COVID-19: Returning to workplace checklist

Employers face a daunting task as they craft new and revised policies for the “new normal” as employees start to return to work onsite. Not only do they have to comply with a myriad of constantly changing federal and state laws and guidelines, but they have to earn the trust of their employees, vendors, and customers that the workplace is safe. It’s critical to have a clear plan that is well communicated, but flexible, as this is uncharted territory. Open communication and encouraging feedback will build confidence as safe and efficient processes evolve.

The details of each employer’s plan will look different. At a minimum, it must reflect compliance with federal and state laws and guidelines. Industry groups and associations provide helpful guidance and resources and OSHA has issued guidance for specific industries. The CDC guidelines for business can be found here.

The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) has launched Getting America Safely Back to Work that describes how OEM physicians can help employers navigate through the myriad return-to-workplace issues as well as return-to-work/fitness for duty issues for injured employees.

Automotive-seating manufacturer Lear Corp. recently published the “Safe Work Playbook,” a guide for safe practices at work during the pandemic for organizations of all sizes. It includes steps for cleaning and disinfecting equipment, staggering shifts and lunch breaks, setting up a pandemic response team, establishing onsite health screening, and creating protocols for isolating employees who come to work sick.

Here are key issues to consider:

  1. Workplace safety: a COVID-19 Infection/Exposure Control Plan
    • Administrative controls: staggered return to work, reducing number of workers onsite at one time, changing or alternating shifts minimizing or eliminating overlap, cross-training workers to accommodate more absenteeism, re-schedule lunch breaks, appointing a COVID-19 coordinator to oversee equipment disinfecting and social distancing
    • Engineering controls: reconfiguring workspaces to promote physical distancing, increasing ventilation rates, high-efficiency air filters, installing physical barriers, one-way traffic patterns throughout workplace, monitors that beep when one worker gets within six feet of another, more handwashing stations, drive-through windows for customer service
    • Pre-shift health screening: temperature checks and health/symptom questionnaires
    • Decisions about personal protective equipment, respirators, face masks, and face coverings – will they be required, who will pay for them, etc.
    • Detailed plans for enhanced disinfecting, including common touchpoints such as time clocks, doors, shared equipment, break room. Shift changes should allow the opportunity for optimal disinfection of the workplace
    • Screening and minimizing interaction with all visitors and vendors
    • Plan for safe meeting places with no more than 10 employees at any meeting
    • Protocols for isolating employees who become ill at work, stay-at-home requirements, and exposure communication to affected staff
    • Restrict access to confined or closed spaces
    • Provide adequate handwashing facilities and/or hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
    • Define and limit travel to “essential”
  2. Recalling employees
    • Larger employers are encouraged to use a phasing-in system to limit exposure and build employee confidence
    • Know how to recall furloughed employees to qualify for loan forgiveness under the Paycheck Protection Program and how the new federal paid leave laws apply to employees returning from furlough
    • Keep separate records for payroll period that workers were furloughed for workers’ compensation purposes
    • If job responsibilities have changed, understand what needs to be done for compliance with FLSA and Workers’ Compensation
    • Notify the state unemployment agency of employees recalled
    • Determine how to handle employees who are unable or unwilling to return to work
    • Determine if light duty will be offered to injured workers to return to work and what will happen if they refuse to do so because of fear of exposure
    • Evaluate the need for extra protections for “high-risk” employees
    • Review any benefit and compensation changes that have been made
    • Have a remote pre-return training for managers and supervisors
    • On the first day of facility reopening, have staggered staff training in an area that adheres to social distancing protocol
    • Consider requiring employees to sign and acknowledge the organizations’ policies on preventing the spread of the coronavirus
  3. OSHA
    • The COVID-19 exposure control plan or response plan should provide a detailed description of everything the employer is doing to address the hazard, including an assessment of potential changes to personal protective equipment, administrative controls, workspace separation, and staggered work shifts
    • Keep adequate records of good-faith efforts to comply with standards that require annual or recurring audits, reviews, training, or assessments
    • Understand the reporting requirements for COVID-19 cases
    • Follow guidance issued for your industry
    • Do not retaliate against employees who file complaints
  4. Work from home
    • When possible, continue remoting working and flexible hours
    • Review policies to determine if they need to be strengthened or updated
    • Communicate which jobs will be permitted to continue to telework and why
    • Consider staggering work in office and at home among team members
    • Assess IT infrastructure and staff
    • Monitor productivity and be clear about expectations

Looking ahead

Employers have learned valuable lessons regarding their resiliency over the past months. It’s important to prepare for a potential second wave in the fall as well as implement a business continuity plan, including infectious disease control, if a plan does not exist.

A time of crisis is what truly defines a reputation. Your response to your employees, customers, and vendors will be the key to survival and long-term prosperity.

