Legal Corner

Six-month leave upheld by United States Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit

In Billups v. Emerald Coast Utilities Authority, an Utility Service Technician II suffered a shoulder injury and received physical therapy, but after two months it was determined he required surgery. The surgery was delayed because of his reaction to anesthesia. His company had a policy of 26 weeks of leave for work injuries. Following surgery, the doctor said it would likely take six months for his shoulder to recover to the degree that he could perform the essential functions of the job.

The company sent a notice indicating he would be terminated if he could not return to full duty by June 18, 2014, which was the end of his six-month period of leave. At the time, they were short staffed and dealing with severe flooding damage to the water and sewer infrastructure. At a predetermination hearing, he was given one day to obtain a doctor’s statement regarding his full-duty return to work date. He was able to obtain a note from PT about his release date, but not from his doctor and was fired on June 23, 2014. He was not cleared by his doctor to return to work full duty until October 23, 2014 and it was with limitations.

After losing in district court for not identifying a reasonable accommodation, the employee appealed arguing that a short period of leave would have been a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. The court noted he had not demonstrated that his requested accommodation would have allowed him to return to work “in the present or in the immediate future” and therefore, the request for additional leave could be interpreted as a request for indefinite leave, which is unreasonable.
Reassignment of minor job duties does not violate FMLA

In Marsh-Godreau v. State University of New York College at Potsdam, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York ruled reassignment of minor job duties did not violate the FMLA. While the employee was on leave, the university reassigned some entry responsibilities for the annual report and did not return the responsibilities when she returned.

Her suit alleged that the university reduced her responsibilities, her supervisor exerted unwarranted and excessive scrutiny, and the university no longer allowed her to perform essential functions of her role. The court found in favor of the employer, noting the employee continued to be employed and that she received raises annually until her retirement.
Workers’ Compensation
Ruling published on confidentiality of identities of medical professionals performing independent medical reviews – California

The 1st District Court of Appeal has ordered publication of its ruling in Zuniga v. WCAB (Interactive Trucking) that found injured workers do not have a due process right to know the identities of medical professionals performing independent medical reviews. Only published opinions are binding precedent in California.
Pulse Nightclub first responder denied PTSD benefits because there was no accompanying physical injury – Florida

In Florida, witnessing tragic events on the job are classified as within the scope of employment for first responders and, therefore, PTSD must accompany a physical injury in order for first responders to be eligible for benefits. The responder argued that he had been hospitalized for hypertension and this should be considered a physical injury. The judge ruled that since the responder had not reported a physical injury, nor had his blood pressure taken on the night of the shooting, hypertension could not be claimed as a physical injury.
Surgery not compensable when EMA considers it reasonable but counsels against it – Florida

In Ascension Benefits & Insurance Solutions of Florida v. Robinson, the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled that a worker was not entitled to the surgeries that an expert medical adviser had counseled against, even though the adviser acknowledged that the procedures would be reasonable treatment for the worker’s injuries. Based on the report of the Expert Medical Adviser (EMA) and IME, a judge determined surgery on the injured employee’s elbow and index fingers was reasonable.

Upon appeal, the court said reasonableness is not the only standard to apply when awarding medical treatment, treatment must also be medically necessary. The EMA never said the surgeries were medically necessary and, in fact, recommended against them. Under Florida law, the opinion of an EMA is presumed to be correct, unless there is clear and convincing evidence that it is wrong.
Employer discovers lower quote does not mean same coverage when out of state accident is not covered – Indiana

Custom Mechanical Construction (CMC) is an Indiana-based mechanical contractor but is authorized to do business in Kentucky. Since its establishment in 2005, it had used the same insurance agent and the same carrier for workers’ comp. In 2015, the agent solicited bids from other carriers and secured a $3,000 lower quote. The company claims that it was led to believe that the coverage was the same. When a CMC worker was injured on a job in Kentucky, the carrier filed suit in a federal trial court in Indiana seeking a judicial determination that its policy does not cover claims from Kentucky. CMC counterclaimed that the carrier wrongly and unreasonably denied coverage, and that the broker is liable for failing to procure adequate coverage. The judge found that CMC had no viable claim for bad faith nor negligence and that the broker was not an agent of the carrier. Accident Fund Insurance Co. of America v. Custom Mechanical Construction
Interactive process not required under Human Rights Act (MHRA) – Minnesota

In McBee v. Team Industries, the Court of Appeals ruled that an employer was not required to engage in an interactive process to determine whether an injured worker could be accommodated, and that the employer had defeated the worker’s claims of discrimination and retaliation under the state Human Rights Act and Workers’ Compensation acts.

