Things you should know:

State news: Coronvirus resources

All states

  • Most states have dedicated webpages on the coronavirus at their statename.gov website with links for businesses
  • The National Conference of State Legislature’s website has a list of passed and pending legislation by state
  • For updates to Workers’ Comp information, visit your state’s Workers’ Compensation website

California

Florida

Georgia

Illinois

Indiana

Massachusetts

Michigan

Minnesota

Missouri

Nebraska

New York

North Carolina

Pennsylvania

Tennessee

Virginia

Wisconsin

 

Regulatory relief for commercial drivers to combat COVID-19

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has issued a national emergency declaration to provide hours-of-service (HOS) regulatory relief to commercial vehicle drivers transporting emergency relief in response to the nationwide coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. This declaration is believed to be the first time the agency has issued nationwide relief and follows President Trump’s issuing of a national emergency declaration in response to the virus.

Department of Transportation issues notice related to CBD products

CBD products may have higher levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC – the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana – than the Department of Transportation allows in a non-controlled substance, the agency cautions in a Feb. 18 policy and compliance notice, adding that CBD use is not a “legitimate medical explanation” for a safety-sensitive employee who tests positive for marijuana.

Opioid use in construction: CPWR issues report, launches awareness training

The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) has launched a beta version of a training program aimed at combating the opioid crisis in construction. Intended for use by experienced instructors and developed in conjunction with North America’s Building Trades Unions, the program comprises six sections and covers topics such as the opioid epidemic, prevention and harm reduction, and treatment and recovery.

Feb. 27 webinar from CPWR provided an overview of a recent report, and highlighted available resources and efforts to help mitigate the effect of opioids on the industry.

Helpful guide for choosing slip-resistant footwear

To assist in the selection and purchase of slip-resistant footwear for the workplace, Canadian research organization IRSST has published a free online guide.

Federal agencies launch website on school safety and security

The Department of Education, together with the departments of Health and Human Services, Justice, and Homeland Security, has launched a new website it calls a “one-stop shop of resources” for K-12 teachers, administrators, parents and law enforcement to identify, prepare for, respond to and mitigate school safety threats.

NIOSH launches online inspection tool for mast climbers

A new online tool from NIOSH is designed to guide users through daily pre-shift inspections of mast climbing work platforms and help identify common hazards associated with the equipment.

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

Legal Corner

Workers’ Compensation

$2.8 million award for emotional and financial damages upheld – California

In Reynaud v. Technicolor Creative Services USA Inc., an appellate court upheld a $2.8 million award to a United Kingdom citizen for emotional and financial damages related to delays in processing a green card application, finding the claims were not barred under the workers’ comp act. The company had arranged and sponsored a series of temporary work visas for the employee which his family also used to come to the U.S. In 2013, the employee asked the company to sponsor him for a green card and the company delayed and was very slow to implement the requirements.

The company told him that he would no longer remain employed after his visa expired in May 2016 and the employee and his family returned to England. Unable to find work, he developed depression and his wife sought counseling for depression and anxiety. The employee sued the company for negligence, alleging that it breached its assumed duty of due care “by failing to initiate the green card process.” A jury awarded $2.8 million to the couple.

The company argued it was protected by the exclusive remedy of the workers’ comp act, but the court found that the injuries were not caused by job-related duties or responsibilities, therefore the workers’ compensation law was inapplicable.

Truck driver is employee and cannot file personal injury claim – Georgia

In Estes v. G&W Carriers LLC, a married couple rotated driving responsibilities on their trips. The wife was injured while in the sleeping compartment when her husband was driving and rolled the truck.She filed a personal injury claim against the company. The company argued that the suit was barred by the exclusive remedy provision of workers’ comp and the court agreed.

While the wife argued she was an independent contractor because the company did not mandate a specific route be taken and that she could decline loads, the court found that the company had the right to control the time, manner and method of executing the work. It was the right to control, not necessarily the actual level of control, that governed the decision.

Widow can pursue tort claim against farm and forklift company, but not employer – Georgia

In Mullinax v. Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., the Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s decision and allowed a tort case to proceed against two companies. The worker was a truck driver who was at a farm to transport chickens for processing by Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. A forklift operator employed by Rising Inc., which was contracted by Pilgrim’s to catch chickens and load them onto the trucks, left the forklift running when he went to the bathroom, and a co-worker of the truck driver, who was not authorized to drive a forklift, got into the forklift and ran over him.

The court upheld the dismissal of the case against Pilgrim’s, but allowed it to proceed against the owner of the farm and Rising as a jury could conclude that they had breached their duty of care.