Additional resources and a formal checklist can be found at the Duncan Financial Group COVID-19 Resource Center Online

For additional information and resources on Coronavirus, go to the Duncan Financial Group COVID-19 Resource Center Online

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

HR Tip: New I-9 form now available

On Jan. 31, 2020, the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services published the Form I-9 Federal Register notice announcing a new version of Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, that the Office of Management and Budget approved on Oct. 21, 2019. This new version contains minor changes to the form and its instructions. Changes to the instructions clarify who can act as an authorized representative on behalf of the employer and what documents are acceptable as well as other updates.

It’s a best practice to begin using the form immediately, although the notice provides employers additional time to make necessary updates and adjust their business processes. Employers may continue using the prior version of the form (Rev. 07/17/2017 N) until April 30, 2020. After that date, they can only use the new form with the 10/21/2019 version date. The version date is located in the lower left corner of the form.

The new edition of the form is available in fillable PDF format, print format and in Spanish on USCIS’ I-9 Central website. However, the Spanish form may only be executed by employers in Puerto Rico; employers in the 50 states, Washington, D.C., and other U.S. territories may use the Spanish version of the form as a translation guide only but must complete the English version of the form.

All U.S. employers are required to complete a Form I-9 for every employee hired to verify that the individual is authorized for employment in the United States under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) and for re-verifying current employees with expiring employment authorization documentation. Employers should not complete new forms for existing employees who do not require re-verification.

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

Legal Corner

ADA

Construction company pays $100K for firing worker with epilepsy

A Bellingham, Washington company, formerly doing business as Diamond B Constructors, Inc. and its successor, Harris Companies, will pay $100,000 and provide other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). A pipefitter, who also holds a rigger’s certification, was dispatched by her union to work on a project. When she told her supervisor that she has epilepsy, he and other supervisors determined she could not work safely at heights and terminated her. She had not requested accommodations, had no medical restrictions, and her epilepsy was well controlled by medicine.

The law requires employers to make a case-by-case assessment of an employee’s ability to perform the job when safety concerns exist. EEOC Seattle Field Director Nancy Sienko said, “Epilepsy reportedly affects 2.2 million Americans and affects each person differently. It is critical that employers not base job decisions on stereotypes, but instead carefully consider each individual’s abilities.”

FMLA

FMLA doesn’t provide protection for employees to evaluate family member’s medical condition

In Schaar v. U.S. Steel Corp., a manager in the customer quality engineering department, who lived in Michigan, was aware of problems with a top customer in Mississippi. When the matter became urgent, he was onsite in Tennessee and was ordered to travel to Mississippi to handle the problem himself. He refused because his wife had a heart condition and wasn’t feeling well and he had to return to Michigan to assess the situation. When he arrived home, he determined his wife did not require medical attention.

Returning to work the next day in Michigan, he was fired for insubordination. The manager sued under the FMLA for both interference and retaliation. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled in favor of U.S. Steel on its motion for summary judgment on both claims. The manager never requested FMLA leave or a reduced work schedule to care for his wife.

Distinguishing between providing care to a family member and evaluating a family member’s condition, the court determined he was not providing care and was not entitled to FMLA leave.

Workers’ Compensation

Comp settlement bars claim for disability discrimination – California

In an unpublished decision, Kennedy v. MUFG Union Bank, a bank employee claimed she worked in a hostile work environment and took a medical leave for stress, anxiety, and depression. While she was out, the bank restructured and eliminated her position. Unlike others, she did not receive a severance package.

Her request to return on a reduced work schedule was denied because the position was eliminated, so she filed a comp claim. When it was settled, she resigned voluntarily. She then filed suit based on disability and her race. The court argued there could be no wrongful termination because she was not terminated and that the record demonstrated a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the increased supervision.

Employer not liable for fatal accident caused by injured employee – California

While commuting to work, an employee of the City of Los Angeles struck and killed a pedestrian. A chemist who worked in the lab, the employee did not use his car for employment. He did have a neurological condition and had fallen at work, suffering a back sprain. After some time off, he was allowed to return to work with restrictions. About three weeks later he was driving to work and struck and killed a pedestrian. Initially his license was suspended, but it was reinstated and he was not charged.

Two brothers of the deceased argued the city should be held responsible because it knew of his condition and allowed him to return to work prematurely, so the “work-spawned risk endangering the public” exception to the going and coming rule applied. The court disagreed and found the chemist was on his commute to work and the accident was unrelated to his employment.

Exclusive remedy defense in civil suit allowed in spite of comp denial – Florida

In McNair v. Dorsey, an appellate ruled that the employer’s denial of liability for a comp claim did not prevent it from using the exclusive remedy defense in a civil case. The employee worked for James Armstrong’s tree service company and was working with a coworker, Dorsey, when he alleged he suffered injuries. The insurance company found that there was no compensable claim. He then voluntarily dismissed the comp claim and alleged negligence on the part of both Armstrong and Dorsey, arguing the exclusive remedy defense did not apply since his claim had been denied.