A machine operator worked for a foundry and aluminum die-casting facility and was required to do heavy lifting and operate, repair, and maintain heavy machinery. She sought medical attention for severe pain in her hands, back and neck and her doctor found she had disc narrowing, a bulged disc and bone spurs in her vertebrae and he imposed lifting restrictions. A month later, she was fired from the job and sued under the MHRA.

The law requires that employers make a “reasonable accommodation to the known disability of a qualified person.” However, the court found that a “qualified person” must be able to perform the essential functions of the position and there was no reasonable accommodation for her to perform the heavy lifting, which was an essential function of the job.

Since the federal Americans with Disabilities Act pre-dates the MHRA, the court said it had to assume that the Minnesota Legislature consciously refrained from including the ADA’s interactive-process language in the act. This position differs from an earlier decision by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Corruption makes suicide workplace related and death benefits awarded – Mississippi

A judge has ruled in favor of the widower of a former state employee, awarding him his wife’s death benefits after she committed suicide. His wife had worked for the state Department of Marine Resources and had grown increasingly distraught over land purchases by the director that benefited family members and felt she was going to be blamed for the corruption.

After her first attempt at suicide failed, she was admitted to the hospital and began undergoing psychiatric treatment, but hanged herself months later. Psychiatrists testified that her employee’s participation in the corrupt land deal – and her concern that she would also be implicated – were clearly the reason for her distress. The judge ruled that the inappropriate actions of the department’s employees caused her to suffer a mental disorder that prompted her suicide and awarded close to $200,000 in death benefits.
Court reverses attorney sanctions but allows quashing of subpoena – Mississippi

In Wright v. Turan-Foley Motors, the appeals court cautioned attorneys against being overzealous in their attempts to prove an employer-chosen medical examiner is biased against their client. It found the Workers’ Compensation Commission was right to dismiss an attorney’s “overly burdensome and unduly broad” subpoena against an employer’s medical examiner, but should not have imposed a $5,000 penalty against the attorney or made him pay the medical examiner’s attorney’s fees.
Pre-existing conditions do not preclude benefits for future medical care – Missouri

In Morris v. Captain D’s, an employee suffered injuries in a car accident and additional injuries in a workplace fall. He quit his job several months later and filed for comp benefits. An administrative law judge found that he was permanently and totally disabled from the combined effects of his injuries and pre-existing conditions, which included knee, back, and neck injuries and high blood pressure and heart disease. The judge found, and the court of appeals agreed, that he that was entitled to future medical treatment on each claim.
Department store skin care specialist and model is employee of Skin Care Company – New York

In Colamaio-Kohl v. Task Essential Corp, the employee worked as a skin care specialist and spokesmodel at a Bloomingdale’s store and fell and suffered injuries while heading to the restroom. He later filed a comp claim and the appellate court upheld an award of benefits, noting that the Skin Care Company had control over his schedule, training, and dress code. Therefore, he was not an independent contractor nor employee of Bloomingdales, but an employee of the Skin Care Company.
Employee who worked only 16 days before injury receives an average weekly wage of $709.15 – New York

In Bain v. New Caps, an employee had earned just $2,950 in 16 days of employment when he was in a car accident. The company submitted a wage earnings statement indicating it had paid $2,950 during the 52-week period preceding the accident and that the employee had earnings of $2,121.81 from other employers during the same period. The law says a worker’s annual earnings shall consist of not less than 200 times the average daily wage or salary earned during the days when he was employed, as divided by 52. Thus, the appellate court found that Board’s determination of the AWW of $709.15 was correct.
No reimbursement to employer for overturned attorney fee – Pennsylvania

In County of Allegheny v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, the Supreme Court ruled that an employer cannot recover attorneys fees erroneously paid to an injured worker’s lawyer. The employer was ordered to pay $14,750 in attorneys fees under Section 440 after the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board determined that it had unreasonably contested its liability. However, the Commonwealth Court reversed the decision and also overturned the attorney fee award.

