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: Have you updated these policies in your 2019 employee handbook?

Keeping the employee handbook updated with the latest laws and company policies is a challenging, but necessary, task. 2018 was a busy year particularly at the state and local levels as new and amended employment-related laws took effect in 27 states. Here are 20 areas that may need attention. Employers are encouraged to discuss with knowledgeable counsel the local, state, and/or federal laws that will apply to the employer’s workplace in 2019:

  1. Sexual harassment
  2. Discrimination protection based on gender identity
  3. Retaliation procedures
  4. Reasonable accommodations for women who are pregnant or breast feeding
  5. Update to leave laws (supplement may be necessary for multi-state employers)
  6. Medical and recreational marijuana
  7. Drug use
  8. Equal pay and wage discrimination
  9. Use of cellphone while driving
  10. Independent contractors
  11. E-cigarettes and other tobacco substitutes
  12. Weapons in the workplace
  13. Changes to employee benefits
  14. Remote work policies
  15. Data privacy
  16. Social media
  17. Workplace conduct
  18. Arbitration and At-will acknowledgement
  19. Minimum wage
  20. Problem areas requiring a clearer policy or different strategy

Updating the handbook is also an opportunity to train managers and reinforce policies with employees. Employers should also obtain acknowledgments of receipt each time they update their handbooks.

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

Things you should know

2018 WorkComp Benchmark Study released

The sixth annual Workers’ Compensation Benchmarking Study Report by Rising Medical Solutions, Inc. focuses on key issues influencing medical management performance and the most potent strategies to address these issues.

BLS report: Fatal injuries remain over 5,000

The number of fatal work injuries dropped slightly in 2017 to 5,147 down from 5,190 in 2016. Fatal falls were at their highest level in the 26-year history of the BLS’s reporting, accounting for 17.2% of employee deaths, while transportation incidents again account for the most deaths with 2,077, or 40.4%.

In 2017, 15.1% of fatally injured workers were age 65 or over – a series high. The number of deaths among Hispanic or Latino workers rose 2.7% to 903 in 2017.

Report: Injured restaurant workers miss an average of 30 days

AmTrust Financial Services Inc., a provider of workers compensation insurance, took a deep dive into common restaurant injuries, lost time, industry loss ratio trends and how to implement loss control best practices in its report, Restaurant Risk Report. Cafés and coffee shops had the highest lost time, on average 45% more time lost than all other restaurant types. Wrist injuries are the biggest danger for coffee shop workers, with “barista wrist” resulting in an average of 366 days to return to work.

Study: Musculoskeletal injuries to long-haul truck drivers

Nearly half of all musculoskeletal injuries reported by long-haul truck drivers are to their arms, backs or necks – the majority being sprains and strains – according to a recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Drivers most often were injured because of a fall (38.9 percent) or contact with an object or equipment (33.7 percent).

Of those injured, 53 percent required time away from work, at a rate of 355.4 incidents per 10,000 full-time workers, which is more than double those of other hazardous professions. The researchers said the study suggests the need for injury prevention and interventions and ways to improve recovery when injuries occur.

Report ranks states by risk of violence from Black Friday

A report ranking states by risk of violence during Black Friday was recently released by Reviews.org. Included in the report are the employers that have the most incidents during Black Friday.

State News

Florida

  • Department of Economic Opportunity announced that the statewide average weekly wage paid to injured workers by employers will be $939 starting Jan. 1.

Minnesota

  • A total of 101 fatal work-injuries were recorded in Minnesota in 2017, an increase from the 92 fatal work-injuries in 2016 and 74 fatal work-injuries in 2015. More information

Missouri

  • The Department of Insurance is recommending a 3.5 percent decrease in workers’ compensation insurance loss costs for 2019, the fifth year in a row rates will decrease.