Going and Coming rule clarified – Michigan

In Smith v. Chrysler Grp., LLC, an auditor was injured in a car accident while driving from home in his personal vehicle to a manufacturing plant owned by his employer. The employer reimbursed the auditor for his travel expenses. In reversing a decision of the Appellate Commission, a state appellate court found the auditor’s travel was an integral part of his work duties within the course and scope of the employment.

It noted while generally the going and coming rule prohibits workers’ comp benefits, there are exceptions. Each exception should be examined on its own merits and not as factors to be weighed. The situation met two exceptions: the employee was on a special mission for his employer and the employer paid for or furnished employee transportation as part of the employment contract.

High court denies benefits for school teacher – Missouri

In Annayeva v. Special Administrative Board of the Transitional School District of the City of St. Louis, a teacher slipped and fell inside the main entrance of the school, while carrying a bag of school-related papers. A security guard witnessed the fall. Although initially the teacher indicated she did not know the cause of the fall, after questioning by her attorney, she claimed the floor was covered with ice, dirt, and moisture.

The Commission did not find her testimony credible and denied the claim, but an appeals court overturned and the case made its way to the Supreme Court. The court found her not credible, that the accident did not involve a risk greater than any other and, therefore, was not compensable.

“Post-injury misconduct” does not include absence from the workplace – Missouri

In Hicks v. State of Missouri, an injured correctional officer was awarded temporary total disability (TTD) benefits after being terminated for unexcused absences. The employee injured his arm and shoulder during a training program and did not initially report the injury, but when an inmate asked what was wrong with his “wing”, he felt vulnerable and reported it. He had surgery and was eventually released for full duty, but informed his supervisor he was a risk to himself and others and requested light duty.

There was no light duty and the prison denied a request for a second medical decision. He stopped working after five days and was terminated for unexcused absences. He obtained another medical opinion, which suggested further treatment was needed. The prison authorized further treatment and additional surgeries were performed and two years later he was found capable of full duty without restrictions.

While the prison contested his claim for TTD because he was terminated for “post-injury misconduct,” the court noted the statute says the phrase “‘post-injury misconduct” does not include absence from the workplace due to an injury unless the employee is capable of working with restrictions and, therefore, his absences were attributable to his injury.

Drivers for Postmates are employees – New York

The Court of Appeals recently ruled that drivers for online food delivery service Postmates Inc. were employees eligible for unemployment insurance. The ruling noted, “Postmates has complete control over the means by which it obtains customers, how the customer is connected to the delivery person, and whether and how its couriers are compensated.”

Injured worker must be weaned from high dose of opioids – New York

In Matter of Forte v. Muccini, an automotive repair shop employee injured his back and received permanent partial disability. After undergoing surgery in 2005, he continued to receive opioids for over ten years and developed a tolerance to high dosages. The employer’s carrier sought an order directing that he be weaned from the opioid medications based upon the medical opinion of an IME. However, the employee’s physician warned that weaning him could result in increased blood pressure and other medical problems and that the employee was experiencing high levels of pain and following his own tapering regiment.

The Workers’ Compensation Board ruled that he should be weaned per the program developed by the IME. An appellate court upheld the ruling, noting it was for the Board to resolve the conflict in medical opinion and it had done so.

Workers’ Compensation Board will reopen SLU/Non SLU decisions after landmark court decisions – New York

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court’s 3rd Department, which handles workers’ compensation appeals, issued rulings in Saputo v. Newsday, Fernandez v. New York University Benefits, and Arias v. City of New York, which found that the Workers’ Compensation Board failed to abide by a 2018 decision, Taher v. Yiota Taxi. The ruling found that some workers were entitled to simultaneous schedule loss of use (SLU) and non-schedule loss (Non-SLU) classifications.

The Board had a policy that barred a worker, who had received benefits for a Non-SLU and was back at work at regular wages, from receiving SLU benefits. If the Board issued a prior decision contrary to the newly issued court decisions, the Board will reopen the cases upon request as stated in this bulletin.

Settlement of claim nixes civil action of assaulted residential counselor – Pennsylvania

In Grabowski v. Carelink Community Support Services Inc., the Superior Court upheld the dismissal of a worker’s civil action against her employer seeking damages for injuries from an assault by a patient at a residential treatment facility. She received over $75,000 in workers’ compensation and then entered into a compromise and release agreement and received a $40,000 lump sum from the employer.

She then filed a negligence action. However, the court noted the employer would liable only if she was attacked for purely personal reasons that were not related to her employment. While the passive receipt of workers’ compensation benefits does not bar an employee from suing the employer for negligence, she actively pursued and agreed to a settlement. In effect, this constituted an admission that the incident occurred in the course and scope of her employment.