The county sought reimbursement for the erroneously awarded attorneys fees, but the Supreme Court found that the General Assembly, in enacting the Workers’ Compensation Act, did not provide any mechanism by which employers can recoup erroneously awarded counsel fees once paid.
Treating physician’s failure to mail medical records means UR company will automatically declare the treatment “not reasonable or necessary” – Pennsylvania

In Allison v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal Bd. (Fisher Auto Parts, Inc.), the Commonwealth Court found a utilization review doctor did not violate the due process rights of an injured worker by denying a medication and injection regimen after a treating physician failed to submit medical records to justify the treatments.The law requires physicians to mail documents to a utilization review organization (UR) within 30 days of receiving a company’s request. In past cases, the Commonwealth Court ruled that workers’ compensation judges don’t have jurisdiction to review UR denials due to a lack of medical records. This case argued that denying treatment due to circumstances outside the employee’s control when he had no way to appeal the decision was a due process violation, but the court disagreed.
Earning potential calculation clarified – Pennsylvania

In Smith v. WCAB (Supervalu Holdings PA), an employee was injured when falling items from a shelf hit him on his head. He suffered a cervical strain/sprain and received $662 per week, based on his average weekly wage. The employer filed to suspend his benefits when he refused to undergo a second surgery they deemed was highly likely to cure his disability. The judge said refusal to undergo the surgery was not a refusal of reasonable medical treatment and there was no guarantee that new treatment would decrease the disability. Therefore, he did not suspend benefits but agreed to modify based on a vocational rehabilitation counselor’s recommendations.

The counselor identified five open and available positions within the vocational and medical restriction and recommended modifying the benefits to $396.63. The court said the question of whether the jobs could serve as a basis for modifying benefits depended on whether the jobs were available to him and found that since the worker interviewed for two of the identified positions there is substantial evidence that the job is available.
Opinion of worker’s medical expert insufficient to rebut the opinion of treating doctor – Tennessee

In Goodman v. Schwarz Paper Co., an employee suffered a back injury and after receiving treatment was released to work with no restrictions. She later experienced radiating pain originating in her right sacroiliac and buttock and the doctor conducted a nerve conduction study, but the result revealed no abnormalities. Another doctor examined her at the request of her attorney, and opined that she had lumbar radiculopathy in addition to a traumatic back injury. He assigned a 12% impairment rating for her back and a 3% impairment rating for the bursitis, compared to the 2% assigned by her treating physician.

A trial judge found the new opinion was not enough to overcome the statutory presumption of correctness afforded to the original opinion and awarded benefits based on the 2% impairment rate. The Supreme Court’s Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel agreed.

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HR Tip: Less stringent test for intern pay adopted by DOL

On Jan. 5, the Department of Labor (DOL) introduced a less stringent test to determine whether employers must pay their interns at least a minimum wage and overtime. The new approach involves a primary-beneficiary test and abandons a rigid test where six parts all had to be met for someone to be considered an unpaid intern and not an employee. Four appellate courts rejected the DOL’s six-part test and the newly adopted seven factor primary-beneficiary test was used by these courts.

The new test does not require each of its factors to be met and the seven factors to be considered are the extent to which:

  • Both parties understand that the intern is not entitled to compensation
  • The internship provides training that would be given in an educational environment
  • The intern’s completion of the program entitles him or her to academic credit
  • The internship corresponds with the academic calendar
  • The internship’s duration is limited to the period when the internship educates the intern
  • The intern’s work complements rather than displaces the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits
  • The intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the internship’s end

The new standard is more flexible and aligned with court rulings. It’s expected to be easier to defend unpaid internships if they’re set up properly and there’s a good agreement between the intern volunteers and the employer. However, it is not a license to use unpaid interns without restraint. The test still exists and the question of who’s the primary beneficiary of the program – the employer or the intern – ultimately needs to be answered.

Companies that use internships should revise all program-related documentation-such as policies, advertisements and recruiting materials-to use the language of the seven factors in the primary-beneficiary test and the student intern and the employer should sign agreements incorporating the language.

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Trends in combatting abuse and fraud in Workers’ Compensation

Fraud or abuse that might not reach the legal requirements for criminal sanctions happens in all aspects of the Workers’ Comp system. There’s employee fraud, employer fraud, health provider fraud, attorney fraud, and even insurer and claims adjuster fraud. The good news is that technology is making it easier to detect and many states have strengthened their laws to prevent fraud. In this article, we’ll look at employee fraud and health provider fraud.

Employee fraud

It’s important to recognize that only 1 – 2% of employee injuries are considered fraudulent and that injured employees can be scared and overwhelmed by the system and need the support and guidance of the employer to navigate to a quick recovery. But when fraud or abuse occurs it can be hard to detect and lead to unnecessary costs.

The most common types of employee fraud are faking injury claims, exaggerating injury or illness, claims for injuries incurred outside of work, failing to report earned wages while receiving temporary disability benefits, and prescription fraud, especially related to opioids. Malingering can also complicate an already complex claim and postemployment claims such as those involving cumulative trauma (CT) can be difficult for the employer to control.