New York

North Carolina

  • The Workers’ Compensation Research Institute’s (WCRI) Benchmark shows that medical payments per workers’ comp claim decreased significantly since 2013, falling 6 percent each year through 2016.
  • The Industrial Commission has finalized settlement agreement rules, The “Group 2” rules aimed to clean up some inconsistent language and streamline the settlement process, as well as clarify wording relating to attorney’s fees. The rules took effect Jan. 1.
  • The Commission approved Group 1 rule changes, which took effect Dec. 1. Medical motions, responses and appeals on medical motions must be submitted electronically and must include the opposing party’s position on the matter.

Pennsylvania

  • Insurance commissioner approved two loss cost reductions that together will amount to a 14.74% decrease, starting Jan. 1. Loss costs are one of many factors that determine premiums for workers’ comp insurance.
  • Department of Labor and Industry reported that the maximum compensation rate will rise by 2.3%, to $1,049 per week, starting Jan. 1. It’s website offers a chart to determine compensation based on the employee’s average weekly wage.
  • Department of Labor and Industry announced that it has adopted the Red Book, published by Truven Health Analytics, to determine the average wholesale price of prescription drugs.

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

Legal Corner

ADA
Bank pays $700,000 for inflexible disability policy

A bank has agreed to pay $700,000 to settle an EEOC lawsuit for violating the ADA. Hudson City Savings Bank, which merged into Wilmington Trust Co., a subsidiary of Buffalo, New York-based M&T Bank Corp. in 2015, had a long-standing inflexible policy of placing employees with impairment or disabilities on involuntary leave or discharging them until it received a medical provider’s clearance to return to work with no restrictions.

Disability discrimination case of health worker who refused vaccine dismissed

In Janice Hustvet v. Allina Health System, a unit of Minneapolis-based Allina Health System merged with Courage Center in Minneapolis. Allina required Courage Center employees who had patient contact to get a vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella as part of a preplacement health assessment screen. An independent living skills specialist refused noting she had many allergies and chemical sensitivities.

When she was fired, she filed a disability discrimination suit under the ADA. The court found that the requirement to undergo a health screen was job-related and consistent with a business necessity. Further, there was insufficient evidence that her chemical sensitivities or allergies substantially or materially limit her ability to perform major life activities.

Workers’ Compensation
Apportionment for pre-existing, asymptomatic conditions allowed – California

In City of Petaluma v. WCAB (Lindh), a police officer suffered head injuries during a training exercise, experienced headaches and lost vision in his left eye. A medical assessment determined that he had a pre-existing vascular condition that predisposed him to a loss of eyesight. While an administrative law judge and the WCAB granted a 40% permanent disability without apportionment, the 1st District Court of Appeal noted statutes provide that permanent disability must be apportioned based on causation, as long as there is substantial medical evidence that the disability was caused, in part, by nonindustrial factors. The condition does not have to manifest itself; an asymptomatic condition, means a condition that is present but for which there aren’t any symptoms.

The court therefore ordered the case sent back to the board to issue an award apportioning 85% of Lindh’s disability to his pre-existing condition, and 15% to his industrial injury.

Workers’ fraud means carrier can seek modification of benefits – Florida

Florida’s statute allows a judge of compensation claims to change benefits if there is a change in condition or if there was a mistake in a determination of fact. In U.S. Fire Insurance Co. v. Hackett, the carrier had been paying for around-the-clock attendant care provided by the husband and daughter of the injured worker. Over 25 years after the accident, the injured worker stopped seeing her treating doctor.

The carrier then conducted surveillance and found she was not receiving all the attendant care for which they were paying and questioned the need for continued care. While a judge agreed that the husband and daughter were deceiving the carrier, she denied the carrier’s petition for modification, reasoning that the evidence established fraud, not a change in medical condition. She also stated she did not have the authority to compel an IME. The Court of Appeal for the 1st District disagreed and reversed the decision.

Injured worker cannot sue third party – Illinois

In A&R Janitorial v. Pepper Construction Co.; Teresa Mroczko, an employee of a janitorial service was cleaning an office building. At the same time, a subcontractor was replacing carpets and a desk that had been placed in an upright position fell and injured the custodian. She collected workers’ comp benefits from her employer, but did not file a timely personal injury action against the construction company.