While a trial court found in favor of the employer, the appellate court noted an employer can be barred from raising a workers’ compensation exclusivity defense if the employer denies the employee’s claim “by asserting that the injury did not occur in the course and scope of his or her employment.” However, the court noted that the employer is not always foreclosed from claiming immunity to a lawsuit simply because it denied compensability in an earlier proceeding.The factfinder needs to determine if the accident occurred in the course and scope of employment and would have been covered by workers’ comp and protected by exclusive remedy.

Worker who filed comp claim after being fired can bring retaliatory discharge suit – Florida

In Salus v. Island Hospitality Florida Management Inc. a worker reported an injury and later told the employer he was having difficulty getting follow-up treatment. Two weeks later he was fired, allegedly for threatening physical harm to a co-worker, which he denied. He filed suit for retaliatory discharge. The trial court found that reporting an injury was not the same as filing a claim and granted summary judgment to the employer.

The appellate court disagreed. It noted it would not make sense to limit the statute to retaliatory acts that occurred after filing the claim because an employer could easily avoid liability by firing the employee right away. Further the employee’s actions were consistent with a workers’ comp claim that is protected. Since there was a genuine issue of material fact as to the reason for termination, summary judgement was inappropriate.

Health care providers can’t go after comp settlement – Illinois

After an injured employee filed for bankruptcy protection for minimal assets and her pending workers comp claim ($31,000), the state Supreme Court ruled that the proceeds of a workers comp settlement are exempt from claims made by medical providers who treated the injury or illness in re Hernandez. She owed a combined $138,000 to the three medical practices.

Section 21 of the statute provides that any payment, award or decision under the Workers’ Compensation Act is unequivocally free from claims to satisfy debt; however, the health care providers argued that amendments in 2005 provide an exception to the exemption. The court disagreed, noting there was “no ambiguity whatsoever in this provision.”

Employer does not have to pay for rehab after injury is resolved – Minnesota

In Ewing v. Print Craft Inc., an employee sprained his ankle and there was medical disagreement as to whether he developed complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). His primary care provider and podiatrist found he had, but doctors at the Mayo Clinic disagreed and said the injury was resolved. He met with a rehabilitation consultant who prepared a rehabilitation plan and submitted it to the Department of Labor and Industry and also provided medical management services to address Ewing’s reported symptoms.

Although the insurance company notified her that they were requiring an IME and would not pay for any further services, the consultant continued to provide services. The IME found that the employee had suffered an ankle sprain and did not have CRPS. A compensation judge held the injury was resolved on the date provided by the Mayo Clinic. The consultant appealed and the WC Court of Appeals overturned, noting the print company needed to provide notice and show good cause to terminate the rehabilitation plan.

The Supreme Court reversed, noting an employer’s liability ends when the worker is no longer disabled.

Worker who intentionally shot self with nail gun denied comp – Nebraska

In Eddy v. Builders Supply Co. Inc., an employee said a nail gun misfired and caused a three-quarter-inch nail to become embedded in her right temple. There were no witnesses. While co-workers testified that guns had misfired in the past, the company presented evidence regarding her personal life and a possible suicide note. The compensation court found that the employee shot herself intentionally and the Supreme Court agreed.

Misrepresentations about job search nix benefits – New York

In Matter of Calabrese v. Fortini Inc., an appellate court upheld a finding that a worker had made misrepresentations about his efforts to find a new job, thereby forfeiting his entitlement to benefits. The employer’s investigator contacted several of the employers identified by the worker and found he had not submitted an application, applied for a job that did not exist, or the contact did not exist.

Although the appellate court acknowledged that this evidence was hearsay, it was sufficiently reliable and provided substantial evidence to support the Workers’ Compensation Board finding that the worker had made false representations to obtain benefits.

Award of benefits for unwitnessed and unexplained fall upheld – New York

In Matter of Docking v. Lapp Insulators LLC, a truckdriver was loading a cart when he apparently fell and was found unconscious and bleeding by co-workers. When he regained consciousness, he had no memory of what happened. Under state law, there is a presumption of compensability for accidents occurring during the course of employment, which are unwitnessed or unexplained, and he was awarded benefits by a compensation law judge.

Upon appeal, a state appellate court noted to rebut the presumption, it is the employer’s burden “to provide substantial evidence that the accident was not work-related.” While the employer presented medical testimony that the fall and resulting brain injury were caused by a preexisting cardiovascular condition, the Emergency Room doctor testified that there were no signs of heart damage or atrial fibrillation. The possibility of a preexisting, idiopathic condition was not enough to overturn the decision.

