Legal Corner

ADA
Employer takes proper steps to win approval of terminating employee taking opioids

In Sloan v. Repacorp, Inc. (S.D. Ohio February 27, 2018), an employee who worked 10% – 20% of his time on heavy machinery was taking both prescription morphine and non-prescription opioids. The company’s handbook requires all employees to notify management if they are taking nonprescription or prescription medications and testing positive for these could result in termination. However, the employee did not inform his supervisors.

After his company learned of his drug use, the employee voluntarily submitted to a drug test and tested positive for hydrocodone, the opiate found in Vicodin. When he was terminated less than two weeks later, he filed suit on charges including disability discrimination and retaliation under the ADA. He alleged he was disabled because of degenerative disc disease and arthritis in his neck and back and fired because of his disability.

The company, however, had made a good faith effort to involve him in the interactive process. It asked him to consult with his doctor to see if there were alternative medications or treatments for his pain that did not include opiates, but he refused. The court noted that he was not fired because he was a direct threat to himself or others, but because he failed to participate in the interactive process. Thus, he impeded the company’s ability to investigate the extent of his disability and determine whether a non-opiate medication could reasonably accommodate his disability.

This decision serves as a reminder that individualized assessments should always be made and an employee’s lack of cooperation during the interactive process is often a strong defense to both ADA discrimination and retaliation claims.


Workers’ Compensation
Statute of limitations for temporary disability awards clarified – California

In County of San Diego v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board and Kyle Pike, a deputy sheriff suffered an injury to his right shoulder on July 31, 2010, and received benefits for five years up to July 31, 2015. He sought to reopen the petition and receive temporary disability benefits and a WCJ awarded the benefits and the Board agreed.

However, a dissenting panel member argued that the statute does not permit an award of temporary disability more than five years after the date of the injury. The Court of Appeal, 4th Appellate District, agreed, noting the language of the statute clearly indicates that temporary disability payments cannot be awarded for periods of disability occurring more than five years after the date of the underlying injury.

Interactive process and accommodation required after injury – California

In Bolanos v. Priority Business Services, an injured worker returned to work with restrictions and suffered a hernia while he was working in the office. He settled a workers’ comp claim for the hernia, but the company told him they could no longer accommodate him. He filed suit alleging disability discrimination and retaliation and a jury awarded him almost $40,000 and attorney fees of $231,470.50, plus $10,697.08 in costs.

The company argued that it could not show it engaged in the interactive process and reasonably accommodated the employee because a trial judge disallowed evidence of the workers’ compensation claim and settlement from consideration by the jury. However, the Court of Appeals found the company was not prejudiced by the trial judge’s ruling.

Implanted surgical hardware does not qualify as continued remedial care – Florida

Under Florida statutes, workers have two years from date of injury to file a worker’s compensation claim, but the time can be extended to one year after the date that the employer last paid indemnity benefits or furnished remedial care. In Ring Power Corp. v. Murphy, an employee who injured his back underwent spinal surgery and doctors used rods and screws to stabilize his spine while the bone grew back together.

A judge determined that a petition for benefits seeking additional medical treatment was not time barred because the company was continuously furnishing remedial treatment as long as the rods and screws remained within the worker’s body. The 1st District Court of Appeal disagreed noting that the pins and screws no longer served a purpose.

Worker’s suspected intoxication not factor when insurer fails to meet 120-day deadline to deny compensability – Florida

In Edward Paradise v. Neptune Fish Market/RetailFirst Insurance Co., an employee fell and fractured his hip while emptying the garbage. The employer was informed of the injury but did not report it to the insurer. The injury was complicated by infections and, ultimately, five surgeries were required. Ten months after the accident, the worker filed the first notice of the injury and the insurer elected to pay and investigate under Florida’s 120-day rule. The insurer did not file a notice denying compensability of the workplace injuries because of intoxication until almost 16 months after the injury. The court noted the failure to meet the 120-day deadline to deny the compensability of an injury claim waived the insurer’s intoxicated-worker rights.

Appellate court misconstrued “arising out of employment” requirement – Georgia

In Cartersville City Schools v. Johnson, a school teacher was denied benefits by the State Board of Workers’ Compensation’s Appellate Division for a fall incurred while she was teaching a fifth-grade class because the act of turning and walking was not a risk unique to her work. Upon appeal, the Court of Appeals noted, “For an accidental injury to arise out of the employment there must be some causal connection between the conditions under which the employee worked and the injury which (s)he received.”

It said the Appellate Division overlooked the proximate cause requirement and focused on the concept of equal exposure – that the teacher could have fallen outside of work while walking and turning, as she did while she was at work. Therefore, it erroneously concluded her injury resulted from an idiopathic fall and was not compensable. Although an employee could theoretically be exposed to a hazard outside of work that mirrors a risk faced while at work, it does not mean an injury resulting from the workplace hazard is non-compensable.

No death benefits for family in asbestos claim – Georgia

In Davis v. Louisiana-Pacific Corp., an employee, who worked at a Louisiana-Pacific facility in Alabama, moved to Georgia after leaving his position. Several years later, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma and died. His family filed a claim for death benefits arguing that, although he was last exposed to asbestos in Alabama, his diagnosis and death occurred in Georgia.

While the court acknowledged that there was not a work-related “injury” until he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, the “accident” that resulted in his condition was his exposure to asbestos while he was employed in Alabama. Had the worker’s contract been executed in Georgia he would have been eligible for benefits, but it was made in Alabama and, therefore, the state did not have jurisdiction over the claim.

Children can sue over birth defects related to father’s on-the-job exposure – Illinois

The exclusive remedy afforded by worker’s comp does not apply to two teenagers who suffered birth defects as a result of their fathers’ workplace exposure to toxins because they were seeking damages for their own injuries, not their fathers’ noted the 1st District Court in reversing the Circuit Court of Cook County. The fathers’ employer, Motorola, had argued successfully to the Circuit Court that the birth defects were derivative of a work-related injury to their fathers’ reproductive systems. However, upon appeal, the 1st District Court noted the children weren’t employees of Motorola, and they were suing over their own injuries, not their fathers’.

Failure of company to get out-of-state coverage nixes death claim – Illinois

In Hartford Underwriters Insurance Co. v. Worldwide Transportation Shipping Co., the Iowa-based shipping company hired an Illinois truck driver who only worked in Illinois. After he died from a work-related injury, his widow filed an Application for Adjustment of Claim against Worldwide under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. Since the company only had workers’ comp coverage in Iowa at the time of the fatal accident and none of the insurer’s conduct suggested that coverage extended to out-of-state drivers, the insurer was not liable for death benefits.

Dismissal of tort claims against co-workers upheld – Missouri

Four cases that occurred during the period (2005 – 2012) when the comp law did not extend an employer’s immunity to co-workers were recently considered by the Supreme Court and the dismissal of the tort claims upheld. “For purposes of determining whether a co-employee can be liable for an employee’s injury between 2005 and 2012, the co-employee’s negligence is assumed,” the court said. The focus needs to be on whether the breached duty was part of the employer’s duty to protect employees from foreseeable risks in the workplace.

In Conner vs. Ogletree and Kidwell, Conner suffered an electrical shock when he came in contact with a live power line. The Supreme Court said the failure of his co-workers to ensure that the line was de-energized was a breach of the employer’s duty to provide a safe workplace. In Evans vs. Wilson and Barrett, the court said that a worker’s negligent operation of a forklift was also a breach of his employer’s duty to provide a safe workplace.