Under Illinois law, if a worker does not file a personal injury action, her employer can. While the litigation was pending, the worker filed her own action, but was denied as untimely. Later, she filed a petition to intervene in her employer’s case. While a judge denied the petition, the Appellate Court reversed and the case went to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court reversed on res judicata grounds – the matter had already been adjudicated by a competent court and may not be pursued further by the same parties.

Temporary staffing employee cannot sue assembly plant – Indiana

An employee of a temporary staffing agency was assigned to work in an assembly plant. When her hand was crushed by a punch press and a finger was severed, she collected workers’ comp from her employer, the temporary staffing agency. Later she filed suit against the assembly plant, claiming negligence.

The assembly plant argued that it was immune from civil liability since the worker was an employee and the courts agreed. The Indiana statute provides “a lessor and a lessee of employees shall each be considered joint employers of the employees provided by the lessor to the lessee.”

Attorney’s text message to IME does not bar medical report and testimony – New York

In Robert G. Knapp v. Bette & Cring LLC, Workers’ Compensation Board, a divided appellate court ruled that the Workers’ Compensation Board erred in barring the introduction of the IME’s report and testimony at a later hearing because the attorney sent a text message to the physician and not the opposing counsel.

The message requested an update on the loss of use of the worker’s left foot, which had been determined at 40.5% for comp benefits. Following the exam, the IME found an 88% scheduled loss and the Board reopened the case. The Board credited the employer’s physician’s report and awarded a 50% loss, precluding the IME’s report.

In overturning the decision, the appellate court noted the message ‘appears to be a limited communication’ and did not reflect an effort to influence the physician’s testimony or opinion.

Injured employee can continue medication beyond its recommended short-term use – New York

In Matter of Byrnes v. New Island Hospital, an appellate court ruled that an injured nurse could continue use of Amrix, a muscle relaxant, which is recommended for only short-term use on the board’s Non-Acute Pain Management Guidelines, but which she had been using for over 16 years. The injured worker’s doctors argued that the medication, in combination with other therapies, allowed her to perform the activities of daily living and to continue working as a nurse and the effects of the drug vary by individual.

The court supported the board’s finding that the medication was medically necessary.

Additional compensation awards subject to durational limits – New York

In Mancini v. Office of Children and Family Services, the state’s highest court ruled the additional compensation awards permissible under Section 15 (3) (v) of the Workers’ Compensation Law are subject to the durational limits set out under Section 15(3)(w) – those for workers with non-schedule injuries. The ruling is a continuation of the state’s trend toward caps on benefits that started with the 2007 reforms.

Supreme Court overturns compensability award based on preexisting condition – North Carolina

In Pine v. Walmart Associates, a long-time employee fell and was released to return to work, but continued to experience pain. A few months later, imaging revealed nerve damage and she filed a workers’ compensation claim. Walmart accepted liability for the right shoulder and arm injuries, but denied liability for the condition of her cervical spine as well as other injuries, since she had a pre-existing degenerative disc disease.

The Industrial Commission found her injuries and subsequent pain were the result of the earlier fall and were compensable based on the Parson’s presumption that injured workers should not be required to prove their need for treatment was related to the original injury every time they seek further medical care. While noting the commission applied the incorrect standard in determining compensability, the Court of Appeals affirmed.

While this was under appeal, legislation was enacted that amended the statute, Section 97-82(b), to clarify that the Parsons presumption applies only to the specific injury that was accepted on a Form 60. Since the statute was applicable to all cases not yet resolved, the worker was not entitled to a presumption that her other conditions were compensable. Further, it was unclear if the commission made findings of causation independent of the application of the presumption; therefore, the decision had to be set aside.

Petition for civil contempt cannot compel interest payments on benefits delayed while employer appealed award – Missouri

In Smith v. Capital Region Medical Center, a widow was awarded benefits for the death of her husband. When the employer appealed the award, there was a delay of about 1.5 years before the Court of Appeals affirmed it. The widow filed a petition for civil contempt to compel the employer to pay the interest owed, but the court noted Section 511.340 prohibits the use of civil contempt to enforce the mere payment of money.