Two recent phenomenon driving employees to cheat the system are expensive health care and long-term unemployment. While the evidence is anecdotal, high deductible health insurance plans, the ever-increasing costs of co-pays, and the growing uncertainty of coverage can incentivize the use of workers’ comp. In most cases, workers will have all medical costs covered and receive indemnity payments. Despite continued job growth and low unemployment, long-term unemployment persists among certain workers, and those having a tough time finding jobs that match their skill set or pay well may look to postemployment comp claims for much needed income.

There are many “red flags” that can help employers identify questionable claims and these should immediately be shared with the claims adjuster. However, proving that an injured worker is engaged in personal physical activities inconsistent with the alleged disability can be difficult. Today, a combination of the traditional approaches to fraud detection and technology make it easier and more affordable.

Here are eight things that employers can do:

  1. Have the injured worker put in writing the facts of the injury.
  2. Do a thorough investigation of the incident, including interviewing witnesses, taking pictures, documenting PPE in use, and so on.
  3. Make your employees comfortable with reporting suspected fraud and train supervisors in monitoring “workplace chatter.” Often, co-workers may have information or a sense that a co-worker is abusing the system.
  4. Use surveillance cameras in offices, parking lots, warehouses, etc. According to an Employers Holdings, Inc. survey, 24% of small businesses have installed surveillance cameras on their property. There was a widely publicized YouTube video of a Florida woman hitting herself on the head with a sprinkler head that had fallen on her desk and then claiming a workplace injury.
  5. Have a relationship with a trusted, competent occupational physician who understands your business and can foster the confidence of employees. This partnership will help identify possible fraudulent cases and control prescription abuse. Prescription fraud is easily mitigated by a doctor’s ability to check a prescription-monitoring data base, which 49 states now have in place.
  6. Monitor social media. It’s positively amazing what people will post on social media. If fraud is suspected, investigators can use software to search upwards of 200 social media sites. Employers need to be cautious about how they employ social media tools to investigate their employees’ behaviors and be sure that the evidence is admissible in court. While social media has been allowed in some court cases, this area of law is still in its infancy. Even if the admissibility of social media is questionable, it provides an indication that video surveillance, which is more likely to be admissible because it includes a time stamp, is warranted.
  7. Consider smart device data. In recent cases, police obtained a search warrant for the data from the cardiac pacing device in an arson investigation, a fitness tracker was used to discredit an alleged assault, and an Amazon Echo was accessed (unsuccessfully) as a witness to a murder. This area of law is largely untested, but should not be overlooked.
  8. Check job applicants carefully. Criminal backgrounds and a history of suspicious injury claims can be good predictors of potential fraud.

Physician fraud

For the dishonest physician, workers’ comp is fertile ground. Common examples of fraud include: submitting claims for services not provided, duplicate billing, upcoding or submitting claims for services with higher rates, unbundling or submitting claims for several services that should have been one claim, ordering excessive treatment or supplies, dispensing drugs for personal gain, receiving kickbacks in exchange for directing patients to other service providers, and operating “medical mills” with others who lack required credentials.

Some states such as California have enacted laws to aggressively pursue fraud. Since A.B. 1244, which requires the division’s administrative director to suspend any medical provider, physician or practitioner from participating in the workers’ comp system in cases that involve criminal activity or inability to perform duties safely, among other requirements went into effect Jan. 1, 2017, over 170 providers have been suspended.

To combat physician fraud, employers can:

  1. Have a relationship with trusted, competent occupational physicians who understand your business and can develop confident relationships with your employees.
  2. Vet independent medical reviews for quality. Complex claims that involve comorbidities can be feeding ground for exaggeration and malingering and often involve legal representation. According to a recent white paper by the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. a quality independent medical examiner (IME) can help mitigate losses. It’s important to hold an IME to a high standard.
  3. Report the suspected fraud.

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


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.

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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


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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).


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


  • 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.


  • 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 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


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Legal Corner

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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HR Tip: NLRB overturns Obama-era rulings related to joint employment and handbooks

A newly appointed Republican majority on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) returned to the standard that companies must have “immediate and direct” control over a worker to be considered a joint employer. Under the Obama rule indirect control by one organization over another was enough to establish a joint employer relationship (Browning-Ferris decision). Applying the reinstated pre-Browning Ferris standard, the Board agreed with an administrative law judge’s determination that Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors, Ltd. (Hy-Brand) and Brandt Construction Co. (Brandt) were joint employers and, therefore, jointly and severally liable for the unlawful discharges of seven striking employees.

In the employee handbook case, the board overruled a prior decision placing limits on employer handbook policies that could be “reasonably construed” by workers to limit their right to engage in protected concerted activity-so-called Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) rights.