In McComb v. Nofus, the court said the decision of two supervisory employees to send a courier out into a dangerous winter storm was not a breach of any personal duty owed to McComb. In Fogerty v. Armstrong, the court said a worker’s misuse of a front loader was a breach of the employer’s duty of care.

Average weekly wage includes compensation, value of meals and lodging for former pro athlete – Nebraska

Nebraska’s statute states that wages do not include “board, lodging, or similar advantages received from the employer, unless the money value of such advantages shall have been fixed by the parties at the time of hiring.” In Foster-Rettig v. Indoor Football Operating, a professional indoor football player received $225 for each game he played in, plus an additional $25 per game if the team won or played well. The team also paid for him stay at a particular hotel in Omaha seven days a week during the football season and he got 21 meal vouchers for local restaurants.

His career was ended by a back injury and he filed a comp claim. At trial, he provided expert evidence about the value of the hotel room and meals. The Court of Appeals agreed with the compensation court that benefits should be based on an average weekly wage of $903.25, including an average salary of $231.25 per week from playing in games, plus an average of $350 per week for lodging and $320 per week for his meals.

Landlord liable for labor law claim even if tenant contracted for work without their knowledge – New York

In Gonzalez v. 1225 Ogden Deli Grocery Corp. a deli leased retail space, hired a painter to add a decoration to its sign, and set up the A-frame ladder. The painter fell from the ladder and filed a Labor Law action against the landlord for his injuries. Under Section 240(1), property owners have absolute liability for failure to protect workers from elevation-related risk and Section 241(6) imposes a non-delegable duty on owners to comply with the safety regulations of the code. Even if the deli contracted with the painter without the knowledge of the landlord, the landlord was liable, according to the Appellate Court. The landlord only presented unsworn statements from the deli owner and a deli worker and hearsay statements cannot defeat summary judgment if they are the only evidence.

Tort claim against co-employee can proceed – New York

In Siegel v. Garibaldi, an employee who was walking to the campus safety office to clock out was struck by a car driven by a co-worker, who was heading home. The injured worker received comp benefits and filed a tort action against his co-worker. While the appellate court noted that the law ordinarily limits a worker to a recovery of workers’ compensation benefits if he is injured by a co-worker, in this case, the driver was no longer acting within the scope of his employment. The road was open to the public and the risk of being struck in a crosswalk is a common risk shared by general members of the public.

Expert medical evidence is required to establish occupational disease claim – North Carolina

In Briggs v. Debbie’s Staffing, an employee operated a large mixing machine at a refractory manufacturer. Employees were required to wear respiratory protection masks because the process produced a lot of dust. After the employee was fired for attendance-related issues, he filed a workers’ compensation claim, asserting chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma. While a physician initially opined that the asthma was likely caused by the working conditions, he did not know the worker was a smoker and had worn a respirator mask and testified this might affect his opinion on causation.

The employee argued that his own testimony about the working conditions were sufficient to establish a claim, but the appellate court noted only an expert is competent to opine as to the cause of the injury and present medical evidence that the employment conditions placed the employee at a greater risk than members of the general public.

Slip and fall on shuttle bus compensable – Pennsylvania

In US Airways Inc. v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, a flight attendant was trying to place her luggage on the racks in a shuttle bus that was taking her from the airport to an employee parking lot, when she slipped on water on the floor and injured her foot. The airline argued that the incident did not take place on the airline’s property and that the shuttlebus was part of her commute to work, since it did not own the shuttlebus and did not require its employees to park in the parking lot. The Commonwealth Court ruled that her commute ended at the parking lot and work began on the shuttle, thus, her injury was compensable.

Worker was not permanently and totally disabled – Tennessee

For almost twenty years, the employee worked in a factory of General Motors. He suffered several on-the-job injuries and his last injury required surgery on his right shoulder. When he was cleared to return to work with restrictions, GM could not accommodate him and he never returned to work, nor sought other work. He filed a request for permanent total disability benefits, asserting that he had no vocational opportunities.

Two qualifying experts expressed conflicting opinions as to his vocational abilities and the employee said he did not consider himself unable to work, although not in the type of positions he had held in the past. The Supreme Court’s Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel ruled against the benefits, noting it’s the trial court’s discretion to accept the testimony of one expert over another and to consider an injured employee’s testimony concerning his abilities and limitations.

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

OSHA watch

Enforcement of the Beryllium Standard begins May 11

Enforcement of the final rule on occupational exposure to beryllium in general, construction, and shipyard industries begins on May 11, 2018.

Local governments and emergency services will be notified when a company receives a serious citation

Spurred by a fatal chemical explosion and fire at a New York cosmetic factory, OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Homeland Security are working on the new protocols for communicating and training with local governments and first responders.

Regional campaign on ‘focus four’ construction hazards in Region Three

Running from March to June, a campaign to raise awareness of the four leading safety hazards in the construction industry (electrocution, falls, struck-by, and caught-in or caught-between) will take place in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington. Representatives will conduct toolbox talks on each hazard.

A $1 million settlement for safety violations

Hebron, Ohio-based Sunfield Inc. has agreed to pay $1 million in fines and hire a safety and health coordinator to resolve violations found at the company’s Hebron plant. The inspection, which took place after two employees suffered severe injuries when they came in contact with moving machine parts, revealed the company lacked adequate power press guarding and hazardous energy control procedures that could have prevented the incidents.

Standard interpretation related to recording and reporting injuries of temporary workers versus HIPAA requirements

A recent standard interpretation addresses injury and illness recordkeeping requirements pertaining to an employer that supervises temporary workers on a day-to-day basis but has limited access to their medical records when an injury or illness occurs.

New fact sheet for owners and managers on conducting a walk around

The fact sheet urges business owners and managers to personally conduct periodic walk around inspections. It reviews the best way to prepare for an inspection, what to do while onsite, and how to develop an abatement plan.

New bulletins provide information on horizontal drilling hazards and chemically induced hearing loss

“Preventing Hearing Loss Caused by Chemical (Ototoxicity) and Noise Exposure” was published in conjunction with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and provides recommendations to employers and safety professionals about identifying ototoxicants in the workplace and establishing hearing conservation programs where these chemicals are used.

“Avoiding Underground Utilities during Horizontal Directional Drilling Operations” highlights the hazards associated with striking different underground utilities. Horizontal directional drilling has reduced visibility compared to vertical drilling. The bulletin was based on an incident that led to an explosion at a nearby restaurant, resulting in a worker fatality.

Enforcement notes

California

  • Alhambra Foundry Co. Ltd. faces $283,390 in proposed fines for workplace safety and health violations following a confined space accident that resulted in the amputation of an employee’s legs.
  • Petro Chemical Materials Innovation in South Gate faces $72,345 in penalties for failing to de-energize and guard a moving conveyer belt while a worker was cleaning it, resulting in the amputation of the worker’s right arm.

Florida

  • Jacksonville-based Jax Utilities Management Inc., a utilities contractor, was cited for $271,606 in proposed penalties and deemed a severe violator for exposing employees to trenching hazards. The investigation was launched after an employee was injured and hospitalized when an unprotected trench collapsed.
  • Naples-based L.I. Aluminum Design Inc., a pool and patio installer, received four serious citations, and faces proposed penalties of $40,096 after a worker fatally fell.
  • Middleburg-based Southeastern Subcontractors Inc. is facing $22,173 in proposed penalties following a heat-related fatality.
  • A Texas communications contractor, Tower King II Inc., faces penalties of $12,934 after three workers were killed while trying to install a new antenna on a communications tower in Miami Gardens. The capacity of the rigging attachments was not adequate to support the loads and the workers fell over 1,000 feet.

