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

Seven emerging risks and trends to watch

Often employers don’t give emerging trends the same importance as existing practices. Here are seven emerging trends to put on your radar screen:

  1. Temporary workersWhether it’s to meet peaks in demand, a screening process for temp-to-permanent employee, or to tap a unique skill or talent, temporary workers are a vital part of today’s workforce. They also present unique risks for employers. Temp workers are less likely to return to work following an injury and are almost three times as likely to suffer non-fatal occupational injuries than direct hire employees according to a study by University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Public Health.

    Further, classification of workers as employees or independent contractors remains a thorny legal issue. Insurers are also scrutinizing classification of workers particularly in franchises, the gig economy, and trucking industry. Despite the administration change, OSHA remains committed to overseeing and enforcing temporary workers rights.

    Keeping temporary workers safe and understanding agency/employer responsibilities is a constant challenge. While there is a tendency to be laxer with temporary workers, they need to be vetted and trained as if they would be there permanently. Expectations need to be clearly communicated. Some employers have found “buddy systems” and visual identification effective.

  2. Medical and recreational marijuanaConflicting laws, inconsistent legal rulings, zero tolerance drug policies, differing opinions about the use of marijuana as a viable alternative to relieve chronic pain, and reimbursement issues make marijuana a hot-button headache for employers. Court decisions about reimbursement for medical marijuana have been all over the place. A handful of states have found, and continue to find, that it is reimbursable (CT, MN, NJ, NM, and NY).

    While many courts have ruled that employers with drug-free workplace policies can terminate an employee who tests positive for marijuana, Massachusetts companies cannot fire employees who have a prescription for medical marijuana simply because they use the drug, but must attempt to negotiate a mutually acceptable arrangement with each medical marijuana patient they employ.

    With a tight labor market, companies lament that too many applicants test positive for marijuana during pre-employment screening, causing some to relax the practice. Others grappling with marijuana look at job functions and do not hire someone in a safety-sensitive position if they have a medical marijuana card or prohibit certified users from performing certain safety-sensitive jobs while “under the influence” of medical marijuana. Post-accident drug testing is also challenging for employers as is modified duty for injured workers treating with medical marijuana.

    A new year is a good time to review your written drug policies, clearly communication expectations and company rules to all employees, and be sure supervisors know how to recognize signs of impairment. Employers are responsible for providing their employees a safe working environment and this is one of the more vexing areas. Don’t go it alone; consult with legal counsel and insurance carriers that can help navigate the complexity.

  3. Mental health and PTSDThe debate about mental health coverage under workers’ comp is not new, but continues to gain traction with rising incidents of workplace violence, PTSD, efforts to reduce the stigma associated with mental health, and general concern of stress in the workplace. Workers’ Comp compensability for mental-mental and mental-physical injuries, either by statute, regulation, and/or case law vary widely by state and many states are reexamining their statutes, particularly for first responders.

    Moreover, the effect of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues on delayed return to work, increased claims costs, and workplace violence are being addressed in return to work efforts and employee assistance programs. Increasingly, mental health is also being incorporated into health and wellness programs.

  4. Ergonomics and wearablesA recent survey by Marsh Risk Consulting (MRC) found that companies are not doing enough to tackle emerging risks, including ergonomics and wearables. Ergonomics typically is one of the top three causes of workplace injuries, but advances in technology offer opportunities to manage and mitigate the risks. Wearables can measure body stresses and provide data, alerts and real-time monitoring to modify behavior and enable managers or other senior workers to make corrections before an injury occurs. They can also provide data for potential engineering and productivity improvements.

    While wearables are here to stay, they need to be integrated strategically. Some things to consider are how they complement existing safety efforts and culture, the cost-benefits, and the risks. Data privacy risks, ethical considerations, and liability exposures for employers all need to be considered when implementing programs using wearables. As with the introduction of any new technologies, employee acceptance is key.