The underlying case in the ruling involved a policy by The Boeing Company that prohibited employees from taking photos on company property “without a valid business need and an approved camera permit.” The company argued this was necessary to protect sensitive information and the NLRB found that the no-camera rule was lawfully maintained.

In this decision, the board replaced the “reasonably construe” standard with a new balancing test that will consider the following factors with regard to a “facially neutral” handbook policy:

  • The nature and extent of the potential impact on NLRA rights.
  • The employer’s legitimate justifications associated with the rule.

The board outlined three categories of employment policies, rules and handbook provisions:

  • “Category 1 will include rules that the Board designates as lawful to maintain, either because (i) the rule, when reasonably interpreted, does not prohibit or interfere with the exercise of NLRA rights; or (ii) the potential adverse impact on protected rights is outweighed by justifications associated with the rule. Examples of Category 1 rules are the no-camera requirement maintained by Boeing, and rules requiring employees to abide by basic standards of civility. Thus, the Board overruled past cases in which the Board held that employers violated the NLRA by maintaining rules requiring employees to foster “harmonious interactions and relationships” or to maintain basic standards of civility in the workplace.”
  • “Category 2 will include rules that warrant individualized scrutiny in each case as to whether the rule would prohibit or interfere with NLRA rights, and if so, whether any adverse impact on NLRA-protected conduct is outweighed by legitimate justifications.”
  • “Category 3 will include rules that the Board will designate as unlawful to maintain because they would prohibit or limit NLRA-protected conduct, and the adverse impact on NLRA rights is not outweighed by justifications associated with the rule. An example would be a rule that prohibits employees from discussing wages or benefits with one another.”

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OSHA alert – Recordkeeping changes

OSHA Form 300A posting deadline February 1, 2018

This month, all employers required to keep Form 300, the Injury and Illness Log, should be reviewing the Log to verify that entries are complete and accurate and correcting any deficiencies. The annual summary of injuries and illnesses recorded on OSHA Form 300A, Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses, must be posted where notices are customarily located, no later than February 1, 2018 and kept in place until April 30. Even if there were no recordable incidents in 2017, companies required to maintain records still must post the summary with zeros on the total lines. Copies should be made available to any employee who might not see the summary (such as a remote employee who works from home).

When an accident occurs, an employer must document a recordable injury or illness on the OSHA Form 300 log within seven days. Employers should pay careful attention to their logs and the work relatedness of safety incidents, particularly in light of the electronic submission rule. Some employers tend to focus on medical treatment or days away from work, rather than beginning with – was this work related? The OSHA Regulation 29 C.F.R. §1904.7 contains an in-depth overview of recordable injuries and illnesses. Additional information on determining medical treatment and first aid can be located at 29 C.F.R. §1904.7(b)(5).

Standard interpretations on recordkeeping issued in 2017 include:

  • Determining if the employees experienced an injury or illness due to an exposure.[1904; 1904.7(b)(7); 1904.46]
  • Clarification of 1904.31 regarding who is responsible for recording injuries and illnesses when supervision is shared by a prime contractor and subcontractors. [1904.31]

A Form 300 log is required for each physical establishment location that is expected to be in operation for at least one year. Form 300A summarizes the total number of fatalities, missed workdays, job transfers or restrictions, and injuries and illnesses as recorded on Form 300. A company executive, as defined by OSHA, must certify the summary. Employers must keep the records for five years following the calendar year covered by them, and if the employer sells the business, he or she must transfer the records to the new owner.

While the future of the Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses is uncertain, the Injury Tracking Application (ITA) stopped accepting 2016 data as of January 1, 2018. Employers with 250 or more employees that are subject to OSHA’s recordkeeping regulation must electronically submit information from the Form 300, Form 300A, and the Form 301 to OSHA by July 1, 2018. Establishments with 20-249 employees in certain high-risk industries such as agriculture, forestry, construction and manufacturing, must submit information electronically from Form 300A by July 1, 2018. OSHA then would make the information public on its website.


List of top ten violations includes Fall Protection – Training Requirements for first time

While the list of the Top 10 violations for FY2017 remains largely unchanged from 2016, there is a newcomer in ninth place – Fall Protection – Training Requirements.

The full list:

  1. Fall Protection – General Requirements (1926.501) – 6,887
  2. Hazard Communication (1910.1200) – 4,652
  3. Scaffolding (1926.451) – 3,697
  4. Respiratory Protection (1910.134) – 3,381
  5. Lockout/Tagout (1910.147) – 3,131
  6. Ladders (1926.1053) – 2,567
  7. Powered Industrial Trucks (1910.178) – 2,349
  8. Machine Guarding (1910.212) – 2,109
  9. Fall Protection – Training Requirements (1926.503) – 1,724
  10. Electrical – Wiring Methods (1910.305) – 1,530

For more information, the National Safety Council (NSC) provides a detailed description of the specific violations and a summary of the largest penalties.