Georgia

  • Jose A. Serrato, a Marietta-based independent roofing contractor, was cited for exposing employees to fall hazards at a worksite in Birmingham and cited with $133,604 in proposed penalties. Mr. Serrato has been cited seven times in the past five years.

Massachusetts

  • Luis Guallpa, doing business as Milford-based Guallpa Contracting Corp., faces penalties of $299,324 for exposing workers to fall and other hazards at a Nashua, New Hampshire work site. The company had previously been cited in 2014 and 2015.
  • Jet Logistics Inc. (JLI) and New England Life Flight Inc., doing business as Boston MedFlight (BMF), were ordered to reinstate a pilot who lost his job after complaining about safety concerns and possible violations of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. JLI and BMF must pay the pilot $133,616.09 in back wages and interest; $100,000 in compensatory damages; reasonable attorney fees; and refrain from retaliating against the employee. The employers must also post a notice informing all employees of their whistleblower protections under AIR21.

Nebraska

  • An egg processing facility, Michael Foods Inc.’s of Wakefield, faces proposed penalties of $188,464 after an employee was fatally struck by a dock leveler. The proposed penalties relate to lockout/tagout, electrical and arc flash hazards violations.

New York

  • Summit Milk Products LLC faces $143,000 in proposed penalties for uncorrected and new hazards. A follow-up inspection was done after the company failed to report how it corrected violations found in an earlier inspection. Again, it was found that employees were not protected from heated milk in excess of 150 degrees and the injuries were not recorded in the 300 log.

Pennsylvania

  • Allentown-based Lamm’s Machine Inc. faces $14,782 in proposed penalties for exposing employees to hazardous chemical vapors from a degreasing operation in an enclosed space.

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

Court decision: OSHA not legally bound by five-year look back for repeat violations

A recent court decision indefinitely extending the time limitation for OSHA to assess repeat violations has serious implications for employers. The case, Triumph Construction Corp. v. Sec. of Labor, involved a repeat excavation-related citation issued to Triumph Construction Corp. in 2014. A prior citation of the same evacuation standard was issued to Triumph in 2009.

Triumph argued that the repeat citation was not appropriate because the amount of time that had passed from the original 2009 citation to the new 2014 alleged violation was outside OSHA’s stated repeat look-back policy in its Field Operations Manual (FOM), which was three years at the time. Under the Obama administration in 2016, the FOM was updated to expand the look back period to five years.

However, an OSHRC Administrative Law Judge and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the repeat citation. The court pointed out that neither the Occupational Safety and Health Act nor the regulations OSHA had issued under the Act spelled out any time period that limited the issuance of repeat citations. The time limitation set forth in the enforcement manual “is only a guide” and “is not binding on OSHA or the commission.”

In effect, the ruling means OSHA has the discretion, to go as far back as it wishes to identify any prior substantially similar violations to serve as the basis for a “repeat” violation.

Why it’s important

Repeat violations can harm employers in a number of ways. First, the maximum penalties are ten times higher than serious and other-than-serious violations – $129,336 compared to $12,934. Plus, a violation at one location of a multi-establishment company can be used as the basis for a repeat violation at any other location in a fed OSHA state within that organization, a policy established under the Obama administration that still stands.

Yet, even more important is the way that repeat violations are used. OSHA continues to issue the shaming press releases for significant offenses and that includes repeat violations. Also, it increases the possibility of an establishment being placed into the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP), where they are publicly branded as severe violators, subject to more inspections, and have no way to get out. Further, it can affect insurance premiums and the ability to compete for contracts.

What employers should do

The best practice, of course, is to avoid OSHA inspections and citations. However, if an inspection occurs and minor penalties are issued, don’t assume that the best course of action is to pay the penalty. The court decision has made it clear that the FOM is not binding on OSHA or the Commission and does not create any substantive rights for employers. If a serious citation is issued and confirmed, the risk of a much more costly and damaging repeat violation exists indefinitely. When there is a good faith defense, it may be well worth contesting the violation.

If a citation is confirmed, employers should be vigilant to ensure that citations regarding the same hazards don’t reoccur.

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

OSHA Inspectors ordered to crack down on employers who failed to electronically file

With much confusion surrounding the rule, a little more than a third of workplaces that were required to electronically file their 2016 Form 300A did not file the reports. The agency stopped accepting the 2016 data as of Jan. 1, 2018. In February, compliance officers were instructed to initiate inquiries into whether workplaces had electronically filed their 300A forms for 2016. Failure to file can lead to an other-than-serious citation, with a maximum penalty of $12,934. The agency has six-months from Dec. 15, 2017 to June 15, 2018, to issue citations to those employers who failed to electronically file the required information.

The agency is not requiring electronic OSHA 300 logs or 301 forms now, in anticipation of a new rule. Two types of establishments are expected to continue submitting 300A summary forms electronically: those with 250 or more employees, and those with between 20 and 249 employees in high-hazard industries. The deadline is July 1, 2018.

If you would like FREE access to a secure, online OSHA 300 Log record keeping software, maintain records by location, and allow you to electronically upload the required records, please go to our website by clicking here.

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

Legal Corner

FMLA
Adverse actions shortly after medical leave spell trouble for employer

In Schram v. Dow Corning Corp., E.D. Mich., while traveling for business a long-term employee was accidentally struck on the head by another passenger’s luggage, causing a detached retina that required immediate surgery. She had recently changed positions within the company and her new manager asked her to postpone surgery, but she refused and was off work for approximately three weeks. Although no paperwork was filed for FMLA leave, Dow allowed the time off.

When she returned to work, she alleged the manager excluded her for meetings and began questioning her work, moved her office, refused accommodations for ongoing retina issues, and ridiculed her for vision problems in a meeting. Shortly thereafter, she was told her position was eliminated and she found another temporary position in the company for one year and then was terminated. Meanwhile, her former position was filled by a younger male employee with less marketing experience at a salary $40,000 higher than her old salary.

After leaving Dow, she sued alleging retaliation under the FMLA and Michigan workers’ compensation law, as well as disability and gender discrimination under Michigan law. The district court found in her favor, noting the timing of her injury, leave of absence, and her “position elimination” was sufficient to place her retaliation claims before a jury. The judge also found that the assignment of her identical role and job duties to a younger male with significantly less marketing experience could provide sufficient basis for a jury to find in favor on her discrimination claims.
Leave not available for insomnia following death of pet

In Buck v. Mercury Marine Corp., E.D. Wis., a machinist asked for, and was granted, a day off because he was upset that he had had to put his dog of 13 years to sleep. The next day, he called his supervisor and explained he had not been able to sleep since putting his dog to sleep and asked for the day off and was documented for an unexcused absence. The same day, he sought treatment and was diagnosed with “situational insomnia” and the doctor wrote him a note that he was in the clinic for evaluation of situational insomnia. Despite the note, the absence remained unexcused. Over the next three months, the employee accumulated several other unexcused absences that resulted in his termination and he filed suit under the FMLA.