First employer liable for reoccurrence of injury of worker hired through labor union – Nebraska

In Weyerman v. Freeman Expositions, a stagehand was a member of a local union. The union had a collective agreement with Complete Payroll, which was considered the employer of members of Local 42 when they worked on its jobs, but the union also had agreements with other companies, including Freeman Expositions, which specified it was the “employer” when union members were working on its jobs.

The stagehand was injured while working for Freeman and the treating doctor cleared him to return to work in about a week. Complete Payroll sent the worker to another job, but he was unable to perform because of back pain. Then he was cleared to return to work, but did not go back and began seeing another doctor and filed for workers’ compensation.

The workers’ compensation court found he suffered an injury to his back while working for Freeman Expositions and that he suffered a recurrence of the injury several weeks later and he had not reached MMI. While the Court of Appeals acknowledged conflicting evidence, it affirmed the decision that Freeman was liable for both injuries.

Question of disability limits benefits for daughter with incurable eye disease – Pennsylvania

In Aqua America v. WCAB (Jeffers), a worker was killed in an auto accident, leaving behind a wife and four children. Under the law, payment of benefits to minor children continue until they reach the age of 18 and beyond, if they have a disability.

His daughter suffers from an incurable, progressive eye disease, which will eventually leave her legally blind. The widow sought dependency benefits that would continue after her daughter turned 18.

While a workers’ compensation judge and the Workers’ Compensation Board approved the daughter’s benefits beyond the age of 18, until the employer could prove she was capable of self-support, the Commonwealth Court overturned. It noted disability involves “not merely physical impairment, but loss of earning power” and there was no evidence regarding loss of earning power.

Patient’s ulcer not attributable to pain medications – Tennessee

In Steak N Shake v. Yeager, a restaurant worker suffered serious injuries in a fall and was given prescriptions for several pain medications. A week after his fall, he returned to the hospital complaining of weakness, dizziness and chest pain and a doctor posited that the ulcer was likely caused by the combination of meds. The Department of Labor ordered the restaurant to pay for his care.

His hospital bill was over $48,000 and the restaurant contested it by filing a civil suit against the worker. In so doing, they obtained admissions that the worker had taken more meds than prescribed and he consumed an average of three ounces of liquor daily. While a trial judge upheld the award, the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel reversed and the Supreme Court upheld the Panel’s decision not to award benefits.

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

OSHA watch

Revised Beryllium Standard for General Industry proposed

The proposed rule, published in the Dec. 11 Federal Register, would revise provisions regarding recordkeeping, personal protective clothing and equipment, written control exposure plans, disposal and recycling, medical surveillance, and hazard communication. It also would change or add six terms in the “definitions” paragraph of its regulations: beryllium sensitization, beryllium work area, chronic beryllium disease, CBD diagnostic center, confirmed positive and dermal contact with beryllium.

Another proposed change is removing Appendix A, which lists suggested controls, and replacing it with a new Appendix A, “Operations for Establishing Beryllium Work Areas.”

The enforcement date for the provisions affected by this proposal was December 12, 2018. While this rulemaking is pending, compliance with the standard as modified by this proposal will be accepted as compliance. The deadline to comment on the proposed rule is Feb. 11.

Initiative to increase awareness of trenching and excavation hazards and solutions launched in southeastern states

As part of the agency’s focus on trenching safety, area offices in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi have launched an initiative to educate employers and workers on trenching safety practices. They are reaching out to excavation employers, industry associations, equipment rental organizations, water utility suppliers, and national and local plumbing companies to educate them to identify trenching hazards. Compliance assistance resources are available on the updated Trenching and Excavation webpage.

CPWR infographic provides trench safety tips

CPWR, The Center for Construction Research and Training, developed an infographic focusing on trench safety, including best practices to protect workers in trenches.

(English / Spanish)

Winter weather resources

The Winter Weather webpage provides information on protecting workers from hazards while working outside during severe cold and snow storms. This guidance includes information on staying safe while clearing snow from walkways and rooftops.