If you are looking for a way to simply your injury and work comp claims reporting, please feel free to check out our free integrated first report of injury and OSHA recordkeeping software at

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What to expect in 2018

In today’s fast-moving business environment and volatile political atmosphere, nothing stays the same for very long, including Workers’ Compensation. Here are 18 ongoing trends and emerging issues to watch in 2018.

  1. Comp rates continue downward trend It’s good news for employers that comp rates are decreasing in most states as claims frequency declines and workplace safety continues to improve. This, coupled with relatively modest increases in medical costs and stable indemnity cost, means a reduction in loss costs and rates. Safety programs at the workplace, automation that has made hazardous jobs safer, a shift from more hazardous jobs to service jobs, and access to better medical care have all contributed to this favorable trend.There are a few areas that are more challenging, including the trucking and hospitality industries. Geographically, rates in California remain among the highest in the country and in Florida there still is concern about rising claims and legal costs, but rates are falling in both states in 2018. Rates in Pennsylvania are expected to increase 6-7% this year due to a Pennsylvania’s State Supreme Court 2017 ruling on injured employees on workers’ compensation over 2 years that will have a significant impact on rates in 2018 and moving forward unless legislation is addressed.  Moreover, workplace fatalities rose to the highest level since 2008.

    Takeaway: This is no time to become complacent. Hourly wages have been slowly trending up, along with employment. Claims have become more complex with comorbidities, aging, chronic pain, improved medical processes, and so on. The long tail nature of claims means that premiums collected today must cover losses for years to come. Insurance companies are using big data and more sophisticated predictive pricing models. Employers that collect and analyze data to improve cost controls, embrace innovative and progressive management of their Workers’ Comp program, and highlight them in underwriting submissions will reap the benefits.

  2. OSHA becomes more employer-friendly Under the Trump administration, there is a significant shift from the enforcement philosophy of the Obama administration to one of enforcement and compliance assistance.Combustible dust, vehicle backing hazards, hearing protection in construction, and updates to chemical PELs were removed from the regulatory agenda and workplace violence, process safety management, infectious diseases in healthcare, and emergency response and preparedness were moved to “long-term actions.” Enforcement of the silica standard on general industry and the maritime industry is scheduled to begin on June 23, 2018, but the Trump administration may seek a delay, depending on its experience with enforcement of the standard on the construction industry.

    Expect more emphasis on Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP), possible changes to “repeat” violation policies and National Emphasis Programs, much less public shaming, more limited use of the general duty clause, and changes to the e-recordkeeping and anti-retaliation rule.

    Takeaway: In spite of these shifts, employers should not assume they are guaranteed employer-friendly outcomes when dealing with OSHA, nor plan on specific regulatory changes, which will take time. While there may be closer adherence to the standards, the increased enforcement fines remain in effect, with some significant fines levied in 2017.

  3. New technologies will continue to emerge The ability to strengthen safety, provide health information, improve working conditions, and boost productivity with the adoption of new technologies (drones, wearables, the IoT, laser scanning, apps, emerging robotic technologies, and autonomous safety systems) will continue to grow. A virtual approach to ergonomics is emerging as a more efficient way to prevent or mitigate injuries.With this comes the need to understand regulatory requirements, privacy laws, insurance, and protection from liabilities. While the opportunities are compelling, some industries, such as construction, have been slow to adapt.

    The advances in technology also impact the medical treatment available for injured workers. Some new treatments will restore full functionality, others will significantly increase costs, and some expand the exposures for lifetime indemnity and medical benefits.

    Takeaway: As the benefits of using these technologies are proven and their prices decrease, more employers will adopt to improve safety and increase competitiveness. Evaluating functionality, security, and employee buy-in will be key in making product choices. New technologies mean new risks and promoting best practices for controlling exposures to hazards involving human interaction with technology, as well as training to mitigate the risks of workers becoming distracted or disengaged are crucial to obtain improved efficiency and reduced costs.

    From a medical vantage point, the use of evidence-based medicine and relationships with occupational physicians will continue to grow in importance.

  4. More employers will practice advocacy-based claims management Employers who have an “us vs them” attitude towards workers who have experienced a work-related injury are living in the past. Transparency, collaboration, and communication are the techniques that dominate effective claims management today.By easing the minds of injured workers and helping guide the recovery process, employers can avoid adversarial relationships and obtain better outcomes.