Spider bite compensable – Virginia

In James Madison Univ. v. Housden, an appeals court found that a bite by a brown recluse spider was compensable. Noting that the employee had previously reported spiders in the building and that construction work in a boiler room located below her office may have disturbed insects and spiders, the court found she faced a greater risk than that experienced in ordinary life.

Failure to wear seatbelt nixes compensation – Virginia

In Mizelle v. Holiday Ice, an appellate court confirmed the decision of the Workers’ Compensation Commission that a truck driver’s conduct – not wearing a seatbelt – was considered “willful” under state case law and, therefore, compensation was barred. The “willful misconduct” provision in the state’s comp law states that an employer can prevail when asserting a defense of willful misconduct if the employer proves that the safety rule, or other duty, was reasonable, was known to the employee, was for the employee’s benefit, and that the employee “intentionally undertook the forbidden act.”

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

 

Coronavirus: Workers’ Compensation and OSHA considerations

Worker’s Compensation

Compensability

Occupational disease law is written with the intent to cover diseases that arise in the course and scope of employment and have an exposure that is elevated from the exposure of the general public. An ailment does not become an occupational disease simply because it is contracted on the employer’s premises. A common disease that the public is exposed to is generally not covered under the occupational disease category, such as the flu and common colds. Furthermore, the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) notes that that many state workers’ comp statutes exclude “ordinary diseases of life.”

Therefore, in most situations, it would be difficult to prove that coronavirus resulted from a risk at work, as community spread has made the risk prevalent outside of the workplace and the incubation period can be anywhere from 2 to 14 days.

However, there are exceptions, notably healthcare providers and first responders caring for patients diagnosed with the coronavirus. Here employees are at a substantially greater risk of contracting coronavirus than the risk experienced by the general public.

Washington state, which operates a monopoly workers’ comp system, issued a directive providing workers’ compensation coverage for health care workers and first responders who are quarantined by a physician or public health officer. However, it also noted in most cases, exposure and/or contraction of COVID-19 is not considered to be an allowable, work-related condition, and will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. North Dakota has issued a similar directive. Other states may follow suit, so it is important to stay up-to-date.

Of course, claims will still be filed and will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Claim adjusters will look to see if employees can prove that they contracted the virus after an exposure at work, the exposure was unique to the workplace, there are no alternative means of exposure, and they can provide medical evidence to support the claim.

The Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau of California is partnering with other work comp organizations around the country to create unique codes to identify COVID-19 claims. The new codes will allow the costs of the claims to be tracked, measured, and properly used for pure premium ratemaking and experience rating.

On-site employees: manufacturers, construction, retail

Industries such as manufacturing, construction, and retail face the reality that employees must work onsite. The challenge to keep workers safe in these environments becomes more daunting every day. It’s important to recognize that the uncertainty created by the spread of the virus is a major distraction and distractions can lead to accidents. Safety efforts must adapt to current realities and be the number one priority.

The CDC recommends that employers “actively encourage sick employees to stay home.” To identify high-risk employees, some employers have instituted temperature screening upon entering work, which requires training and protecting the worker who is taking temperatures.

Others have encouraged self-identification and relaxed paid leave policies to urge those with symptoms or those who live with individuals with symptoms to remain at home. Responsible employers have trained managers and supervisors to identify symptoms of possible infection in coworkers and encourage reporting, as well as train employees on responsible behavior, such as handwashing, social distancing, sharing cups, utensils, etc.

Staggering shifts, break and lunch times, adding night or weekend shifts to help with family obligations are other actions employers are taking to keep workers safe. Other steps include installing barriers or creating “zones” to limit employee interaction, cross-training employees, restricting visitors, increasing frequency of sanitizing effort, providing sanitary wipes throughout the facility, and urging employees to follow CDC guidance. Identifying key personnel and creating schedules to isolate them can help keep the facility open.

For construction, the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) has released guidance and offered resources for employees and employers on safety protocols in both English and Spanish.

In retail, it’s important to recognize that even “essential” shopping can endanger low-paid workers who are not trained in pandemic preparedness. Grocery stores are ramping up efforts at disease control, cleaning surfaces and carts more aggressively, providing hand sanitizers, encouraging frequent handwashing, and limiting occupancy and controlling access to checkout lines to ensure social distancing. Some have lifted restrictions on wearing gloves and masks, reduced operating hours, installed sneeze guard barriers at checkout, and increased pay. Even with these efforts, the stores are often busy and understaffed, and employees feel anxious and vulnerable. Educating employees on how to stay safe and letting them know they are valued goes a long way.