While the court held that inability to sleep caused by the passing of a pet could arguably constitute a “serious health condition,” it noted the employee failed to show that his condition qualified under the act. Other than the one visit to the clinic, there was no treatment, no prescriptions, and the doctor’s note did not say he was unable to perform the functions of his job. Although the company did not provide the employee directly with information about his FMLA rights or provide him a copy of its FMLA policy, it did not mean the company had violated the act, since the act requires employers to provide an employee with notice only “when the employer acquires knowledge that an employee’s leave may be for an FMLA-qualifying reason.”
Other
Supreme Court ruling may mean employees have more time to file state-law claims

While employees can file a single lawsuit in federal court for both federal and state-law claims against an employer, when judges dismiss the federal claims, they can also decline to hear the state claims. The employee can refile the claims in state court, but lower courts have disagreed about how much time employees have to do so.

Federal law provides that state-law claims will be “tolled” or paused while the claims are pending in federal court and for a period of 30 days after they are dismissed-unless state law provides for a longer tolling period. In Artis v. District of Columbia, the relevant state law limitations period had already passed when the employee’s claims were dismissed by the federal judge. The employer, therefore, argued that the worker only had a 30-day grace period to file her claims in state court.

However, the employee argued the tolling period began when the claim was first filed in federal court. In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed and held that the employee had 30 days plus whatever time had remained under the state statute of limitations when the federal lawsuit was initially filed.
Workers’ Compensation
Landmark decision means employers can face civil penalties for safety violations – California

In Solus Industrial Innovations, LLC v. Superior Court of Orange County, the Supreme Court has upheld the right of prosecutors to seek civil penalties under unfair competition statutes against employers violating work-safety statutes. While the company argued that the state plan for occupational safety and health should govern how employers with work-safety violations are treated, the court sided with prosecutors who argued they were targeting unfair business practices that arose from work-safety violations, not for the work-safety violations themselves. Although the decision is considered a landmark, it essentially validated an avenue that prosecutors have been using to go after unsafe corporate employers for decades.

Grubhub driver ruled independent contractor; judge urges change in gig economy laws – California

When a delivery driver was fired by Grubhub for failure to make deliveries while on the app, he sued for back wages, overtime and expense reimbursement. While he received a fee for each delivery, the company also paid him a minimum hourly rate and, therefore, he argued he was an employee. Grubhub claimed that they are primarily a software development company, not a food delivery service, so delivery drivers are not key to their business and they did not have enough control over their drivers to classify them as employees. Noting the need to update the laws relating to the gig economy, the judge said overall Grubhub did not have control over his work and under current laws he is an independent contractor.

Treatment must be by authorized doctor – Florida

In Hernandez v. Hialeah Solid Waste Department, the treating physician prescribed facet joint injections and the claims adjuster approved, but with a different physician. The 1st District Court of Appeal said the statutes allow an employer to transfer the care of a worker from an attending provider only if the worker is not making appropriate progress in recuperation and the refusal to allow the treating physician to do the injections was “a de facto deauthorization of the doctor” and improper.

Court explains interest rate on benefits when employers unsuccessfully challenge awards – Illinois

In Dobbs Tire & Auto v. IWCC, two employers unsuccessfully contested the award of benefits to two injured workers. The employers paid the awards plus interest, one at 0.11% and the other at 0.13%. The employees contested the rates in different county courts, and one court dismissed the complaint, while the other found the interest rate should be 9%. The cases were consolidated upon appeal.

While the Appellate Court explained that the Code of Civil Procedure Section 2-1303 provides that judgments recovered in any court will draw interest at a rate of 9% per year until satisfied, it only applies “if and when the arbitrator’s award or commission’s decision becomes an enforceable judgment,” because the employer has failed to pay. An employer that makes payment of an award, accrued installments, and Section 19(n) interest before the injured worker files a motion to enforce is not subject to the 9% interest. Section 19(n) provides for interest at a rate equal to the yield on indebtedness issued by the United States government with a 26-week maturity next previously auctioned on the day on which the decision is filed.

After firing an adjuster following a comp claim, insurance company faces ADA and retaliatory termination case – Illinois

In Buhe v. Amica Mutual Insurance Co., a federal judge ruled against an insurance company’s summary judgment in a suit filed by a former adjuster fired after an 11-month, unresolved workers’ comp claim. The adjuster fell off a roof while investigating a homeowner’s claim and suffered injuries to his lower limbs and shoulder, requiring several surgeries and rehabilitation.

The insurance company knew that the adjuster ran a mortgage company on the side.

While he said someone else oversaw the office activities of his mortgage firm when he was injured, an adjuster said surveillance revealed he was working for his own company while collecting workers’ compensation. He filed for bankruptcy but did not include his comp payments, claiming ignorance. He then filed the suit against Amica, asserting claims of discrimination under the ADA when the company allegedly failed to accommodate him, and retaliatory discharge and promissory estoppel, related to his bankruptcy filing. Amica followed with a summary judgment against his claims.

A judge ruled in part against the summary judgment, finding merit in both claims related to the ADA and retaliatory termination: “…A disability leave of absence that an employee seeks as a reasonable accommodation ‘is a factual issue well suited to a jury determination,'” his ruling stated. He also found that “a reasonable jury could conclude that the real reason for the termination was not the violation of company policy but the workers’ compensation claim.”

“Unusual strain” from daily work routine is compensable – Missouri

In Clark v. Dairy Farmers of America, a woman worker who was the shortest worker in the plant broke her rib and doctors discovered she had a lesion near the fracture. Further tests revealed that the lesion was Langerhans cell histiocytosis, a rare malignancy which can weaken a bone to the point where it can fail under a force that is less than normal. While an administrative law judge denied the claim for comp, the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission reversed and the Court of Appeals agreed.

A worker is entitled to benefits if there is “personal injury” that was caused by an “accident.” Although the worker was injured performing her normal job duties, this time was unusual because she felt and heard a pop in her chest and she could not raise her right arm.

Treating physician’s opinion does not have to be given greater weight than others – Missouri

In Blackwell v. Howard Industries, the Court of Appeals ruled that a worker who suffered an elbow injury and who refused to participate in physical therapy (PT) sessions was not entitled to permanent total disability benefits. The Court of Appeals noted the worker received varying levels of treatment, evaluation and medical records reviews from at least 15 different physicians.

All of the doctors, except for the treating doctor, concluded that the best form of treatment was PT. While a treating physician’s opinion is “of great import,” the court said, “the commission is not required to abide by it or required to give it any greater weight than other physicians’ opinions.”

Employer does not have to pay for “unfamiliar and undocumented” treatments – Nebraska

In Escobar v. JBS USA, the Court of Appeals ruled that a worker was entitled to temporary total disability benefits for a back injury but said the compensation court had erred in determining which medical bills the employer had to pay. A tenderloin puller, the worker allegedly injured his back and received treatment from an onsite nurse but continued to complain of pain and saw several doctors, with one stating that the subjective back pain was out of proportion to the physical examination.

The compensation court determined that he suffered a compensable back injury and that he was entitled to temporary total disability benefits. However, the Court found that the compensation court ordered payment for “unfamiliar and undocumented” treatments that were not clearly related to the work injury.

State has jurisdiction for resident injured while working for out of state employer – New York

In Galster v. Keen Transport, an appellate court ruled that the state workers’ compensation system had jurisdiction over a resident’s claim for an out-of-state accident while working for an out-of-state employer. A trucker who resided in New York worked for a Pennsylvania company, making deliveries of highway construction equipment all over the U.S. He injured his shoulder while shifting equipment in his trailer in Illinois.