Assaulted bus driver not fully disabled by PTSD and morbid obesity – New York

In Matter of the Claim of Robert Rapaglia v. New York City Transit Authority, the Supreme Court Appellate Division affirmed a Workers Compensation Board decision that the driver had a 60% loss of earning capacity but was not fully disabled. The bus driver argued that the board failed to consider his obesity and limited education and work experience in calculating his percentage of lost wage-earning capacity.

The court noted that in rating the severity of a medical impairment due to PTSD or other causally-related psychiatric conditions, “the evaluation should include the impact of the psychiatric impairment on functional ability, including activities of daily living.” While there was conflicting medical testimony, the court found the Board had not erred in finding that he could not drive a bus, but was capable of other work, nor could it conclude that his obesity was causally related to the workplace injury.

Employer may have to pay for expensive compound cream – Pennsylvania

In Workers’ First Pharmacy Services LLC v. Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Fee Review Hearing Office (Gallagher Bassett Services), the Commonwealth Court ruled that a pharmacy did not prematurely file a fee review petition to challenge an employer’s refusal to pay for a compound cream that had been prescribed to an injured employee. The employee had injured her shoulder and the comp claim was accepted. Her physician prescribed a compound cream, which the pharmacy dispensed and billed the employer $4,870.

The employer refused to pay, and the pharmacy filed a fee review application, which the employer argued was premature because it had not been established that the cream was related to the work injury. However, the pharmacy argued that company waived its right to challenge the cream as unrelated because it did not seek a Utilization Review (UR).

After several appeals, the Commonwealth Court ruled that employers or insurers must make payments to providers for treatment within 30 days unless there is a dispute as to the reasonableness or necessity of the treatment, in which case the payer may seek a UR. The court vacated the decision and remanded for a fee review determination.

Widow and children to receive death benefits for fatal workplace stabbing – Pennsylvania

In JBS Holdings USA Inc. v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, a worker was stabbed to death by a co-worker. While the company argued that the murder was related to a “personal animus” and not work-related, the court ruled there was no evidence of personal animosity. The ruling was upheld upon appeal.

Temporary worker who experienced horrific injuries fails to win tort lawsuit – Tennessee

In Henry v. CMBB LLC, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held in a 2-1 decision that the employee’s intentional tort lawsuit was barred by the exclusive remedy provision of the Tennessee Workers Compensation Act. The temporary worker was assigned to work at a manufacturing facility and operated a 200-ton metal press, which contains a light curtain that prevents it from cycling when it detects a worker nearby. An operator had reported that the curtain was not working properly and one was on order, but the press remained in service.

The temp worker was operating the press when the machine cycled, crushing her arms, both of which were amputated below the elbow. She and her husband filed a lawsuit arguing the company intended to injure her because it was well aware of the danger but continued to operate the machine. The courts, however, noted that even if the employer was aware of the potential for injury, it does not mean the employer intended to injure the worker. Precedent has held that even egregious safety violations fail to show actual intent to injure and the exclusive remedy provision prevails. In Tennessee, the intentional tort exception is quite narrow.

Two years apart, injuries can stem from same accident – Virginia

In Merck & Co. v. Vincent, a worker injured his neck and arm in 2009. In 2011, he became dizzy and fell as a result of pain medication, seriously injuring his knee. The Court of Appeals upheld the Workers’ Compensation Commission ruling that the injuries arose from “the same accident” for purposes of determining whether he was permanently and totally disabled. The Virginia statute provides for an award of permanent total disability benefits to a worker who has suffered the functional loss of two limbs “in the same accident.”

The court noted the “compensable consequence” doctrine, which says that if an injury arises out of and in the course of employment, “every natural consequence that flows from the injury likewise arises out of the employment unless it is the result of an independent intervening cause attributable to claimant’s own intentional conduct.”

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

 

HR Tip: Retaliation continues to top EEOC workplace discrimination charges

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 72,675 charges of workplace discrimination in fiscal year 2019, which ended Sept. 30, 2019. Retaliation continues to be the most frequently filed charge filed with the agency, followed by disability, race and sex. The agency also received 7,514 sexual harassment charges – 10.3 percent of all charges, slightly down from FY 2018. Specifically, the charge numbers show the following breakdowns by bases alleged, in descending order:

  • Retaliation: 39,110 (53.8 percent of all charges filed)
  • Disability: 24,238 (33.4 percent)
  • Race: 23,976 (33.0 percent)
  • Sex: 23,532 (32.4 percent)
  • Age: 15,573 (21.4 percent)
  • National Origin: 7,009 (9.6 percent)
  • Color: 3,415 (4.7 percent)
  • Religion: 2,725 (3.7 percent)
  • Equal Pay Act: 1,117 (1.5 percent)
  • Genetic Information: 209 (0.3 percent)

These percentages add up to more than 100% because some charges allege multiple bases.