    Takeaway: It’s not a costly practice, but it takes commitment and consistency to work and an understanding of the injured worker. It can’t be a cookie cutter process; it’s a culture.

  5. New training techniques Training that requires focus, reinforces good practices, highly engages workers, is deliverable 24/7, and has no language barriers is not traditional training. Gamification, virtual reality (VR), and simulations have moved training from passive seminars, video watching, and form-filling to interactive culture and behavioral changing programs. Moreover, site specific safety orientation, daily tool talks, and near miss analysis and discussion build trust with workers and focus on the unique challenges of the job.Takeaway: While the top ten OSHA violations are evidence that many employers fail to meet their training obligations, it’s also true that training is often boring and ineffective. New approaches focus on problem solving and collaboration. The importance of training is how well employees remember and use what they know when the time comes to protect themselves, not that the obligation has been fulfilled.
  6. Alternative treatments for chronic pain While opioid prescribing is on the downturn in workers’ compensation and opioid early intervention programs have become an industry mainstay, legacy claims are a serious problem for the industry. Also, chronic pain particularly from musculoskeletal conditions, remains a serious problem among the workforce and must be addressed. Less invasive approaches such as education and self-care options; conservative therapies like exercise, acupuncture, physical therapy, and yoga; cognitive behavioral training to address psychological factors; and comprehensive pain management are leading the way. The debate rages on about the possibilities of medical marijuana.Takeaway: Employers offering access to affordable and evidence-based options that can help employees in pain can reduce their costs by mitigating unnecessary treatments, reducing lost time, and improving productivity. A comprehensive program provides education and is tailored to the individual needs of the employee.

    Medical marijuana continues to challenge employers in their substance abuse programs and drug testing, and state judicial and legislative bodies as they decide whether to permit reimbursement of medical marijuana as a compensable workers’ compensation benefit. Staying abreast of relevant legal decisions and clearly defined policies in employee handbooks is key.

  7. Medical practices will continue to change Telemedicine is here and expanding. Delivering medical care and information via telecommunication networks is impacting case management, physician’s visits, and rehab. It’s being used effectively for employees working in remote areas, integrated with the nurse triage process, particularly for minor injuries, and follow-up care, including post-op visits, home treatment plans, questions and answers, and consultations with specialists. There’s also been an uptick in telerehab, which supplements in-clinic physical therapy, with virtual access to physical therapy. The possibilities will continue to expand.Takeaway: The benefits of telemedicine can be significant, including cost savings, better access to care, immediate triaging of injuries, and faster claims closings. Issues facing employers include state laws, which vary in the types of services covered, provider requirements, reimbursements, and medical licensure; changing roles of stakeholders who are providing service to injured workers; patient and data privacy; monitoring quality of outcomes; and systems connectivity.
  8. Mental health issues will be talked about more The significant impact of mental health in workers’ comp continues to emerge. Legislative efforts to make it easier for first responders to receive workers’ compensation benefits for mental stress injuries (such as post-traumatic stress disorder) have met with varying degrees of success. The effect of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues on delayed return to work, increased claims costs, and workplace violence are more fully understood and recognized.Takeaway: Companies are becoming more cognizant of these issues and are more focused on building healthy workplace cultures. The stigma attached to mental health is a societal problem and greater education is needed to identify mental health issues and appropriate treatment.

    Regulatory and external factors can become disruptors including:

  9. Natural disasters have a significant impact on the industry
  10. The national opioid crisis finds its way into the workplace, with double digit increases in overdose fatalities
  11. Globalization means borderless business and new challenges to keep traveling employees safe
  12. Debate over drug formularies will continue to rage in many states
  13. The Gig economy raises questions of adequately protecting workers
  14. The question of independent contractor vs. employee remains one of the hottest, most litigious areas
  15. Rising on-demand services change the risks faced by workers
  16. Changes to immigration laws have significant implications for the hospitality, restaurant, agricultural, construction, and technology industries as well as others
  17. 24/7 connectivity has implications for employee fatigue, driver safety, productivity
  18. The new tax law will mean changes in investment priorities and could lead to accelerated automation

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Things you should know

Temp workers file lost-time claims twice as often: study

Temporary workers file lost-workday claims about twice as often as permanent workers, according to a recent study from the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries.

Agricultural services had the highest disparity among industries, with 12.39 lost-workday claims per 100 FTE for temp workers compared with 2.36 for permanent ones.