After his injury, the company secured medical care for him in New York, as well as a light-duty job. The trucker filed a comp claim in New York, while the company filed one in Pennsylvania and contested the New York claim. The Appellate Division’s 3rd Department affirmed lower court decisions, noting New York has jurisdiction over a claim for an injury occurring outside the state where there are “sufficient significant contacts” between the employment and New York.

Compensation for exacerbation of pre-existing fibromyalgia denied – New York

In Park v. Corizon Health Inc., a worker was exposed to pepper spray while working in a prison when a guard discharged a canister to subdue an inmate. She sought medical care for her symptoms, returned briefly to work, and then took off almost one year. She filed a claim, asserting that her exposure to pepper spray had exacerbated her pre-existing fibromyalgia.

The Workers’ Compensation Board overturned the award by a workers’ compensation law judge, finding there was no causal connection. The Appellate Division’s 3rd Department said the board determines the factual issue of whether a causal relationship exists, and its determination will not change when supported by substantial evidence. The court noted there was conflicting medical testimony, there is no known medical cause of fibromyalgia, and that its symptoms are fleeting and vary considerably among individuals. Therefore, the Board’s decision to credit the opinion of the IME rheumatologist over that of the other physicians was entirely reasonable.

Construction worker receives comp for repetitive lifting injury – New York

In Garcia v. MCI Interiors, an employee worked as a plasterer in the construction industry for over 30 years. He filed a comp claim asserting he had suffered injuries to his neck and back from his repetitive heavy lifting. A neurosurgeon and the treating physician found that his chronic back pain was caused by “repetitive use at work.”

The Appellate Division’s 3rd Department said that a worker can establish an occupational disease by demonstrating a recognizable link between the medical condition and a distinctive feature of employment and with no contradictory medical evidence, the worker had succeeded in doing so.

Commission must review its denial of benefits to worker in light of recent Supreme Court ruling – North Carolina

In Neckles v. Harris Teeter, a meat cutter injured his hip, back, and arm at work and a functional capacity evaluation revealed that he would not be able to return to his job. A vocational rehabilitation specialist reported it would be “difficult” for him to secure a job in an open job market because of his limited work history, transferrable skills and age.

A few years later the company filed a motion asserting that the worker was no longer disabled. The Court of Appeals reversed the ruling of the Industrial Commission, which said the worker had not met his burden of proving that it would be futile for him to look for work. When appealed to the Supreme Court, it ordered the matter remanded to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration in light of the 2017 decision in Wilkes v. City of Greenville. In Wilkes, the Supreme Court ruled that a worker who can demonstrate a total incapacity for employment because of physical and vocational limitations does not also need to show that a job search would be futile. The Court of Appeals noted the case has to go back to the commission to make specific findings addressing the worker’s wage-earning capacity in light of his pre-existing and coexisting conditions.

Commonwealth Court ruling denying benefits for mental injury is published – Pennsylvania

The ruling in Frankiewicz v. WCAB (Kinder Morgan) denied benefits to a chemical operator for a psychiatric injury from exposure to a diesel fuel leak. Under state law, a claim must involve a combination of physical and mental injuries in order for mental injuries to be compensable, unless the mental injury was the result of exposure to “abnormal working conditions.” In this case, it was found that the worker only experienced transient symptoms that did not constitute a physical injury. These included headache, nausea, violent vomiting, choking, a runny nose and watery eyes after he was exposed to a discharge of diesel fuel from a plant a mile away. Following the incident, he began to suffer from panic attacks, anxiety and depression and doctors agreed the exposure had caused a mental injury.

The courts determined that he did not prove that he had been exposed to an abnormal working condition and the “transient” physical symptoms were insufficient to support an application of the physical-mental standard.

Failure to undergo surgery does not warrant shift in liability from employer to the Second Injury Fund – Tennessee

In Tankersley v. Batesville Casket Co., a long-term employee injured his arm and shoulder and surgery was recommended. However, the worker had congestive heart failure and decided not to undergo surgery. He returned to work with restrictions but eventually was laid off because the company had no work within his restrictions. A vocational counselor determined he had no transferrable skills and was 100% vocationally disabled because of the restrictions.

When a judge apportioned 90% of the liability for the award to the company and 10% to the state’s Second Injury Fund, the company appealed arguing the disability was caused in large part by pre-existing medical conditions. The court found that the ruling was based solely on the arm and shoulder injuries and the vocational counselor’s findings were based on the restrictions, thus the evidence did not preponderate against the trial judge’s apportionment decision.

Temp workers can choose to sue or apply for workers’ comp – Wisconsin

In Ehr v. West Bend Mut. Ins. Co. (In re Estate of Rivera), the Court of Appeals issued a decision that temporary workers have the right to file a suit against their temporary employer if they do not make a workers’ compensation claim. The case involved Carlos Rivera, a temporary employee of Alex Drywell, who was killed on the job in a one-car accident. Assigned to work for Alpine Insulation, Rivera was in an Alpine-owned vehicle, driven by an Alpine employee when the car crashed. The Alpine employee was later found to be at fault in the accident.

His estate filed a wrongful death suit against Alpine and the insurance company rather than claim death benefits under workers’ comp. The appeals court overturned a lower court and said that the exclusive remedy portion of the Workers’ Compensation Act doesn’t bar a temporary employee from bringing a claim against their temporary employer, if they had not made a claim for compensation, even if they were a “loaned employee.” The court determined that his estate could not bring a suit against Alex Drywall but was free to bring a suit against Alpine since Alpine was not technically his employer.

It’s expected that the case will be appealed to the Supreme Court.

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

Getting LOTO wrong is costly: Here’s how to get it right

Many companies believe they are in compliance with OSHA’s Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) standard; yet, it is one of the most difficult to comply with and is the number five violation in general industry and construction. To give you an idea of the standard’s complexity, a compliance directive to explain the enforcement policy and inspection procedures for compliance officers is 136 pages long, whereas the standard is only a few pages.

An increased focus on violations of Lockout/Tagout (1910.147) and Machine Guarding (1910.212, .213, .217, and .219) began in 2006 with the Amputations National Emphasis Program (NEP). This became even more pronounced when OSHA changed the requirements for reporting work-related fatalities and severe injuries in 2015. Employers must report any in-patient hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye within 24 hours of learning of the incident.

When an amputation is reported, it’s almost certain that an inspection will take place. In 2017, more than 10% (3,596) of all OSHA inspections were under the Amputations NEP, 75% of which were in manufacturing, and 1,247 were triggered by employer reports.

What’s important to note is that this resulted in 7,850 citations, including 302 willful and repeat violations, which carry maximum fines of $126,749. The proposed total cost of the citations is over $55 million. In addition to the potential for costly fines is the even more ominous possibility of being placed in OSHA’s Severe Violators Enforcement Program (SVEP).

One of the criteria OSHA uses to place an employer in the SVEP is 2+ Willful, Repeat, or Failure to Abate violations related to high emphasis hazards. There are only nine high emphasis hazards and amputations is one of them. According to a Conn Maciel Carey PLLC webinar, 68% of the SVEP cases fall under this qualifying criterion.

When OSHA puts an employer in the SVEP, it issues a press release before employers can contest the citation(s). This can have a negative impact on recruiting employees, obtaining bids and permits, and be devastating to a company’s reputation. Moreover, there are mandatory follow-up inspections, inspections at related facilities, and corporate-wide abatements. It’s not a place employers want to be – once designated as a severe violator, there is no clear-cut method for getting out of the program. And it’s not only large employers that are affected. Small employers make up the majority, with about 75% having 100 or fewer employees and roughly 55% having 25 or fewer employees.