Court ruling: general contractors can be cited for hazardous conditions at multi-employer worksites, even if those conditions do not directly affect their own employees

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which covers Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi, recently overturned a ruling of the OSHRC that Hensel Phelps Construction Co., a general contractor, could not be held liable for violations from one of its subcontractors, under the multi-employer work site policy despite it not having any employees exposed to the hazard.

In Acosta v. Hensel Phelps Construction Co., the Fifth Circuit aligned with seven other federal circuit courts in granting OSHA authority to issue citations to controlling employers.

Certification organization releases employer guides on updated crane operator requirements

The National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators has published three employer guides on the updated crane operator requirements, which went into effect Dec. 10. The two-page guides address the rule’s training, certification and evaluation regulations.

(Training / Certification / Evaluation)

Area offices must use four-part test when citing respiratory hazards without PELs

Area offices must apply a four-part test before issuing General Duty Clause citations for respiratory hazards that do not have a permissible exposure limit, according to a memorandum sent to regional administrators.

The memo, issued Nov. 2, notes that area offices cannot base a General Duty Clause citation on only a “measured exposure” in excess of an occupational exposure limit or a documented exposure to a “recognized carcinogen.” Instead, they must use the following tests in those situations:

  1. The employer failed to keep the workplace free of a hazard to which employees of that employer were exposed.
  2. The hazard was recognized.
  3. The hazard was causing or was likely to cause death or physical harm.
  4. A feasible and useful method to correct the hazard was available.

Enforcement notes

California

  • Santa Cruz-based Future2 Labs Health Services Inc., a manufacturer of cannabis products faces $50,470 in penalties for 10 violations, following an explosion that left a worker seriously injured.
  • A Riverside construction company, Empire Equipment Services Inc., was cited $66,000 for serious workplace safety violations that resulted in the death of a worker when a 17-foot-deep trench collapsed.
  • The U.S. Army Reserve 63 Regional Support Command at a Sacramento maintenance facility was issued safety violations, after a federal civilian employee was fatally injured when the automated lifting mechanism of a utility vehicle cargo box failed and pinned him between the bed and the vehicle frame
  • Southern California Edison received six citations, totaling $95,435 in penalties, after a worker suffered a serious electric shock. Inspectors determined that the company failed to control hazardous energy, isolate exposed underground cables with protective coverings, and eliminate all possible sources of backfeeding energy.

Florida

  • Jacksonville-based Derek Williams, operating as Elo Restoration Inc., was cited for exposing employees to fall hazards at two separate worksites in St. Augustine and Daytona Beach. Inspected under the Regional Emphasis Program on Falls in Construction, the roofing contractor faces $116,551 in penalties.
  • Elo Restoration was also cited, along with Travis Slaughter, operating as Florida Roofing Experts, Inc., for exposing workers to fall hazards at another St. Augustine worksite. Responding to a complaint of unsafe roofing activities, inspectors determined that the companies failed to ensure workers were attached to a fall protection system. Both companies were issued the maximum allowable penalty of $129,336.
  • L.A. Disaster Relief and Property Maintenance LLC, a property maintenance and land clearing company, faces $94,415 in penalties for failing to implement a hazard communication program after an employee suffered burn injuries at a McDavid worksite.
  • Doral-based Nupress of Miami, Inc., a commercial printer, faces $71,139 in penalties for exposing workers to amputation, electrical, and other hazards.
  • Turnkey Construction Planners Inc., a roofing contractor based in Melbourne, was inspected under the Regional Emphasis Program on Falls in Construction and faces $199,184 in penalties for exposing employees to fall hazards.

Georgia

  • Parts Authority LLC, doing business as Parts Authority Georgia LLC, a wholesale auto and truck parts distributor based in Norcross, faces $133,406 in penalties for exposing employees to fire, electrical shock, and struck-by hazards.

Missouri

  • World Wrecking and Scrap Salvage Services Inc., a demolition company, was cited for failing to provide fall protection after two employees suffered fatal injuries at a demolition site in St. Louis and faces penalties of $23,280.

Nebraska

  • Clearwater-based Thiele Dairy was cited for failure to develop and implement safety and health programs related to grain bin entry after an employee suffered fatal injuries and faces penalties totaling $78,899.