The CDC has published an Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) with helpful information on what to do if there is a confirmed or suspected case in the workplace.

Telecommuting

The increase in telecommuting opens up another exposure for employers who are not used to having their workers work from home. Even those telecommuters who already know the drill about ensuring safe workspaces are facing different situations with children at home. Everyone is in an environment that is emotionally stressful. It’s good to periodically remind workers that they shouldn’t be sitting on a soft couch working in an awkward posture all day…that they need to be focused on proper positioning of back, wrist, and feet, and that they shouldn’t be plugging in power cords wherever they can and creating trip hazards. Tips on maintaining safe home workplaces are helpful.

Another issue facing employers is how to handle requests by employees for equipment such as an office chair to be delivered to their home. The need to set up, properly train the employee on how to adjust the chair, consistent treatment of all employees, and what to do with the equipment when the worker returns to the office should be considered.

Further, if faced with telecommuting requests by employees with concerns of potential exposure when an office is still open or when offices reopen, it’s important to assess whether such concern is reasonable before refusing this accommodation.

Existing workers’ compensation claims

Access to non-urgent medical care has been greatly affected during this crisis. Expect delays and longer recovery periods. Staying in touch with the injured employee and offering support is critical. Many workers compensation courts have suspended hearings and in-person meetings, while others are allowing virtual or telephone hearing options.

One positive note is the increased use of telemedicine, which the industry has been slow to adopt. Texas relaxed its rules regarding telemedicine and no longer requires patients to visit a doctor’s office before qualifying for telemedicine services and Ohio relaxed its rules that previously restricted the use of the home for video-based screening.

Privacy

Employers must be vigilant in complying with the various labor and employment laws implicated by the virus and be extremely cautious about sharing any health information related to 2019-nCoV diagnosis. Employers can notify managers, supervisors, and other employees who may have been exposed to an employee who contracted the virus but should not reveal the name of the employee, and discourage gossiping and presumptions.

Remind employees of applicable policies and procedures for reporting concerns and requesting leaves of absence and other accommodations. Train supervisors and managers on how to respond to such requests. Everyone should refrain from offering medical opinions, but can encourage employees to speak with their physician, local health department, and to use telemedicine.

If an employer opts to take temperatures of workers, it is still considered a medical exam and protected by the ADA. Information must be kept private and in a confidential medical file.

Employee relations

This is a time of unprecedented anxiety and worry for everyone. Be patient with employees as they deal with the fear of being “essential” employees exposed to public interaction, learn “social distancing” at a manufacturing or construction site, adjust to working remotely, and worry about their economic future.

The fastest way to alienate employees is not to show respect for their safety. Anything employers can do to calm employees will help keep the operation going and build loyalty.

Set clear, reasonable guidelines and expectations. Allow employees to openly discuss their questions and concerns without fear of reprisal. Provide daily guidance on key topics like self-care and staying safe. Tell the workforce what the company is doing, how you’re doing it, and what is likely to happen next.

Employees want and need to feel valued and look to their executive team for confidence that there is a way forward. It will take their commitment and engagement to see the company through the crisis. The employer’s actions now will leave an indelible mark on the attitude, retention, and loyalty of employees.

Suggested resources:

CDC: Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Bain : A CEO Plan for Coronavirus: Actions to Take Now

Gallup: COVID-19: What Employees Need From Leaders Right Now

National Institutes of Health: COVID-19 website featuring health and safety resources for workers who may be at risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR): guidance and resources

The Scary Times Success Manual

OSHA

Dedicated webpage and guidance document

OSHA issued guidance on preparing workplaces for COVID-19, in both English and Spanish. It divides jobs into four risk exposure levels – very high, high, medium, and lower – and specifies what employers should do to protect workers based on their level of exposure. It also suggests employers review their procedures regarding contractors, visitors, and other third parties who access the workplace.

It also has a webpage providing information on hazard recognition, medical information, control and prevention, and additional resources.

Applicable standards

Although OSHA does not have a standard that covers the coronavirus (an infectious disease rule has languished for ten years), its webpage on COVID-19, notes that the General Duty Clause applies. This is a catchall the agency uses to cite employers where there is no standard that applies to the particular hazard. It requires employers to furnish to each worker “employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” Failure to take steps to protect employees in accordance with OSHA and CDC guidelines can result in enforcement action.

The Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standard, 29 CFR 1910.132, (in general industry), which requires using gloves, eye and face protection, and respiratory protection also comes into play as does Respiratory Protection, 29 CFR 1910.134.