Lastly, LOTO is among the most frequent OSH Act criminal violations.

What employers get wrong

When OSHA conducts an inspection, it’s relatively easy to spot LOTO violations. In 2017, the most frequent standard section cited was related to machine-specific procedures: 1910.147(c)(4)(i) – procedures shall be developed, documented, and utilized for the control of potentially hazardous energy. Employers that are cited often misunderstand the scope of activities covered by LOTO. They often focus exclusively on electrical hazards, but the standard covers a broad range of energy sources, such as mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, thermal, or other types of energy.

The program must include written equipment-specific LOTO procedures for all equipment, including vehicles such as forklifts and trucks, with hazardous energy sources and must include all energy sources. While it is possible to group equipment and machinery that have the same hazardous energy sources and the same or similar methods of controlling the energy, some employers do not understand the criteria for grouping that is set forth in section IX of OSHA’s compliance directive, or may neglect to list all covered machinery in the scope of the energy control procedure.

In some cases, employers neglect to document key elements of the procedure. There are also specific rules that apply when a contractor services the machinery and noncompliance leads to citations.

Employers and employees may mistakenly believe a procedure falls under the minor servicing exception. The standard contains specific criteria that must be met for the minor servicing exception to apply and all elements must be satisfied for an exception. Other common mistakes include not updating the procedures when changes occur, applying the construction rather than general industry standard, and overlooking facility support and operational equipment, such as HVAC machinery, boilers, and compressors.

The second most frequently cited standard is 1910.147(c)(6)(i) – the employer shall conduct a periodic inspection of the energy control procedure at least annually to ensure that the procedure and the requirements of this standard are being followed. In this case, annual means every twelve months. Some companies have the wrong person conducting the inspection. It must be an “authorized employee” other than the workers utilizing the lockout/tagout procedure being inspected.

If machines are grouped together the inspection must be of a representative number of employees implementing the procedure. “Representative” is subject to interpretation, so it’s important to have a rationale for the number chosen (complexity, older procedure, etc.). Moreover, the outcome of the inspection must be reviewed with all authorized employees as part of the periodic inspection. Employers also must “certify” that the inspections include the machine or equipment on which the energy control procedure was being utilized, the date of the inspection, the employees included in the inspection, and the person performing the inspection. And inspections must take place for each one of the LOTO procedures.

The third most cited standard is 1910.147(c)(1) – The employer shall establish a program consisting of energy control procedures, employee training and periodic inspections to ensure that before any employee performs any servicing or maintenance on a machine or equipment where the unexpected energizing, startup, or release of stored energy could occur and cause injury, the machine or equipment shall be isolated from the energy source and rendered inoperative.

A written lockout procedure is not required when a machine only has one energy supply that’s easy to identify and lock out. The machine can’t have any potential for stored energy and locking that one energy isolating device completely de-energizes the machine. Even if an employer uses an outside contractor for servicing and does no in-house servicing, a LOTO program is required because there are affected employees.

Fourth is related to training. 1910.147(c)(7)(i) – The employer shall provide training to ensure that the purpose and function of the energy control program are understood by the employees and that the knowledge and skills required for the safe application, usage, and removal of the energy controls are acquired by the employees.

Employers do a good job of training authorized employees, but sometimes overlook affected employees (who operate equipment being serviced) and all other employees who may be present in areas where LOTO is utilized, including management. Also, temporary employees often are forgotten. Another common problem is failure to develop “Group Lockout” procedures when more than two employees service a machine or to require use of a Group Lockout device.

Other common citations include wrong use of locks, wrong use of tags, and working under someone else’s lock.

Complying with OSHA’s Control of Hazardous Energy policy is difficult and the consequences for violating the regulation can be severe. Proposed changes in the regulation (see next article) may lead to more citations. An effective program will reduce the potential for employee injury as well as regulatory liability.

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

OSHA watch

Civil penalties increase to adjust for inflation

OSHA is required to annually adjust civil penalties under a 2015 law that significantly increased the maximum penalties allowed for violations. In January, the maximum penalty for willful and repeat violations increased from $126,749 to $129,336. The maximum fines for other-than-serious, serious, and failure to abate violations rose from $12,615 to $12,934 per violation.

The updated regulatory agenda for fall 2017 contains fewer changes than the previous agenda

The fall agenda shows 16 regulations in three active stages: pre-rule, proposed rule and final rule – up from 14 in the previous agenda. Two rules were moved from “long-term action” status: amendments to the Cranes and Derricks in Construction Standard (now in the proposed rule stage), and Rules of Agency Practice and Procedure Concerning OSHA Access to Employee Medical Records (final rule stage).

The following regulations moved from the proposed rule stage in the previous agenda to the final rule stage in the new agenda:

  • Occupational Exposure to Beryllium
  • Crane Operator Qualification in Construction
  • Quantitative Fit Testing Protocol: Amendment to the Final Rule on Respiratory Protection
  • Technical Corrections to 16 OSHA Standards
  • Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses

The status of Standards Improvement Project IV, (Lockout/Tagout) the only regulation listed in the final rule stage in July, has not changed.
New fact sheet: Housekeeping, sanitation practices in commercial fishing

The new fact sheet, Commercial Fishing: Safe Housekeeping and Sanitation Practices, states that over half of the recordable injuries in commercial fishing are preventable through good housekeeping and sanitary practices.
New publication warns of fatal confined space hazards on farms

An addition to the Fatal Facts series emphasizes the hazards of working in confined spaces on farms. These spaces include grain and feed silos, sump pits, and manure storage tanks. The fact sheet examines an incident in which a worker asphyxiated inside a whey storage tank.
Safety reminders for snow removal activities

Wintry weather has taken hold across much of the country and employers and workers are reminded to stay mindful of safety during snow removal activities.
Enforcement notes

California

  • International Polymer Solutions Inc. in Irvine received five citations related to failing to properly control hazardous energy when a moving machine part flew off and struck a worker in the chest, causing serious injury. Proposed penalties are $55,650.
  • Hadley Date Gardens Inc. in Thermal was cited for serious workplace safety and health violations following a bee swarm that stung and killed a tree worker. The company faces $41,310 in proposed penalties for failing to evaluate the worksite for hazardous bee and insect exposure, and failing to establish appropriate safety protocols, which include providing protective equipment and training.

Florida

  • Action Concrete Construction Inc. of Panama City Beach faces proposed penalties of $59,864 for exposing its employees to fall hazards and eye injuries.
  • A fatality investigation involving the death of five workers at the Big Bend River Station electrical power plant in Apollo Beach resulted in citations to Tampa Electric Co. and Gaffin Industrial Services Inc., totaling over $160,000. The fines related to energy control procedures and PPE.

Georgia

  • Koch Foods of Gainesville L.L.C. was cited for multiple safety and health violations at its poultry processing plant, including a repeat violation for exposing employees to amputation hazards by failing to provide machine guarding. Proposed penalties are $208,977.
  • Stalwart Films LLC faces proposed penalties totaling the maximum allowable fine of $12,675, for the company’s failure to provide adequate protection from fall hazards. While filming the television show, “The Walking Dead.,” a stuntman was fatally injured after falling more than 20 feet.
  • Social Circle-based Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. faces proposed penalties of $69,058 for exposing its employees to burn, hazardous energy, amputation, and caught-in safety hazards.
  • Thomson-based auto parts manufacturer HP Pelzer Systems Automotive Inc. faces penalties for safety violations and proposed penalties totaling $129,336 after an employee suffered a finger amputation.