For a detailed breakdown by state.

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

Legal Corner

ADA
Lawsuit alleging wrongful termination because perceived-as disabled reinstated

In Paula E. Babb v. Maryville Anesthesiologists P.C., a nurse anesthesiologist contends that Tennessee-based Maryville Anesthesiologists P.C., fired her because it thought she was visually disabled. She acknowledges an eye condition that requires her to hold written records close to her eyes, but argues it does not inhibit her ability to read.

The company, however, says she was fired because of two serious errors that put patients at risk. But an email was circulated to staff saying that she was fired because she “has been having major issues with her eyesight and as of late, it has seemed to be getting even worse.”

The Sixth Circuit finds that the email and other evidence present a triable case of regarded-as disability discrimination under the ADA and reinstates the case.

EEOC disability suit settled for $2.65 million

Crossmark, a company that provides workers to dispense free food samples to shoppers, allegedly failed to provide a reasonable accommodation by not allowing its employees to sit for more than 10 minutes every two hours. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) noted some employees were permitted to sit as needed when they performed the same job while working directly for the retailers.

The firm agreed to pay $2.65 million and designate ADA coordinators to address accommodation requests, among other provisions.

Workers’ Compensation

Tort claim for lead poisoning barred by exclusive remedy – California

In an unpublished opinion, Deville v. Bloch, the company, Exide, was ordered to suspend operations in Vernon because plant operations were causing the discharge of illegal amounts of lead into the air, water, and soil. Before the plant’s closing, a long-term worker at the hazardous waste treatment and storage plant lost consciousness while cleaning one of the facility’s furnaces. More than three years later he sued, alleging unspecified injuries caused by exposure to lead and other hazardous chemicals.

The appellate court upheld the dismissal of the claim, agreeing workers’ comp exclusive remedy applied. The allegations that Exide knew the employees faced a risk of harm from exposure to lead and other chemicals were not enough to invoke the fraudulent concealment exception to workers’ compensation exclusivity.

Workers over 70 have five-year statutory limit on PTD benefits – Florida

In Crispin v. Orlando Rehabilitation Group, the 1st District Court of Appeals ruled that a worker over the age of 70 is statutorily limited to permanent total disability benefits for a calendar period of five years after she is determined to be permanently and totally disabled. According to the court, eligibility for PTD payments ends five years to the day after the worker is determined to be permanently and totally disabled.

Undocumented worker denied medical care for injury – Florida

In Hernandez v. Food Mkt. Corp., an appellate court upheld the ruling that an undocumented worker who sustained injuries in a work-related accident can be denied benefits on the basis that he used someone else’s Social Security Number (SSN) when completing an intake form at a medical provider. By so doing, the court noted the injured worker had offered a false or misleading statement to secure workers’ compensation benefits.

Pre-existing condition does not negate continuation of medical treatment – Florida

In Premier Community Healthcare Group v. Rivera, a divided appeals court ruled that a dental assistant who was injured while preventing a patient from falling, but had a previous medical condition related to a car accident, must continue to receive benefits. The employer and insurer initially accepted compensability of injuries to the low back and neck, but later denied claims for cervical injections and physical therapy when her medical history revealed that she had a prior motor vehicle accident and previous neck symptoms.

The carrier presented two doctors who testified that the workplace injury is not the major contributing cause of the need for medical treatment of the cervical spine. However, in a divided opinion, the court upheld the JCC’s opinion the worker’s doctor was more persuasive.

JCC may not ignore opinion of expert medical advisor – Florida

In Olvera v. Hernandez Constr. of SW Fla. Inc., although an Expert Medical Advisor (EMA) indicated in his report that a worker had not reached MMI because future surgery was required, a Judge of Compensation Claims (JCC) found that the worker had reached MMI. An appellate court found that the JCC’s decision, which was made based on the EMA’s answer to one leading hypothetical question on cross-examination, was in error because the JCC cannot disregard the presumed correctness of an unequivocal EMA.

Civil suit can proceed in workplace parking lot shooting – Georgia

In Smith v. Camarena, the estate of a worker who was killed in a grocery store parking lot after finishing her shift filed a civil suit against her employer. The woman and a co-worker were approached by a masked gunman who demanded their purses. An assistant manager was driving by and called to the gunman and shots were exchanged and the woman was killed. While a trial court denied the suit based on the exclusive remedy of workers comp, the Court of Appeals said it could proceed.

Although it is undisputed that she had left work, the employer argued she was “within the period of her employment under the ingress/egress rule.” Noting the parking lot was owned by the store’s landlord and served several other stores, the appellate courts said there is a question of whether the location was part of the employer’s premises and a jury should decide if the shooting occurred in the course of employment.