In California, 019-nCoV is covered by Cal/OSHA’s Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) standard, which requires employers to protect workers from diseases and pathogens transmitted by aerosols and droplets and the agency recently issued guidance on the requirements to protect workers.

 

Recording and reporting requirements

Recording

Although OSHA’s recordkeeping rule exempts common colds and flu, it has explicitly stated that COVID-19 is a recordable illness when a worker is infected on the job. According to OSHA’s website COVID-19 can be a recordable illness if a worker is infected as a result of performing their work-related duties. However, employers are only responsible for recording cases of COVID-19 if all of the following are met:

  • The case is a confirmed case of COVID-19
  • The case is work-related, as defined by 29 CFR 1904.5; and
  • The case involves one or more of the general recording criteria set forth in 29 CFR 1904.7 (e.g. medical treatment beyond first-aid, days away from work).

With the exception of health care, it is going to be difficult to connect work-relatedness of individual cases as community spread has set in. It is going to be necessary to determine on a case-by-case basis, whether it is more likely than not that an event or exposure in the workplace caused or contributed to the illness. For example, if an employee diagnosed with coronavirus was in the workplace after exposure, and a cluster of employees he/she was in close contact came down with coronavirus, it may be work-related because if an exposure in the work environment caused or contributed to the illness, there is a presumption the illness is work related.

An employee reporting an illness to the employer and/or asserting it was contracted in the workplace does not make the case recordable. It is the employer’s responsibility to determine work-relatedness and to document the decision. Further, if the exposure occurred while the employee was working outside the U.S. it is not recordable. “Injuries and illnesses which occur while the employee is traveling in places where OSHA does not have jurisdiction do not need to be recorded on the company OSHA log.”

Reporting

The existing criteria for reporting severe injuries apply to COVID-19 cases, including work-relatedness. Employers must report any hospitalization of a worker if the employee is admitted to the in-patient service for treatment within 24 hours. Given the latency/incubation period between exposure/contraction of the virus, and the time symptoms appear or are significant enough to result in an in-patient hospitalization, it’s unlikely many hospitalization reports will be filed.

Employees must report a fatality to OSHA when it is work related, a confirmed diagnosis, and the employee succumbed to the illness within 30 days of the exposure that resulted in the COVID-19 diagnosis.

 

Relief for healthcare respiratory protection annual fit-testing

In an effort to preserve the supply of N95 filtering facepiece respirators during the COVID-19 pandemic, OSHA temporarily suspended its requirement for annual respirator fit testing in the health care industry. The temporary enforcement guidance will remain in place until further notice.

Voluntary use respirators

In many industries, employees are asking to wear respirators/masks. If employers permit “voluntary use” (not required by regulations), the employer still must meet certain obligations set forth by OSHA. Employers are also permitted to decline to allow employees voluntary use respirators including N95 masks, if a respirator is not required because of exposures levels in the workplace.

Telecommuting

Regulation on telecommuting is lax and the due diligence is up to employers. OSHA has repeatedly said that it will not investigate the safety of home offices.

However, there is clear guidance on recording injuries while working from home in regulation 29 C.F.R. § 1904.5(b)(7) : “How do I decide if a case is work-related when the employee is working at home? Injuries and illnesses that occur while an employee is working at home, including work in a home office, will be considered work-related if the injury or illness occurs while the employee is performing work for pay or compensation in the home, and the injury or illness is directly related to the performance of work rather than to the general home environment or setting.”

The regulation gives a few examples.

  • “If an employee drops a box of work documents and injures his or her foot, the case is considered work-related.”
  • “If an employee is injured because he or she trips on the family dog while rushing to answer a work phone call, the case is not considered work-related.”

Meeting regulatory deadlines

While it is anticipated that OSHA will cut some slack on enforcing regulatory deadlines, such as annual LOTO inspections and three-year PS audits, it’s important to document why the deadline was missed and undertake interim or alternative measures where feasible. Simply saying, there was a pandemic is not enough.

Retaliation when employees refuse to work

Co-workers of sick employees who refuse to work may be protected by OSHA’s anti-retaliation provisions. The worker must believe in good faith that there is an imminent danger in the workplace and insufficient time to eliminate the danger through regulatory enforcement. Experts suggest that when employees are being rotated into different positions and asked to do things they normally do not do with minimal training or when a group of employees feels their safety is threatened, the risk of successful retaliation suits is higher.

If the employer is following all recommended CDC guidance, communicating the practices may ease the anxiety. However, if the employee still refuses to work, termination could be a risk, if the fear is reasonable.