  5. Robotic and human interactionAnother emerging risk needing more attention identified in the MRC survey is the rapid growth in collaborative and mobile autonomous robots that is increasing the threat of injury from human and robot interaction. Whereas robots used to work in isolation, technology has evolved so that many now work alongside humans. A common myth is that the collaborative robot is safe out of the box, yet the manufacturer does not control how it is programmed or used. Every collaborative robot system is unique and the risks must be assessed.

    In addition, employees may resist the introduction of such systems, particularly when they fear losing their job. Smart employers prepare employees for the future of work by systematically and intentionally reskilling and upskilling them.

  6. Alternatives for pain management and the opioid prescription drug crisis2018 was an active year for state legislation regarding prescription drugs in workers’ compensation and more is expected in 2019 to stem the opioid crisis. The industry has seen positive results and continues to seek new ways to address the problem.

    A Hartford survey on opioids in the workplace had troubling results. Over three-quarter of workers don’t feel trained to help colleagues navigate addiction, 64% of human resource professionals say they are unprepared to handle opioid addiction, and only 34% of workers feel the company has the resources to deal with the problem.

    Employers need to step up by educating employees about the risks of the misuse of opioids, identifying those at risk of misuse and getting appropriate help, assessing current workplace drug policies and scope of drug testing, and strengthening employee assistance programs. In addition, working to expand coverage of alternatives for pain management that offer a more holistic approach, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness, physical and occupational therapy, relaxation training, and exercise will help employees gain confidence in their ability to manage their pain.

    Some employers use telemedicine to keep employees engaged with virtual face-to-face meetings between patients and psychologists. Medical marijuana may hold promise for the future, but science is too limited and it remains classified as a Schedule I drug under federal law. It behooves employers to stay abreast of new developments.

  7. Natural disastersThe country has seen its share of devastation this year and the recent dire report on climate change from the US Global Change Research Program suggests it will continue on an increasing scale. For those affected, the implications for workers’ comp are huge – expediting benefit payments and medical care to injured workers directly affected, workplace injuries during disaster recovery, and disruption of business operations. The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) states that when a natural disaster creates a temporary interruption of normal business activities, this can validate a change in an insured’s operations, and can prompt carriers to consider a change in governing classifications if the employer continues to pay its employees while they are unable to work.

    Businesses should always expect the unexpected. Staying ahead of risks during disasters requires an assessment of the unique risks that can potentially arise in your location and developing a comprehensive plan that addresses employees, infrastructure, and business continuity.

Employers that move beyond the familiar traditional issues and anticipate and address emerging risks become industry leaders.

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

 

The quandary of legal pot and workers’ compensation deepens

Now that 28 states have legalized the medical and/or recreational use of marijuana, employers are struggling with zero tolerance policies, pre-employment drug testing, employee drug testing, discrimination suits, and general uncertainty. Laws about marijuana vary from state to state, making questions about how it affects workers’ comp and other employer policies even more confusing. Further, as states tighten up laws on the use of opioids to manage pain, some argue that cannabis is a viable alternative, raising concerns that workers will be impaired when they return to work.

The changing landscapes are challenging for employers and will lead to more litigation, new laws and regulations. Here are six recent actions and trends that employers should know about:

  1. Federal budget protects medical marijuanaAlthough Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been an outspoken critic of medical marijuana, the $1 trillion spending bill approved in May, which will fund the U.S. government until the end of September, includes language that protects state medical marijuana programs from federal enforcement. It provides no funding for any prosecution of cases involving medical marijuana where it has been made legal. Recreational users are not protected under this provision.
  2. Opioid crisis drives loosening of use of medical marijuana in comp casesAlthough medical marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the landscape of marijuana use in workers’ comp is changing. Some advocate its use as a way to stem the epidemic of addiction and opioid abuse, but others argue there is little validated research to determine its effectiveness and possible side effects. Others see it as an effective way to reduce the ongoing costs of legacy claims, particularly those involving workers who will not return to work.In states such as New Mexico and Louisiana, judges have ordered insurers to reimburse injured workers for medical marijuana, when deemed medically necessary by a treating physician. New Mexico also required carriers to start reporting marijuana reimbursements beginning Jan. 1, 2016. For 2016, 15 payers reported reimbursements for medical marijuana totaling $46,826 for 19 claims. The average reimbursement amount per claim was $2,465. On average, each injured worker was reimbursed for 205 grams of marijuana, or about 22% of the maximum 920 grams allowed per year.In May, the Maine Supreme Court agreed to hear a case in which an administrative law judge had ordered reimbursement under workers’ compensation for an injured worker’s medical marijuana. While the Maine law made clear that medical marijuana was not a drug that could be paid for by a private health insurer, the statutory language does not apply to other insurers, including workers’ comp. Insurers and employers are awaiting the outcome of Bourgoin vs. Twin Rivers Paper Company.

    Even when the law permits insurers to reimburse injured workers for medical marijuana, the claims are complex. The doctors prescribing cannabis typically may not be the same physicians treating injured workers for the medical cause of their workers’ comp claim. It needs to be determined whether marijuana is medically appropriate, why they recommend it, and whether it is really for the work-comp injury or some other condition.

  3. Employers rethinking drug testing policiesA key challenge to employers is measuring impairment, when an employee uses marijuana. At issue is how long marijuana stays in a person’s system and the lack of a reliable test to determine what level of THC (the chemical ingredient that causes the “high”) leads to certain impairment.Positive marijuana tests continue to climb in both federally mandated, safety sensitive workplaces and the general workforce, according to Quest Diagnostics, Inc. Colorado and Washington, where recreational marijuana has been legal for several years, saw some of the biggest leaps for workers in safety-sensitive jobs. However, the dilemma for employers is that a positive test does not always equate with impairment.Although courts have supported employers in pre-employment drug testing cases, fewer Colorado employers are doing it. A tight labor market may be a reason, but some believe employers have become more accepting and looking for other ways to manage the issue.

    Some experts suggest that employers have a separate policy for marijuana testing. In developing any policy, it’s important to consider what type of work employees are doing. Employers can have separate drug testing policies for those in safety-sensitive positions, machine operators, and still another for office and administrative workers.

    Others suggest the use of impairment or psychomotor testing, rather than the traditional urine, saliva, or hair testing, when legally possible. With traditional testing, it’s difficult to determine whether the employee is high and impaired or is testing positive with lingering traces from weekend use. They argue that the point of drug testing is to determine if workers can do their job safely and not endanger others, and that impairment testing that measures reaction time, decision-making, and pattern recognition against an employee’s baseline is more effective.

    The state of Maine recently offered state employers “impairment detection training,” noting employers can continue drug screening of employees until the recreational marijuana law goes into effect in February 2018. However, thereafter, if not amended, testing for marijuana use will violate the state’s regulations protecting those who wish to use marijuana recreationally outside of work.

    However, many employers and federally mandated testing still rely on traditional testing, believing it is the best way to control risk. For example, the Department of Transportation (DOT) determined that the urine tests would not change because of the new state laws legalizing marijuana.

    For a workers’ comp claim to be denied, some states require employers to prove that a worker’s intoxication caused the injury, which can be difficult when the only evidence is a positive marijuana drug test. Employers are encouraged to better train supervisors and employees to recognize impairment and take steps to control and document it.

