safely operate a forklift, operators who had not been trained or certified to operate a forklift, and failure to recertify forklift drivers and evaluate every three years. Violations were widespread across many industries, but particularly prominent in warehousing and storage facilities and fabricated and structural metal manufacturing.
  8. Fall Protection (construction) – Training Requirements (1926.503) – 1,773 violationsViolations of this standard include failing to provide training to each person required to receive it, failure to certify training in writing, inadequacies in training leading to the failure of retention by the trainee, and failing to retrain in instances where the trainee failed to retain the training content.
  9. Machine Guarding (1910.212) – 1,743 violationsWhile cited in many industries, machine shops and fabricated metal manufacturing saw many citations for failing to ensure that guards are securely attached to machinery, improper guarding of fan blades, and failure to properly anchor fixed machinery.
  10. Personal protective and lifesaving equipment (construction) – eye and face protection (29 CFR 1926.102) – 1,411Appearing on the list for the first time in FY 2018, this standard includes failing to provide eye and face protection where employees are exposed to hazards from flying objects, failing to provide protection from caustic hazards, gases, and vapors, and failing to provide eye protection with side protection. Violations were concentrated in the housing industry, with roofers, house framers and other contractors cited often.

Three action steps for employers

With little variation from year-to-year, this list is a reminder to employers that the same violations are putting employees at risk and costing employers thousands of dollars in citations. Here are three steps to take:

  1. Drill down to your industryEmployers can drill down even further and look at the most frequently cited Federal or State OSHA standards by industry for a specified 6-digit North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code. If your facility is inspected, there’s a very good chance it will include these issues.
  2. Be strategicA common approach is to conduct walk throughs, which can be helpful to identify new or previously missed hazards and failures in hazard controls. However, this is reactionary, not strategic. OSHA states, “an effective occupational safety and health program will include the following four main elements: management commitment and employee involvement, worksite analysis, hazard prevention and control, and safety and health training.” Having a risk management approach is the best possible defense.
  3. Continually reinforce training and commitment to safetyLearning does not start and stop with training. Safe practices have to be practiced and applied to be lasting. While most workers know not to stand on the top rung of a step ladder, it happens because they are in a hurry, careless, or not paying attention. Signage, toolbox talks, digital reminders all help; but most important is effective leadership and employee engagement. When managers enforce the safety rules and stand behind them 100%, workers understand it’s important to their health and well-being and are empowered to take ownership of their own and other’s safety.Further, employee complaints triggered 41% of the unprogrammed inspections and over 23% of all inspections. Employees who feel safe at work and believe the employer cares about their safety, are less likely to file a complaint.

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

OSHA watch

Comments sought on possible revision to silica standard

request for information was published August 15 in the Federal Register for input on potential revisions to Table 1 of the respirable crystalline silica standard for construction. Table 1 includes the task or equipment, engineering / work practice control methods, and required respiratory protection / minimum assigned protection factors for all shifts. The deadline to comment is Oct. 15.

New webpage on leading indicators

A new webpage is aimed at helping employers use leading indicators to improve their health and safety programs.

Employers reminded to submit Form 300A data

media release reminds employers who have not already done so to submit their 2018 Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses (Form300A). The deadline was March 2.

Access FREE electronic OSHA 300 Recordkeeping Software that creates the OSHA required data transmission file for online reporting here.

New way to track OIG recommendations

The Department of Labor Office of Inspector General has launched a Recommendation Dashboard website showing the status of its 235 recommendations for 12 agencies, including OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Recent fines and awards

California

  • Garden Films Productions LLC, based in Culver City, was cited for failing to protect employees from hazards while filming a movie in Norcross, Georgia and faces penalties of $9,472.

Florida

  • L N Framing Inc. was cited for exposing employees to fall hazards at a Jacksonville worksite and faces $58,343 in penalties.
  • Point Blank Enterprises Inc., operating as The Protective Group in Miami Lakes, was cited for exposing employees to amputation and other safety hazards and faces $92,820 in penalties.
  • Brad McDonald Roofing & Construction Inc. was cited for exposing employees to fall and other safety hazards at two construction sites in Lutz and Palmetto. The residential and commercial roofing work company faces $274,215 in penalties.

Georgia

  • Atlanta Kitchen LLC was cited for exposing employees to amputation, silica, and other safety and health hazards at its Decatur manufacturing facility. The countertop manufacturer faces $132,604 in penalties.