Illinois

  • A pallet manufacturer, New Lenox-based Supplyside USA, which operates as Prime Woodcraft Inc., faces $91,862 in penalties after an employee was injured while performing maintenance on equipment.
  • A mechanic, who alleged he was terminated after voicing concerns about unsafe working conditions at a bowling center owned by Lucky Strike Entertainment LLC, in Lombard, will receive a total of $40,000 in back wages as part of a consent judgment.

Indiana

  • An administrative law judge affirmed citations against Fort Wayne-based commercial construction company, CME Corp, after a temporary employee was injured when he fell through an unguarded hole, but lowered the assessed fine to $6,500 in total penalties because of the company’s strong safety record. The company had contested the fine, arguing the opening was a point of access to the upper level from the pit and did not need to be guarded under the applicable regulations.

Massachusetts

  • Schnabel Foundation Company faces $212,396 in proposed penalties for failing to protect employees against crushing hazards while they installed permanent foundation supports beneath the Woburn Public Library. A 2,600-pound rock dislodged from the foundation and fatally struck an employee.

New York

  • Marshall Ingredients LLC faces over $300,000 in proposed penalties after a temporary worker suffered a hand amputation. The company was cited for failing to protect employees against amputations and other hazards at its Wolcott facility. The temporary staffing agency, People Ready, was also cited with two serious violations for lack of hazardous energy control and fire extinguisher training. Proposed penalties totaled $24,020.

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

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

OSHA

Rule and policy status

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

Enforcement stats

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

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

 

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Rule and policy status

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

Enforcement stats

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

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

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

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

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

Things you should know

Fatal work injuries reach highest level since 2008

Workplace fatalities increased for the third year in a row in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, rising to 5,190, a 7% increase from the 4,836 fatal injuries reported in 2015. Double-digit increases were reported in workplace violence and overdose fatalities.

Work injuries involving transportation incidents remained the most common fatal event in 2016, accounting for 2,083 fatalities, or 40% of the overall total. But violence and other injuries by persons or animals increased 23% to 866 cases, becoming the second-most common fatal event in 2016. Fatal work injuries from slips, trips and falls were the third-most common fatal event last year.

Texas was the state with the highest number of worker deaths (545), followed by California (376), Florida (309) and New York (272). In all, 36 states experienced increases in deaths due to workplace injuries in 2016.


Operation Airbrake puts 2,700 CMVs out of service for brake-related violations

An unannounced inspection blitz of commercial motor vehicles resulted in 14 percent being placed out of service for brake-related violations, according to the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. On Brake Safety Day, which took place Sept. 7, CVSA inspectors checked 7,698 trucks and buses in the United States and Canada. The inspections resulted in 1,064 vehicles being taken out of service for brake violations and 1,680 (22 percent) for other infractions.


New video for tower workers: Safe use of snow-tracked vehicles

A new video highlights the proper operation of snow-tracked vehicles when accessing remote tower locations.


NIOSH withdraws proposed rule on respirator leakage standards

NIOSH has withdrawn a notice of proposed rulemaking that would have established standards for total inward leakage of half-mask air-purifying particulate respirators. According to NIOSH, the public comment period produced enough evidence to convince the agency to rescind the notice.

 

 

State News

California

  • A new law lowering the corporate officers’ ownership threshold for opting out of work comp coverage to 10%, from a current 15%, will be effective July 1.
  • The closed drug formulary for workers’ compensation will be updated quarterly by a committee of three doctors and three pharmacists who will meet several times a year, according to the Division of Workers Compensation.
  • The Department of Industrial Relations announced 376 workers died on the job in 2016, down slightly from 388 deaths in 2015 but still higher than the most recent low of 344 in 2014.

Florida

  • The Office of Judges of Compensation Claims reported that claimants’ attorney fees increased 36% in the latest fiscal year, following the state Supreme Court’s April 2016 decision in Castellanos v. Next Door Co., which reinstated hourly fees for claimants’ attorneys.

Illinois

  • Medical payments per workers compensation claim were 24% higher than the median for other states examined in a new study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI).

Kansas

  • In 2016, there were 74 fatal work-related injuries according to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), 50% of which were transportation incidents.

Michigan

  • Workers’ compensation medical payments are among the lowest in the country, according to a WCRI study medical payments per claim, limited to 2.2% per year, due in part to lower prices paid for professional services as well as lower payments per service for hospital outpatient services.

Missouri

  • The Department of Insurance is recommending a 3% decrease in workers’ compensation insurance loss costs for 2018, on top of a 4% decrease that took effect on Aug. 1.

Minnesota

  • Minnesota experienced 92 workplace fatalities in 2016, a 24.3% increase over the prior year and 48.3% above the 2015 rate. Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting accounted for the most deaths, followed by construction.
  • The Workers’ Compensation Assigned Risk Plan has issued a notice regarding rates for new and renewal policies, effective Jan. 1 through March 31. Because certain classification codes have been eliminated and two new classification codes created, MWCARP is publishing new rate pages, effective Jan. 1. The eliminated classification codes are 1655, 1853, 3175, 3223, 4053, 4061, 4101, 6017, 7228, 7229 and 9149.The new classification codes are 7219 and 7225.

Mississippi

  • Workers die on the job at a rate double that of the national average, according to the National Employment Law Project. The national average is 3.4 deaths per 100,000 workers, while Mississippi’s rate is 6.8, the fourth highest number in the country for 2015, behind North Dakota’s more than 12, Wyoming’s 10 and Montana’s 7.5. The leading fatal work injuries by occupation were 35% for transportation/material moving and 17% for construction/extraction.

New York

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation that will require workers’ compensation insurers to notify policyholders 30 days before hiking their renewal premiums by more than 10%.
  • The medical share of total workers’ compensation benefit costs dropped to 37% in 2015 and 2016 from a high of 42% in 2007, while the national average is 51.4%, according to a report by the New York Compensation Insurance Rating Board.

North Carolina

  • Medical payments per workers compensation claim decreased 6% per year from 2013 through 2015, according to the WCRI, likely due to fee schedule rules.
  • The Industrial Commission reminds stakeholders of a new employee misclassification statute that went into effect Dec. 31.

Pennsylvania

  • Acting Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman has approved an emergency loss cost increase of 6.06%, effective Feb. 1, in response to the state Supreme Court’s Protz decision.

 

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

Legal Corner

FMLA
Employee can be terminated for unexcused absences while entitled to FMLA absences

In Bertig v. Julia Ribaudo Healthcare Group, a nurse was certified for FMLA leave for cancer and asthma. Her employer, a local hospital, had a policy that employees are subject to termination when they accrue seven absences in a rolling 12-month period. She incurred a total of 13 intermittent absences in a 12-month period, only three of which were related to her cancer or asthma.

The hospital had thoroughly documented the reasons for each absence, made its expectations clear, and the nurse acknowledged most of her absences were not related to her cancer or asthma. The court found that she was properly terminated.

Workers’ Compensation
Exclusive remedy does not bar suit against employer under Insurance Fraud Prevention Act (IFPA) – California

In The People ex rel. Mahmoud Alzayat v. Gerald Hebb et al., the 4th District Court of Appeals’ Second Division allowed a workers’ IFPA claim to proceed, noting the act contains qui tam provisions, which allow private citizens to file civil suits on behalf of the state. In this case, an employee argued he suffered a legitimate workplace injury, but his supervisor lied on the reports causing the claim denial. While the company argued that the suit was barred based on the litigation privilege of a workers’ compensation proceeding, the Court of Appeal reversed and found in favor of the worker, holding that the IFPA is an exception to the litigation privilege.