  4. Non-hiring or firing for positive marijuana testing can lead to discrimination suitsA “watershed” decision in Massachusetts sheds light on the issues employers face in employment practices and zero tolerance drug policies. In Cristina Barbuto vs. Advantage Sales and Marketing L.L.C., a worker was authorized by her physician to use marijuana to stimulate her appetite and help with symptoms of Crohn’s disease and informed the company that she would test positive on drug screenings. A supervisor told her the medicinal use of marijuana “should not be a problem,” which he later confirmed after consulting with others at the company, according to court documents.On her first day of work, she submitted a urine sample for a mandatory drug test and began work. Later in the day, she was terminated by an HR rep for testing positive for marijuana and was told the company followed federal, not state, law. She filed discrimination charges, alleging six claims, including handicap discrimination, invasion of privacy and denial of the right to use marijuana lawfully as a registered patient to treat a debilitating medical condition.A trial court judge dismissed all claims except the invasion of privacy claim, but a six-judge panel of the Massachusetts Supreme Court reversed the lower court judge’s dismissal of her claim for handicap discrimination and related claims, but affirmed the motion to dismiss on counts claiming an implied private cause of action and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. Notably, the supreme judicial court became the first appellate court in any jurisdiction to hold that medical marijuana users may assert state law handicap or disability discrimination claims-regardless of whether the state’s medical marijuana statute provides explicit employment protections. (Massachusetts’s medical marijuana statute does not provide such employment protections.)

    “The fact that the employee’s possession of medical marijuana is in violation of federal law does not make it per se unreasonable as an accommodation,” the court ruled. “The only person at risk of federal criminal prosecution for her possession of medical marijuana is the employee. An employer would not be in joint possession of medical marijuana or aid and abet its possession simply by permitting an employee to continue his or her off-site use.” The case has been remanded to the Superior Court.

    Takeaways for employers:

    • Employers may find it harder to argue that an adverse employment action against a medical marijuana user is justifiable solely because marijuana is categorized as an illegal controlled substance under federal law
    • Courts may increasingly look upon “the use and possession of medically prescribed marijuana by a qualifying patient as lawful” as the use and possession of any other prescribed medication
    • State law handicap or disability discrimination claims may apply to medical marijuana users
    • Employers should engage in the “interactive process” with medical marijuana users to determine if they can perform essential job functions with a reasonable accommodation
  5. Comp coverage for medical marijuana dispensaries uncertainThe conflict between federal and state laws on marijuana means that individual insurers are using their business and legal judgment in deciding whether to provide services to the marijuana industry. Hawaii’s largest workers’ compensation insurer, Hawaii Employers’ Mutual Insurance Co. (HEMIC), recently announced that it is canceling insurance policies for seven medical marijuana dispensaries that were slated to open this summer. In its statement, it noted that legal opinions clearly acknowledge that HEMIC and its board of directors have potential exposure for criminal liability based on federal law applicable to marijuana businesses.While many major carriers have provided coverage in other states, there is more uncertainty under the new presidential administration. On the other hand, it is a $6.5 billion dollar business and legitimate employers can be an attractive market for insurers.
  6. New information is emergingThe federal government’s stance that marijuana is an illegal substance has stalled research on its effectiveness, side effects, dosage, and so on. The first large study to directly compare medical marijuana to an opioid drug is beginning at the University of Colorado, Denver. The grant for this study is part of $9 million awarded by the state for trial purposes, funded in part by tax money from marijuana sales.A recent study by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) showed a correlation between marijuana use and traffic accidents. Claims frequency in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, the states to first legalize recreational marijuana, was 3% higher than the controlled states that had not legalized marijuana. The HLDI has also begun a large-scale study in Oregon to assess how legalized marijuana use may be changing the risk of crashes with injuries.

There’s no easy answer for employers trying to respond to the increase in marijuana use and be compliant with the law. While the use of medical marijuana is still in its infancy, it’s important to recognize that if a doctor concludes medical marijuana is the most effective treatment for an employee’s debilitating condition, an interactive process, including an exception to an employer’s drug policy, may be warranted. Staying informed, updating and monitoring drug policies, educating employees on how it can impair judgment and motor skills, developing policies based on the employee base, and consistent hiring and disciplinary treatment can help ensure that they have a safe and productive workforce.

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