New York

  • Arbre Group Holding, doing business as Holli-Pac Inc., was cited for willful and serious violations of workplace safety and health standards at its Holley facility. The company, which packages frozen fruits and vegetables for retailers, faces a total of $200,791 in penalties.

Indiana

  • Five Star Roofing Systems Inc., based in Hartford City, was cited for repeatedly exposing employees to fall hazards while performing roofing work at a commercial building site in Lake Barrington, Illinois. The company faces $220,249 in penalties.

Missouri

  • H. Berra Construction Co., based in St. Louis, was cited for exposing employees to excavation and trenching hazards at a residential construction site in Saint Charles, and faces penalties of $143,206.
  • Missouri Cooperage Company LLC, a subsidiary of Independent Stave Company, was cited for exposing employees to amputation, noise, and other safety and health hazards at the spirits and wine barrel-making facility in Lebanon, and faces $413,370 in penalties.

Pennsylvania

  • A federal judge in the U.S. District Court has awarded $1,047,399 in lost wages and punitive damages to two former employees of a Montgomeryville-based manufacturer, Lloyd Industries, after a jury found the company and its owner fired them in retaliation for their participation in a federal safety investigation.
  • New Finish Construction, LLC, based in Fairchance, must pay $25,000 in fines for safety violations that led lead to the death of a worker. An ALJ of OSHRC affirmed two citations relating to working near energized sources, but vacated three citations and their accompanying penalties.

Tennessee

  • The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was ordered to reinstate a former employee who was placed on paid administrative leave, and then later terminated in retaliation for raising nuclear safety concerns and pay $123,460 in back wages and interest, and $33,835 in compensatory damages, as well as attorney fees.

Wisconsin

  • Choice Products USA LLC was cited for continually exposing employees to machine safety hazards at the cookie dough manufacturing facility in Eau Claire. The company faces $782,526 in penalties, and was placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

For additional information.

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

HR Tip: DOL opinion letter: Parent attendance at school IEP meetings are covered by the FMLA

In a recent opinion letter, the DOL concluded that the FMLA covers an employee’s attendance at a school meeting where their child’s individualized education program (IEP) will be discussed. In so doing, the DOL concluded that the employee’s attendance at the IEP meetings constitutes “care for a family member…with a serious health condition.”

FMLA guru, Jeff Novak, suggests employers:

  • Treat a request for FMLA leave to attend an IEP meeting consistent with how all other intermittent FMLA leave requests are handled, including requiring the employee to provide notice for a foreseeable leave of absence and provide appropriate certification to support the leave request. The medical certification should contain specific language supporting the need for the employee to attend IEP meetings for the child.
  • Since it may be difficult to determine if it is an actual IEP meeting, closely review the need for attendance specifically at school meetings so that there is some connection to the child’s IEP or issues that implicate the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • Unless there is objective evidence that the employee is lying about attendance at the IEP meetings, employers should tread carefully in requesting documentation to support attendance at every IEP meeting.
  • Train your managers about this new obligation so that these requests are not being outright rejected in the context of FMLA leave, which may be their knee jerk reaction.

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

Update: marijuana in the workplace remains daunting for employers


With changes in state and local statutes, court decisions trending toward acceptance and protecting employee rights, and the burgeoning popularity and availability of unregulated CBD, it’s no surprise that many employers and insurers identify marijuana as one of the top challenges in maintaining a safe workplace. Here’s an update:

Legislation affecting workers’ comp

While there has been much activity on the legislative front related to medical marijuana and the workplace, the landscape remains hazy for most employers. 2019 enacted legislation includes: Illinois legalized marijuana for recreational purposes; Nevada prohibits employers from refusing employment to applicants who test positive for marijuana in a preemployment drug test; New Jersey amended its medical marijuana statute to prohibit employers from taking adverse employment actions against employees based solely on their status as a medical marijuana patient; and Rhode Island enacted legislation that employers are not required to pay for medical marijuana costs, but employers may not refuse to “employ or otherwise penalize a person solely for their status as a medical marijuana cardholder,” with certain exceptions. In April, the New York City Council passed a law that prohibits employers from testing applicants for marijuana.

Nonetheless, lawmakers in Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Maryland and Vermont considered, but did not pass various proposals that would have allowed or required reimbursement for medical marijuana. A bill in Kentucky to clarify that employers and insurers are not required to reimburse an injured worker for marijuana failed.