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

Things you should know

Proposed rule could mean stiff Medicare secondary payer penalties for insurers

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released a long-awaited proposed rule regarding late reporting of Medicare Secondary Payer data. While the regulation established that insurers and self-insured report the information to CMS when they accepted a medical responsibility in a workers’ compensation claim or provided payment or settlement to a Medicare beneficiary report, it took 13 years to address penalties for failure to accurately report the data.

The proposed rule allows penalties of up to $1,000 per day per claim for failure to register and report Medicare secondary payer data or report with sufficient accuracy. It places a five-year statute of limitations on fines and recovery by CMS.

NLRB releases new definition of “joint employer”

As expected, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) tightened up the definition of “joint employer” in a final rule announced Feb. 25. The final rule takes effect April 27 and establishes an entity is a joint employer of a separate employer’s workers only if the two employers share or codetermine the employees’ essential terms or conditions of employment.

Free online training: Preventing workplace violence in retail, food service

The University of Southern Maine, in conjunction with the Maine Small Business Development Center, has launched three free online training modules intended to help employers (fewer than 250 employees) and workers in the retail and food service industries prevent workplace violence. The three modules are:

  • Employer and manager (two hours)
  • Employee (one hour)
  • Trainer (one hour)

Each module is self-paced, allowing users to log in and resume learning when convenient.

New resources from the Center for Construction Research and Training (CRC)

FMCSA final rule delays compliance date for CMV driver minimum training requirements

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is delaying by two years the compliance date of its final rule on minimum training requirements for entry-level commercial motor vehicle drivers. The new compliance date is Feb. 7, 2022. For more information.

New video for tower workers: safety climb systems

new video from the National Association of Tower Erectors highlights the importance of properly inspecting and using safety climb systems installed on communication towers.

State News

California

  • In a unanimous decision, the state Supreme Court held that the time spent by employees waiting for and undergoing security checks of bags and other personal items is compensable, even when the policy only applies to employees who choose to bring personal items to work. However, the ruling provides a multi-factor test as to whether “onsite employer-controlled activities” must be compensated as “hours worked.”

Illinois

  • The Department of Human Rights (IDHR) issued guidance for employers on the requirements created by the Workplace Transparency Act (WTA), which became effective Jan.1. The guidance provides the “minimum” standards required in connection with aspects of the Act.

New York

  • The New York City Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR) has released a factsheet on the anti-discrimination protections provided to individuals performing services as independent contractors and freelancers under the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) that went into effect January 11, 2020.

Wisconsin

  • The Department of Workforce Development (DWD) announced the rollout of additional educational tools that will help workers, employers, and other stakeholders learn more about and connect with organizations and resources that work to advance workplace safety. These include updated publications, a new blog, and social media videos.

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

Legal Corner

ADA

Recent EEOC settlements

  • Des Plaines, Ill.-based M&M Limousine Service will pay a deaf job applicant $30,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit for refusing to hire the applicant based on his disability and failing to consider whether he could do the job with or without reasonable accommodation.
  • Washington-based Prestige Care, Inc., Prestige Senior Living, LLC, and their affiliates will pay $2 million and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination suit. The company had policies requiring employees to perform 100% of job duties without restriction, accommodation, or engaging in the interactive process and inflexible leave policies.
  • Barnhart, Mo.-based, Home Service Oil Company, doing business as Express Mart, will pay $25,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination suit for failing to hire a job applicant with Tourette’s syndrome and neurofibromatosis for a part-time sales clerk position because of his medical conditions.
  • California-based local grocery outlet PAQ, Inc., doing business as Rancho San Miguel Markets, has agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a disability suit, reinstate the employee and improve its policies related to the ADA. A deli clerk with a disability provided Rancho San Miguel Markets a doctor’s note requesting an accommodation. Her request was denied, and she was subsequently fired.

Workers’ Compensation

30-day grace period to avoid legal fees not extended for holidays and weekends – Florida

In Zenith Ins. Co. v. Cruz, an appellate court ruled that a carrier has 30 calendar days from its receipt of a petition of benefits to rescind a denial of the claim to avoid the imposition of legal fees and that is not extended if the thirtieth day falls on a weekend or holiday. In this case, the claim was initially denied and the 30-day grace period expired on a Saturday. On the Monday, following the 30-day grace period, the employer/carrier rescinded the denial, agreed to pay all benefits, and issued an indemnity benefits check.