From interviews, researchers found that among temp claimants, nearly 40 percent said they did not receive safety training from their temp agency, and 48 percent said they were trained only at the beginning of employment. For permanent claimants, those percentages were approximately 25 and 20, respectively. Temp claimants also reported less screening for applicable work experience and less control over work schedules.

The study, which was published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine adds to the evidence that policies are needed to improve screening and training of temporary workers.

Nonfatal injury and illness rate in private sector continues to decline: BLS

The nonfatal injury and illness rate for private-sector U.S. employees decreased slightly in 2016, as did the rate of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work, according to data released Nov. 9 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Reported nonfatal injuries and illnesses occurred at a rate of 2.9 cases per 100 full-time workers in 2016, compared with 3.0 in 2015 and 3.2 in 2014. The rate has fallen in all but one year since 2003. The 2012 rate remained the same as in 2011.

Other 2016 data highlights:

  • The median DAFW needed to recover was eight, matching the figure from 2015.
  • The DAFW rate for workers in manufacturing fell to 94.9 cases per 10,000 full-time workers from 99.0 the year before. The total number of DAFW cases in manufacturing fell by 4 percent to 118,050.
  • Among the four industries that reported injury rate declines, only retail trade (122,390) and manufacturing (118,050) exceeded 100,000 DAFW cases.
  • Sprains, strains and tears accounted for 317,530 injuries and illnesses requiring DAFW, or about 36 percent of total cases.

Ignored safety procedures, fractured safety program led to fatal Amtrak derailment

The National Transportation Safety Board determined the April 2016 derailment of Amtrak train 89 near Chester, Pennsylvania was caused by deficient safety management across many levels of Amtrak and a lack of a clear, consistent and accepted vision for safety. A backhoe operator and a track supervisor were killed, and 39 people were injured when the train, traveling on the Northeast Corridor from Philadelphia to Washington struck a backhoe.

The abstract of the NTSB’s final report, that includes the findings, probable cause and safety recommendations is available online.
‘Hypermasculine’ firehouse culture may hinder women from speaking up about safety: study

Female firefighters who feel unwelcome or shunned in the male-dominated culture at some firehouses are less likely to be active participants in the department’s safety culture, according to a new study from Drexel University, published in the Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health.
2018 edition of NFPA 70E® available

Electrical equipment and electrical safety devices are constantly being changed and improved. The NFPA 70E Committee addresses these changes and updates the standard every three years as part of keeping up with current technology and safety concerns. This is a standard used not only by facility managers and safety officers, but also by OSHA inspectors, continually educating them on existing trends in electrical safety.
State News


  • The guidelines for how injured workers are treated changed Dec. 1, with modifications in line with current American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine standards.
  • According to the estimates provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII), California’s overall incidence rate of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses remains steady at 3.7 cases per 100 workers for full time employees, the lowest rate in over a decade.
  • Medical payments per workers’ compensation claim with more than seven days lost time have decreased steadily since the enactment of reform legislation in 2013, according to a study released by the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI). The average medical payment per claim decreased 3% – 4% per year.


  • The Insurance Commissioner has granted approval to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) for a statewide overall rate level decrease of 9.5% and premium level decrease of 9.8%. This applies to both new and renewal workers’ compensation insurance policies effective as of January 1, 2018.


  • Nonfatal occupational injury and illness rate is the lowest in state history with an estimated 3.5 injuries or illnesses per 100 full-time workers.

New York

  • The New York State Workers’ Compensation Board released revised draft impairment guidelines and proposed regulations. According to a new section added to Title 12 of NYCRR, evaluations of permanent impairment must be completed using the Workers’ Compensation Guidelines for Determining Impairment. The revised guidelines make changes to the way that medical impairments are scored.

North Carolina

  • Workplace injury and illness rate for private industry in 2016 was statistically unchanged from its historic low in 2015. The 2016 rate is 2.5 cases per 100 full-time workers, compared to 2.6 in 2015.
  • Physician payments as a percentage of Medicare reimbursements were lower than for the region and nationally last year, a NCCI study on Medical Data shows.


  • A recent study by the WCRI found medical payments per workers’ compensation claim were higher than typical for 2015 injuries evaluated as of March 2016. In 2015, workers’ compensation medical payments per claim with more than seven days of lost time were 61 percent higher than the median in the study; medical payments per all paid claims were 46 percent higher than typical. However, other WCRI research found injured workers reported higher rates of satisfaction with their medical care and among the lowest percentages of problems accessing medical care. Overall total costs per all paid claims were lower than typical in Wisconsin, driven largely by fewer workers losing time from work after an injury, substantially lower indemnity payments per claim, and shorter duration of temporary disability benefits.


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