At the federal level, while decriminalization is viewed as unlikely in the short term, there are pending proposals to decriminalize marijuana (S1552), allow state regulation without federal interference (HR2093), and protect financial institutions and insurance companies that provide services for legitimate cannabis businesses (HR1595).

Shift in court case decisions favors employees

A recent article in the National Law Review, “Courts Are Siding with Employees Who Use Medical Marijuana,” notes that while the first wave of court cases related to marijuana legalization and the workplace tended to side with employers, the tide is now turning. “Recent decisions in federal and state courts indicate that employers need to proceed with caution when they make employment decisions concerning drug tests for cannabis use.”

In Arizona, the court found an employer wrongfully terminated an employee who was a registered user of medical marijuana and failed a drug test following an injury. In Delaware, a court held that a medical marijuana user may proceed with a lawsuit against his former employer after a positive post-accident drug test result for marijuana led to his termination. In Connecticut, a federal judge ruled that the employer violated an anti-discrimination provision of Connecticut’s medical marijuana law when it withdrew the job offer to a “qualified patient” using medical marijuana.

In New Jersey, an appeals court ruled that medical marijuana use is covered under the state’s ban on disability-based employment discrimination. The case, Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc, is expected to be heard by the state supreme court. In Oklahoma, the court of appeals concluded that the presence of THC in an employee’s blood after a workplace accident does not automatically mean that the employee was intoxicated and could be denied workers’ compensation benefits. The case, Rose v. Berry Plastics Corp, is on appeal to the state supreme court.

Employers and insurers were victorious in Florida when a workers’ compensation judge (JCC) found that Florida’s medical marijuana statute prohibits reimbursement under workers’ compensation, and that requiring employers and insurers to pay for a worker’s medical marijuana would violate the federal Controlled Substances Act. The JCC also determined that employers and insurers should not be required to pay for a worker’s medical evaluation to obtain medical marijuana because the cost of the evaluation would be part and parcel of the cost of obtaining marijuana. The case, however, has been appealed to Florida’s First District Court of Appeal.

CBD is everywhere and unregulated

Late last year, the Agricultural Improvement Act removed hemp-derived CBD with less than 0.3% Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal cannabinoid in cannabis, from the list of Schedule I drugs. The popularity of CBD, cannabinol-based products, skyrocketed with an aggressive marketing campaign, promoting its value as an alternative to pain meds with none of the psychoactive effects associated with cannabis. While states and local governments are beginning to make their own regulations for the hemp industry, the void in oversight has given rise to shady companies looking to capitalize on the burgeoning CBD market.

Available online, in supermarkets, coffee shops, convenience stores, retail establishments, and pet stores, there is so much variability in the potency and purity of CBD products, it is raising havoc in the positive testing for THC. Packaging for CBD oil may claim to be THC-free or below traceable limits, but they can contain enough to be detected during a drug screen.

While the DOT has made it clear a positive test for THC as a result of CBD use will not be excused, employers are struggling with how to address situations where an employee defends a positive drug test by claiming use of CBD.

More research on medicinal benefits and testing, but few definitive results

There continue to be many studies with varying results and heated debate about the medicinal benefits of marijuana. Addressing the often-discussed association between medical marijuana and lower levels of opioid overdose deaths, a study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found it unlikely that medical cannabis – used by about 2.5% of the U.S. population – has had a large offsetting effect on opioid overdose mortality.

While more testing options are being researched, tests can only detect tetrahydrocannabinol components, which means that the individual used it anywhere for a day or two to several weeks prior to testing. It does not make a determination of impairment. While some states have adopted laws about levels for driving under the influence, there is still no agreement about levels of impairment.

All of this is compounded by the fact that there are few state or federal guidelines concerning maximum, minimum, or even standardized dosages for treatment. There are only three prescription drugs derived from cannabinoids that are approved by the FDA.

What employers can do

Employers need in be diligent in their focus on mitigating cannabis-related risks in their workplaces:

  1. Stay abreast of state regulations and recent court cases.
  2. Continue to update drug and fitness for duty policies with legal counsel. Determine how CBD use will be treated.
  3. Train supervisors to detect signs of possible impairment and what to do when they suspect impairment.
  4. Discuss with your testing provider how CBD is monitored.
  5. Educate employees that almost all CBD products are not regulated by the FDA and to adopt a “buyer beware” approach. Consumers purchasing online or at unlicensed retailers are taking a risk of products that contain THC and additives such as pesticides or chemicals, that can result in a positive drug test.