TTD denied for failure to follow work restrictions – Georgia

In Burch v. STF Foods Inc., the Court of Appeals ruled that a restaurant worker, who had injured his back and had received written restrictions from the restaurant’s owner, was not entitled to temporary total disability benefits after being fired for failing to abide by the lifting restrictions. Despite the instructions, he continued to lift heavy items, received warnings, and suffered additional injuries to the back/shoulder area.

When he was fired for insubordination, he filed for workers comp and an administrative law judge (ALJ) found in his favor, finding his restrictions were related to his work injury. Upon appeal, the court found the ALJ had erred and that the worker failed to prove any loss of earning capacity was attributable to his compensable work injuries, but rather was due to subordination.

Case to watch: McDonalds’ employees in Chicago sue over workplace violence – Illinois

Seventeen Chicago-area workers filed suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County claiming that the “Experience of the Future” store renovations makes it easier for angry customers to leap over the counter and attack them. The suit claims that in the Chicago area, there are more than 20 calls every day to emergency services from McDonald’s stores and that the company ignores practices that could make the stores safer.

Drainage contractor found guilty of manslaughter in workers’ deaths – Massachusetts

Atlantic Drain Services of Blackstone had been cited by OSHA in 2007, 2012 and again in 2017 after two workers drowned when a trench collapsed. The company was fined $1.47 million in 2017. Three years later, Atlantic Drain owner Kevin Otto and his company were separately found guilty of two counts of manslaughter and one count of witness intimidation in Superior Court.

In addition to failing to use cave-in protection and placing employees in severe danger, it was alleged that the company attempted to mislead the investigation by falsifying documents, including sign-in sheets for excavation and trenching training, as well as workers’ signed acknowledgment of receiving personal safety equipment.

The owner faces up to 20 years in prison and fines up to $250,000.

City agrees to pay workers comp, a wrongful termination claim, and hold open the possibility of a future asbestos-related claim – Michigan

The East Lansing City Council has agreed to pay a former wastewater treatment plant employee $125,000 to settle a workers’ compensation claim and a wrongful termination lawsuit. He alleged he was fired because he reported health and safety violations to state agencies and because he filed a workers’ compensation claim. He also claimed respiratory damage from asbestos and a mercury spill at the facility and the city agreed he could file a claim in the future if he is diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness.

No causal connection between tinnitus and work-related fight – Missouri

In Schlereth v. Aramark Uniform Servs., a state appellate court panel affirmed a Commission decision concluding that a supervisor’s tinnitus was not caused by a work-related brawl that resulted from the supervisor’s crude characterization of a subordinate’s work. Although he did sustain obvious injuries to the face and head, he did not seek benefits until three years later after he received social security benefits.

In spite of surgery complications, worker fails to prove medical causation of sinus cavity clot – Nebraska

In Homstad v. Block 21, LLC, a worker underwent knee surgery for a work-related injury and suffered a deep venous thrombosis (DVT) in his thigh, as well as a pulmonary embolism. Later, he contended that a blood clot in his sinus cavity was causally connected to the earlier injury and surgery. The medical experts were cautious, neither confirming or denying, the causation. Thus, an appellate court upheld the Workers’ Compensation Court decision that the worker had not met the burden of proof.

Workplace fire did not conclusively cause lung disease – Nebraska

In Pennington v. SpartanNash Co., a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed a Workers Compensation Court decision that a worker with lung disease failed to show that his illness was brought on by a workplace fire. He worked as a store manager for Michigan-based food distributor SpartanNash and put out a small fire in an unused walk-in freezer. Although he did not seek medical treatment at the time, a few days later he fainted and was referred to a pulmonologist, who diagnosed pneumonitis and ordered him to stop working. His treating physician wrote a letter stating that his pneumonitis and symptoms were “more likely than not” a result of the chemical and smoke exposure, and a second physician opined that his exposure on the day of the fire more likely than not resulted in his lung disease. The company’s medical expert said the cause could not be determined with certainty.

The court found that his medical experts failed to provide sufficient support for their opinions.

Construction company operator, foreperson, and engineer indicted for manslaughter in death of laborer following wall collapse – New York

Owners and managers of WSC Group LLC, a Sunset Park construction company, have been indicted on manslaughter, negligent homicide and workers’ compensation insurance fraud some 14 months after a wall collapsed and killed a welder at an excavation site in Brooklyn.

Worker employee, not independent contractor – North Carolina

In Macias v. BSI Associates Inc., a worker was injured while working for the Carolina Chimney Crew, settled the claim, and agreed not to work for the company in the future. The following year, the owner suggested the former employee start his own company, purchase the necessary insurance, and work as an independent contractor for him. His insurance indicated zero employees and he excluded himself from coverage.

The company furnished vehicles, tools, equipment and supplies, business cards, Carolina Chimney Crew clothing, and provided specific instructions on where he was to work and what work he was to perform each day. He resumed his work in almost identical fashion as when he was an employee and a few years later fell from a scaffold and fractured his spine.