The employee was awarded a claim for attorney fees and the carrier appealed. Although rule 60Q-6.109 of the Rules of Procedure for Workers’ Compensation Adjudications provides that if any act required or allowed to be done falls on a holiday or weekend day, performance of the act may be satisfied if done on the next regular working day, the court held that an administrative rule cannot supersede the language of the statute. The statute does not specify business days and precedent has treated other deadlines concerning the filing and receipt of petitions as referring to calendar days.

Positive alcohol test doesn’t nix benefits – Florida

In Krysiak v. City of Kissimmee, a utility technician for the city injured his shoulder. Earlier in the year, he was reprimanded for purchasing beer in a city vehicle, signed a last-chance warning, and completed an employee assistance program. When he returned to full duty, he was still receiving temporary partial disability benefits, missed several days of work without calling in, and a letter was drafted terminating him for job abandonment. However, he returned to work before the letter was sent. When he did report to work, his supervisor was concerned about his ability to work and HR ordered an alcohol and drug test, which came back positive for alcohol. He was terminated for violating the city’s substance abuse policy.

The city has a policy prohibiting workers from being under the influence of alcohol while at work, but the policy does not designate a specific prohibited alcohol level or define the phrase “under the influence.” While a JCC ruled that temporary partial disability benefits were barred since he was terminated for misconduct, an Appeals court disagreed. The city did not present the results of the drug test and simply saying he did not look fit to work was insufficient and remanded the case.

Bus driver who suffered stroke not entitled to comp benefits – Georgia

In Henry County Board of Education v. Rutledge, while warming the air brakes a bus driver noticed smoke or steam coming out of the dashboard and lost consciousness. He had suffered a stroke and filed a workers’ compensation claim. The case bounced between the courts and Board of Workers’ Compensation, revolving around whether exposure to a substance from the bus contributed to or worsened his pre-existing conditions (hypertension and diabetes) and risk for stroke.

The Court of Appeals explained that a stroke is generally not compensable unless the employee can show that his work was a contributing factor. Since the Board had analyzed whether his exposure contributed to or aggravated his injury, it was correct in denying the claim.

Employer cannot be penalized for unreasonably denying medical treatment – Illinois

In O’Neil v. Ill. Workers’ Comp. Comm’n, a divided Appellate Court ruled that the Workers’ Compensation Commission does not have statutory authority to assess penalties against an employer for a failure or delay in authorizing reasonable and necessary medical treatment. A marine technician received approval for surgery for an injury to his right knee, but delayed surgery because he was the only marine technician on staff and it was a busy time. About a week before the scheduled surgery, the employer’s carrier revoked the surgery authorization, indicating that there was a need for an additional investigation because they had found records of an earlier surgery on the knee.

An arbitrator found the earlier surgery was on the lower leg and that there was a causal relationship between the employee’s work and the knee condition. The arbitrator ordered surgery and assessed a penalty of $6,900 as well as the payment of legal fees. However, the Commission determined and the court agreed, it did not have statutory authority to award attorney fees and penalties.

Widow denied benefits because of husband’s preexisting condition – Massachusetts

In Arruda v. Zurich American Insurance Co., an appeals court reversed a district court decision awarding death benefits to the widow of a utility’s sales executive killed in a work-related car crash. He crashed his car on the way to a work-related event, crossing all lanes of traffic.

The autopsy conducted after his accident listed the primary cause of death as heart disease, with spine fracture due to blunt impact as a contributory factor and the police said he experienced a medical episode. His preexisting conditions included hypertension, cardiomyopathy, depression, anxiety, high cholesterol, diverticulosis, insomnia, fatigue, muscle pain and weakness, and fainting spells. Four months before the accident, he had felt weak and fainted and had an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator placed in his chest.

The court found the insurance company presented substantial evidence that his death was caused or contributed to by preexisting medical conditions.

Staffing agency fined $55,000 for misclassifying workers – Massachusetts

Delta-T Group Massachusetts Inc., a national staffing agency that places education sector workers in temporary positions, has been cited $55,000 in penalties for misclassifying employees by the Attorney General. It has agreed to modify its practices to require all school workers who use its services be treated as employees going forward. The state uses a three-prong test, similar to California’s ABC test.

Comp exemption for North Dakota businesses upheld – Minnesota

In John Devos vs. Rhino Contracting, the state Supreme Court issued an order (but not a full opinion) upholding the decision of an appeals court that a law that gives a special workers’ compensation exemption to North Dakota employers is not unconstitutional. North Dakota has a monopolistic comp system and significantly lower benefits than Minnesota.

A 2005 law excludes injured employees of North Dakota companies from collecting Minnesota benefits if they worked in Minnesota for fewer than 240 hours in a calendar year. It was designed to give small businesses, such as mom-and-pop pizza places that delivered into Minnesota, a break so they wouldn’t have to purchase comp insurance in both states.