Exclusive remedy doesn’t protect supervisor from assault claim – California

In Lee v. Lang, three employees of the Christian Herald filed suit against the director of the publication for multiple wage-and-hour violations and one asserted claims for assault, battery and the intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Court of Appeals reversed in part the judgement in favor of the director, noting “the Labor Code provides an employee may sue his or her employer, notwithstanding the exclusive remedy provision of workers’ compensation, ‘[w]here the employee’s injury – is proximately caused by a willful physical assault by the employer.”

Injuries in vanpool accident limited to workers’ comp – Illinois

In Peng v. Nardi, a buffet restaurant provided a 15-passenger van for workers, which an employee drove and was paid for his driving duties. He wasn’t allowed to use the vehicle for personal errands and he was not allowed to let anyone else drive. A passenger suffered a pelvic fracture in an accident and filed a negligence suit against her co-worker and the other two drivers involved in the accident.

While the court noted accidents when an employee is traveling to or from work generally are not treated as occurring within the course of employment, there is an exception when the employer provides a means of transportation or controls the method of the worker’s travel. Although the injured worker was not required to use the van, she relinquished control over the conditions of transportation and, thus, the exclusive remedy of workers’ comp applies.

No loss of wage earning capacity means no benefits – Mississippi

In Pruitt v. Howard Industries, a worker suffered a back injury, received conservative treatment, and returned to work without restrictions in the same plant, with the same job title, and a higher wage. He filed for PPD benefits, but was denied. The Court of Appeals explained that except for scheduled-member cases, indemnity benefits are made for diminished wage-earning capacity and not medical impairment.

Heart attack not accident and not compensable – Missouri

In White v. ConAgra Packaged Foods, a long-term machinery worker collapsed and died on a particularly hot day in the machine shop, which was not air-conditioned. His widow filed a claim for benefits, asserting that his death was the result of heat stroke and/or his physical exertions in the machine shop. While it was acknowledged that the worker had high cholesterol, hypertension, and other risk factors for a heart attack, the question was whether work activities were the prevailing factor that caused the fatal heart attack.

After two denials, the Court of Appeals awarded benefits to the widow, but the Supreme Court reversed. It noted that the worker’s death must have been caused by an “accident.” An accident is defined as an unexpected traumatic event or an unusual strain that is identifiable by time and place of occurrence and that produces objective symptoms of an injury. Further, the law provides that a cardiovascular event is an injury only “if the accident is the prevailing factor in causing the resulting medical condition.”

Long-term exposure to dust leads to PTD benefits – Nebraska

In Moyers v. International Paper Co., a worker suffered respiratory problems over his 42- year employment at a paper company. When a pulmonologist suggested he stop working, he filed for comp. The court found he had a compensable occupational disease and referred him to a vocational counselor who opined that his breathing problems would prohibit working. He was found to be permanently and totally disabled by his occupational disease and this finding was upheld by the Court of Appeals.

Fall while in line for security log in and pass compensable – New York

In Hoyos v. NY-1095 Avenue of the Americas, a worker for a subcontractor slipped and fell off an elevated loading dock while standing in line with other workers at a security check point to obtain a pass to enter the building and get to his job site. Four feet off the ground, the loading dock had no guardrails, chain, rope or other indication where its platform ended and the ledge began.

The court found that even though the worker was not working at the time, he was following the rules of the contractor and had no alternate place to check in. Refusal to treat that spot as a “construction site” under the circumstance of the case would place an “unintended limitation” on the scope of Section 240(1).

Comp claim for PTSD upheld for claims adjuster – New York

In Matter of Kraus v. Wegmans Food Markets, the company had an internal policy that was unpopular with union drivers regarding no-fault benefits. Claims that arose out of a motor vehicle accident were automatically assigned to a workers’ compensation claims service provider that administered the employer’s no-fault claims, but claims that involved the use or operation of a motor vehicle, however, were not.

The in-house adjuster received threats from unionized drivers and was known to be inconsistent in applying the policy, which contributed to his termination. He filed a workers’ comp claim, asserting he had suffered a psychiatric injury from the stress caused by the drivers’ threats and accusations of dishonesty. The case went through several appeals and the Appellate Division’s 3rd Department found he was entitled to benefits for PTSD, noting he was in “an extremely stressful and untenable situation” because of his employer’s “questionable” no-fault policy.

Civil case settlement does not bar workers’ comp claim – North Carolina

In Easter-Rozzelle v. City of Charlotte, the Supreme Court overturned a state appeals decision that questioned whether a worker who sues a third party gives up the right to comp. The case involved a city employee who suffered a work-related injury and was in a serious car accident on his way to a doctor’s appointment to obtain an “out of work” note. He settled his civil suit and the case to continue to collect comp worked its way through a series of appeals.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled that pursuing a third-party action does not affect a worker’s ability to bring a comp claim. The law does not require that an employer consent to the worker’s settlement of a third-party action, and the city is entitled to reimbursement of its lien from benefits due to the worker per state law.

Two-year jurisdiction rule includes out-of-state medical care – North Carolina

In Hall v. United States Xpress, Inc., payments to out-of-state medical care providers meet the criteria that a claim must be filed within two years after the last payment of medical compensation when no other compensation has been paid and when the employer’s liability has not otherwise been established. The injured worker met the “no other compensation has been paid” criteria since the benefits he had received, which exceeded $8 million in medical care, were provided under Tennessee’s-not North Carolina’s-Workers’ Compensation Act.

Massage service covered by comp – Pennsylvania

In Schriver v. WCAB (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Transportation), an injured worker received benefits for treatment of a back injury, including chiropractic services. The chiropractor referred him to a licensed massage therapist within the office, and the worker paid $60 for each massage session, but requested reimbursement. The case made its way to the Commonwealth Court, which reversed lower decisions denying payment for the massage services. It noted workers’ comp obligates an employer to provide payment for all reasonable services that an injured employee receives from “physicians or other health care workers,” including chiropractors and their employees or agents.

Earning power, not employment, determines reduction in benefits – Pennsylvania

In Valenta v. WCAB, a worker was collecting total disability benefits for a back and shoulder injury. The former employer’s comp carrier ordered a labor market survey (LMS) and earning power assessment (EPA) performed and six available jobs were identified. The employer then filed for, and was awarded, a modification of payments.

The Commonwealth Court explained the law does not require a worker be offered a job in order to have “earning power,” but meaningful employment opportunities must be available. The court said failure to be hired did not mean that the positions were not open and available, although the evidence of lack of success was relevant to the issue of earning capacity.

Pressured to quit, employee’s disability claim is upheld – Tennessee

In Alicia Hunt v. Dillard’s Inc., a manager of a makeup counter was denied surgery when her work-related ankle and knee injury did not heal. While working with restrictions, she said her supervisor pressured her to take a lower paying job. She resigned, had surgery, and sought to get her job back, but the company indicated she had voluntarily quit.

A trial court judge’s decision that the worker was pressured to resign and had not had a meaningful return to work at a wage equal to or above her pre-injury wage, was upheld by the Supreme Court. Therefore, she was entitled to permanent partial disability benefits up to six times the medical impairment rating, not, as argued by Dillard’s, the cap of 1.5 times the impairment rating when there is a meaningful return to work.

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