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

Ten questions to assess your workplace’s preparedness for an active shooter

While most organizations will never experience an active shooter situation, it’s clear it can happen anywhere and to anyone. According to FBI data, 250 active shootings took place between 2000-2017. From 2000 to 2006, shooting incidents averaged 6.7 a year, jumping to 16.4 a year from 2007 to 2013, and then averaging 22 a year between 2014 and 2017. Nearly half (42 percent) of the incidents between 2000 and 2017 took place at businesses or areas of commerce. In addition, nearly 80% of the 500 workplace homicides in 2016 were caused by shooting, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

Employers can no longer afford to have a “It will never happen here” or “There’s nothing we can do” mentality. The unpredictability and increase in violence mean employers have to be prepared. Here are ten questions to ask:

  1. Do your hiring practices look for red flags of a person capable of violence or who has a volatile temper? Social media can provide a wealth of information about prospective employees. Hate speech, threats of violence, obsession with guns or violent content, postings of killer’s manifestos, excessive alcohol or drug abuse, undue anger and hostility and so on. Effective screening and background checks are critical even in tight labor markets.
  2. Have employees had recent basic awareness training? The unfortunate reality is that every employee and business owner must be mindful of their surroundings and the potential for an active shooter or other threats. Most shooters are suicidal and their crises are known to others before the attack. Words almost always precede actions and no threat should be passed off as idle words. Involve workers by educating them on warning signs, such as marked change in behavior or appearance, sudden withdrawal, depression or disgruntlement, outbursts of anger, empathy with those committing violence, and so on.
  3. Are employees comfortable reporting their concerns? People who see or sense something is wrong often do not say something. They may fear they are overreacting and unduly labeling a person as a potential threat, worry about confidentiality, or there may be an absence of clear reporting protocols. Employers who respond with punitive actions against the accused foster a climate of silence. However, if these behaviors are recognized, they can often be managed and treated.

    Recently, police say a concerned coworker’s tip may have saved lives after a Long Beach Marriott cook allegedly planned to shoot coworkers and hotel guests. Employees need to understand it’s not about getting a co-worker in trouble, but ensuring the safety of all. It’s about early intervention. And those who are experiencing violence in their personal lives, such as an abusive partner, should be comfortable that sharing the information can be done confidentially.

  4. Are there clear procedures that are followed when an employee is terminated? According to an LA Times article, a change in job status was frequently the trigger for a workplace shooter. They often believe that everyone is against them and termination, no matter how many warnings had been given, is a painful affirmation. Show compassion and offer assistance. While every situation has unique elements, having clearly articulated processes and procedures known by everyone in your organization for terminating an employee is key.
  5. Is there a clear and specific emergency response plan? Best practices change, so there should be a plan to review response plans regularly. The situation is chaotic; the more employees know about how to report and react to an active shooter incident, the better chances of survival. Knowing when to run, hide, or fight and what to do when police arrive is critical.

    There are many resources available, including a Department of Homeland Security’s booklet offering detailed advice.

  6. When was the last time you assessed your physical plant and surroundings for security and tested your security policies and procedures? Having an outside security firm audit can help identify vulnerabilities.
  7. Do you know how your employees feel about workplace safety? A quick survey might provide unexpected insights and lead to important discussions.
  8. Do you have sufficient insurance? In addition to the emotional and psychological impact of such shootings, organizations face sizable property, casualty, business interruption, and workers’ compensation insurance claims, as well as possible litigation. Many businesses think their existing policies cover these events, but they can fall short of covering the huge expenses. Some businesses are supplementing their coverage with active shooter insurance. It’s important to review your coverage with advisors to ensure it is adequate.
  9. Are you prepared to manage the consequences of an active shooter incident? Once injured workers have been taken care of and families notified, attention should be turned to the emotional and psychological state of the survivors. A plan should exist to get them the help they need. Moreover, any critical personnel or operational gaps left in the wake of the shooting should be addressed. Then the situation and response to it should be analyzed and an after-action report prepared.
  10. Are you prepared for the reputation fallout? Reaction will be swift. Your actions will be scrutinized in real time in the media and on social media. Today, there’s no waiting for investigations and so on. How an organization responds can threaten or strengthen its operations.

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

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.

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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