While the claim for workers’ comp was denied by the company’s insurer based on his status as an independent contractor, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed an Industrial Commission decision holding that the injured man was an employee, not an independent contractor, and, therefore, entitled to workers compensation.

Definition of employer’s premises clarified in parking lot decision – Pennsylvania

In US Airways v. Workers Compensation Appeal Board, a 6 – 0 decision of the Supreme Court’s Western District in Pittsburgh affirmed a workers compensation judge’s finding that a flight attendant was in the course and scope of her work when she was injured. The flight attendant was injured after her shift ended while riding an airport shuttle bus to an employee parking lot. The City of Philadelphia, and not the airline, owned both the shuttle bus and the employee parking lot.

With the decision, the Court stood by its earlier Epler holding that the phrase “the employer’s premises” should be construed liberally to include any area that is integral to the employer’s business operations, including any reasonable means of ingress to or egress from the workplace.

Employee of staffing agency cannot sue borrowing employer – Pennsylvania

In Burrell v. Streamlight, an employee of a staffing agency fell while assigned to Streamlight, received comp benefits from the staffing agency, and filed a negligence suit against Streamlight. Streamlight argued it was acting as his employer at the time and, therefore, was immune from civil liability.

The appellate court stressed that the issue turned upon whether the borrowing employer had the right to control not only the work to be done by the borrowed employee but the manner of performing it. It found the evidence established that Streamlight was his employer.

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HR Tip: Managers are key to culture issues – how to avoid a toxic workplace

In today’s competitive marketplace, it’s distressing to hear that one in two workers have seriously thought about leaving their current job. A recent report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), The High Cost of a Toxic Workplace Culture: How Culture Impacts the Workforce-and the Bottom Line, notes that many workers consider culture and managers to be closely connected, holding managers responsible for creating a toxic workplace. In fact, 76% of employees say their manager sets the culture of their workplace and 58 percent of employees who quit a job due to workplace culture say that their managers are the main reason they ultimately left.

More findings:

  • 1 in 3 say manager does not know how to lead them
  • 3 in 10 say manager does not encourage a culture of open and transparent communication
  • 1 in 4 dread going to work, don’t feel comfortable expressing their opinions, and don’t feel respected or valued
  • A breakdown in communication is perhaps the most common sign of a toxic atmosphere at work

The report notes that even if the culture is not toxic, but “average,” it’s not enough. Employees still think about leaving and aren’t likely to recommend the organization to a friend. Managers can build strong and positive workplaces by listening to employees, holding workers and leaders accountable for their actions, setting expectations, and clarifying information.

Workplace culture is a critical business asset and employees see the company through their immediate boss. Is the culture you have the culture you want? How well does the individual manager’s behavior reflect the organization’s core values? What steps are needed to keep values and actions aligned?

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

Early workplace injuries predictor of frequent filers

Workers injured in the first six months of their employment are more than twice as likely to have three or more lost-time injuries during their duration of employment than other workers, according to a recent study published in the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. For each year employed before the first lost-time injury, the probability of having three or more lost-time injuries decreased by 13%, according to the study.

The study included 7,609 lost-time claims at Johns Hopkins Health System and University from 1994 through 2017. The injuries occurred among 5,906 workers; 84% were health care workers, and the remainder were academic employees. Although only 49 workers (0.83%) had five or more claims, they accounted for 3.5% of claim costs, or $4.8 million. The workers in the study had an average length of employment of 15.7 years.

Other studies have shown that new employee risk of injury is higher than other workers. Earlier research from the Toronto-based Institute for Work & Health (IWH) found that employees in their first month on the job have more than three times the risk for a lost-time injury than workers who have been at their job for more than a year.

Neither study delved into the issue of “why.” Common speculation is that training and mentorship were inadequate or that hiring practices are the root of the problem. It makes sense because newness is the common thread. Workers performing unfamiliar tasks in a new work environment with less knowledge and awareness are at a more significant risk regardless of their age, according to the IWH.

Yet, assumptions should not be made and each company must analyze their own data. Begin by looking at the data on the injuries incurred in the first six months of employment. Was the hiring process rushed or inadequate in anyway? Was there a post-offer physical exam?

Assess the effectiveness of training and acclimation to the job. Were new workers given real-life practice, a clear message about safety, site-specific information, allowed to start in low-risk situations and advance to higher-risk work? While people learn differently, the more they can perform the work, the better they become.

Review the incident investigations to look for commonalities – location, department, job function/procedure, equipment and so on. How effective was the return-to-work experience?