Pennsylvania

  • In Secretary of Labor v. J.D. Eckman Inc., an administrative law judge of the OSHRC vacated citations against the bridge and highway construction company related to a workplace incident in which an employee was fatally struck in a traffic control zone. The citation was issued under the General Duty Clause, which the judge found inapplicable under the circumstances.

For more information.

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

Things you should know

EEOC issues FY 2018 Performance Report

In its performance report, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reported significant increases in its outreach efforts and enforcement actions to prevent and remedy employment discrimination. The EEOC secured approximately $505 million and other relief for over 67,860 victims of discrimination in the workplace. The EEOC’s legal staff resolved 141 merit lawsuits, filed 199 more in FY 2018, and filed 29 amicus curiae briefs on significant legal issues in employment discrimination cases.

Non-fatal injuries and illnesses decline – BLS report

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report on workplace injuries and illnesses showed a slight decline from 2016 to 2017. There were 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private industry employers in 2017, a rate of 2.8 cases per 100 full-time equivalent workers, compared with 2.9 cases in 2016. In manufacturing, sprains, strains and tears were the leading type of injury with a rate of 27.5 cases per 10,000 FTE workers which was unchanged from 2016. For more details

Recreational and medicinal marijuana – midterm results

  • Michigan became the 10th state to legalize the possession and use of recreational marijuana for adults.
  • Missouri and Utah approved the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
  • North Dakota rejected a measure to legalize recreational marijuana.

Crashes up in states with legalized marijuana

Crashes have increased by up to 6% in four states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use compared with neighboring states that have not done so, said the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institutes. Data from Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, which have legalized marijuana, was compared with the control states of Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. The combined state analysis is based on collision loss data from January 2012 through October 2017.

Bad commutes have driven more than 20 percent of office workers to quit a job, survey shows

Nearly one in five U.S. office workers say they’ve quit a job because their commute was too much, according to the results of a recent survey conducted by global staffing firm Robert Half.

In a survey of more than 2,800 office workers from 28 cities, 23 percent cited a bad commute as a reason for quitting a job. The cities with the most workers resigning for commute-related reasons were Chicago, Miami, New York and San Francisco.

Managing fatigue risk in the tugboat, towboat and barge industry: New guide available

The American Waterways Operators has released a guide on various principles of fatigue risk management.

State News

California

  • Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau (WCIRB) released their Workers’ Compensation Aggregate Medical Payment Trends report, which compares medical payment information from 2015 to 2017. There was a cumulative 8% reduction in medical payments per claim from 2015 to 2017. More information
  • Average losses on newer indemnity claims are starting to tick up even as costs for older claims continue to level out or decline, the Workers’ Compensation Institute (CWCI) reports.

Florida

  • The Insurance Commissioner has issued a final order for a 13.8% workers’ compensation rate decrease for 2019, which applies to both new and renewing workers comp policies effective in the state as of Jan. 1. The reduction is slightly larger than that submitted by NCCI (13.4%).

Illinois

  • Legislature overturned the Governor’s veto of the workers’ compensation law to allow medical providers to sue insurers over interest stemming from unpaid bills, among other changes to the way medical claims are managed between doctors and payers. Attached to the new law is an amendment that specifies the medical treatment must be approved under workers’ compensation – and oftentimes by the commission – before interest can be accrued and then collected via the circuit court.

Massachusetts

  • Falls to a lower level were the leading cause of fatal worker injuries from 2014 to 2015, representing nearly 17 percent of the workplace fatalities, according to a report released Oct. 16 by the Department of Public Health.

Minnesota

  • The workplace injury rate fell to the lowest level ever recorded in 2017, to 3.3 nonfatal injuries per 100 full-time workers, reports the Department of Labor & Industry.

North Carolina

  • The nonfatal workplace injury and illness rates reached an all-time low in 2017, according to a new report from the state Department of Labor.

Tennessee

  • The Department of Commerce and Insurance Commissioner approved a 19% reduction in workers’ compensation rates, consistent with NCCI’s recommendation. The reduction will become effective on March 1.

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