How you intervene depends on what you learn. It may be that you need to shore up your training program, implement a mentorship approach, or alert the supervisor to provide additional oversight so the employee works more safely. If there are “red flags” such as the injured worker immediately hiring a lawyer, conflict with supervisor or other workers, insufficient detail about injury/accident, no witnesses, failure to keep medical appointments, and so on, you should consult your attorney. In most cases, the injuries of new employees are legitimate, but new employees with fraud “red flags” require special attention.

The message to employers is that there is an association between early employment injuries and risks for multiple injuries. Repeat claims are costly. A thorough analysis is an opportunity to develop preventive measures or cut loose a potential serial offender.

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

The new overtime rule and workers’ compensation

The Labor Department estimates that the new overtime rule, which takes effect January 1, 2020, will affect 1.3 million workers. The new rule raises the minimum salary threshold from $455 per workweek to $684 per workweek. This means that salaried workers who earn less than $35,568 per year will be eligible for time-and-a-half overtime pay if they work over 40 hours, up from the current threshold of $23,660. While the new rule updates the earnings thresholds necessary to exempt executive, administrative, or professional employees from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) minimum wage and overtime pay requirements, it does not alter the white-collar exemptions’ duties tests.

Employers need to make decisions about the compensation packages of exempt employees who earn less than the new weekly threshold of $684, but more than the current threshold of $455, before year’s end. The options are to increase salaries to the new level, reclassify employees as non-exempt, and structure workloads to preclude overtime hours.

The rule also permits employers to use non-discretionary bonuses and incentive payments paid at least annually to satisfy up to 10% of the standard salary level. In its FAQ, the DOL notes that, “if an employee does not earn enough in non-discretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) in a given 52-week period to retain his or her exempt status, the Department permits a “catch-up” payment at the end of the 52-week period. The employer has one pay period to make up for the shortfall (up to 10 percent of the standard salary level for the preceding 52-week period). Any such catch-up payment will count only toward the prior 52-week period’s salary amount and not toward the salary amount in the 52-week period in which it was paid. If the employer chooses not to make the catch-up payment, the employee would be entitled to overtime pay for any overtime hours worked during the previous 52-week period.”

The rule also raises the salary threshold for the highly compensated employee exemption (HCE) from $100,000 to $107,432 per year, but it does not change how employers may use bonuses to meet the salary level component of the HCE test.

How will this affect workers’ compensation premiums?

While the premium calculation can be more complicated, this simple formula gives an idea of how it is done:

Payroll (per $100) x Classification Rate x Experience Modifier = Premium

What’s important is that in almost all states payroll (which is often referred to as the basis for premium) is actually remuneration, which is much more than payroll. Increasing salaries of exempt workers will increase premiums, based on the employee’s classification. However, the issue of non-exempt workers and increased payroll that results from overtime is more complicated. To understand how the new overtime rule will impact premium, you’ll need to know the rules for treating overtime pay in your state.

With the exception of four states (Pennsylvania, Delaware, Utah, and Nevada), overtime pay can be reduced to straight time when determining the workers’ comp premium. Many insurance companies define overtime pay as the wages paid at one-and-a-half times the employee’s hourly rate for overtime hours. So, in most states, if a worker makes $20/hr. and is paid $30/hr. for overtime, the company pays premium on the $20, but not the extra $10.

In Pennsylvania, Delaware, Utah, and Nevada, overtime pay is subject to premium and may be added during the annual comp audit process, if not properly projected in your payroll for the year. So, in the case above, the company pays premium on the full $30.

Next steps for employers

  1. Make decisions about the employees who are affected by the new overtime threshold.
  2. Clearly communicate to all employees the new rule. If employees are being reclassified, it is important not only for them, but for those who report to them, to understand why they are being reclassified. Be sensitive to the perception that changing from exempt to non-exempt can be viewed as a negative change in status. Individual meetings to reinforce that the change is based on regulations, not performance, can help.
  3. Evaluate your time tracking system and train reclassified employees in its use. An automated time tracking system is critical in ensuring accurate overtime pay.
  4. Assess your telecommuting policies and the ability to monitor hours worked, if telecommuters are being reclassified.
  5. Keep adequate records of overtime. In states that allow overtime exclusion for workers’ comp, if adequate records are not maintained, the overtime pay cannot be excluded from the total payroll and you must pay on the entire amount. If the rate of overtime varies, for example, time-and-a-half and double time, be sure the records are distinct, as the adjustment will differ. This information should be in a form that is easily determined by the auditor, summarized by classification on an annual basis.
  6. Keep an eye on your projected payroll for your workers’ comp policy. At the year-end of your policy, an audit will determine if you’ve underestimated payroll. To avoid year-end surprises, be as accurate as possible when projecting annual payroll.

It’s important to note that the new rule does not take precedence over more stringent state rules. Generally, businesses must comply with the law that provides the most protection for the employee. Many states have higher thresholds and additional criteria for exempt status than under federal law. Multi-state employers should look at compliance on a state-by-state basis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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