Workers’ comp coverage not enough to trigger enhanced benefit for mesothelioma – Missouri

In 2014 the state passed a statute that allows a lump-sum payment equal to 300% of the state’s average weekly wage for 212 weeks in occupational mesothelioma claims resulting in permanent disability or death. A dairy farm worker was diagnosed in 2014 with mesothelioma caused by toxic exposure to asbestos that occurred at work and died a year later. He and his adult children filed for a comp claim with enhanced benefits. The farm had closed in 1998.

The case, Vincent Hegger et al. v. Valley Farm Dairy Co., made its way to the state Supreme Court. The court upheld lower decisions that employers have to take affirmative action to elect the enhanced benefits, simply having a workers’ comp policy was not sufficient. The court added that, under the plain language of the statute, employers that do not make the requisite affirmative election for the enhanced benefit have rejected such liability and are thereby exposed to civil suit. Since the farm had closed 16 years before the statute, it could not affirmatively elect to accept liability for the enhanced benefit.

SLU awards must be made for body members, not subparts – New York

In Matter of Johnson v. City of N.Y., a patient care technician sustained work-related injuries to both his knees and in another later accident to his neck, back, shoulder and hip. When it was determined that the scheduled loss of use (SLU) must be reduced by his prior SLU awards of the legs, which encompassed both hip and knees, the employee appealed. Upon appeal, the court noted SLU awards are limited only to those “members” statutorily enumerated in the statute or guidelines. A leg is listed as a statutorily-enumerated member, but not its subparts.

NFL player not a seasonal worker – Pennsylvania

Acknowledging that in earlier decisions, the appellate court had held that injured NFL players are “seasonal” employees for purposes of computing their average weekly wage, the court held that circumstances in Pittsburgh Steelers Sports, Inc. v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal Bd. (Trucks) were different.

Here, the player had a two-year contract, was required to attend all minicamps, practice sessions, to make public appearances and perform other services at the discretion of the employer. This meant he was not a seasonal worker.

Failure to establish a reasonable degree of medical certainty nixes benefits – Tennessee

In Armstrong v. Chattanooga Billiard Club, an employee suffered an electrical shock and alleged injuries to her mouth, face, and right arm. The employer’s physician argued that the dental injuries were not caused by the electrical shock, whereas the employee’s physician said they “could be.” In 2014 the Workers’ Compensation Reform Law strengthened the statutory requirement for compensability. An injury was not compensable unless it arose primarily out of and in the course and scope of employment and causation had to be established to a reasonable degree of medical certainty.

The Appeals Board found the employee’s doctors “could be” opinion insufficient to satisfy the statutory causation standard.

Benefits awarded under occupational disease presumption despite history of heart disease – Virginia

In City of Newport News v. Kahikina, an appeals court affirmed the Workers’ Compensation Commission’s award of benefits to a police officer for heart disease. In 2017 he filed for workers’ compensation benefits, stating his cardiomyopathy was caused by the stress of his job. As early as 2004, he began having heart problems and in 2011, a cardiologist diagnosed him with cardiomyopathy and attributed his irregular heartbeats to his consumption of Red Bull. In 2015, he was hospitalized for chest pain and diagnosed with “unstable angina” as well as hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol. The Commission found that this episode triggered the two-year statute of limitations and that his claim was timely filed.

The city argued the statute of limitations should have begun with his first diagnosis of cardiomyopathy and, therefore, the claim was untimely. The appellate court disagreed, noting the employee did not know that his occupational disease arose out of and in the course of his employment until the 2015 incident.

Worker who was denied benefits and attempted suicide cannot sue – Wisconsin

In Francis G. Graef v. Continental Indemnity Company, a livestock worker was gored by a bull, became depressed, and was prescribed anti-depressants. About three years after the incident, the insurance company denied refilling the prescription. A month later he attempted suicide by shooting himself in the head. Surviving the attempt, he sued the insurance company that argued the exclusive remedy applied. While a circuit court denied summary judgment to the insurer, the appeals court said the issue should stay with the state’s workers’ compensation system. “(T)he exclusive remedy provision allows for an insurer to be held liable for an employee’s new or aggravated injuries, regardless of fault, as long as those new injuries relate back to the original compensable event.”

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

Study: Safety management in the construction industry 2020

SourceDodge Data & Analytics, 2020

Findings: The report examines safety management in construction. Key findings include:

  • Jobsite workers and supervisors dominate the four factors selected by the highest percentage of contractors as essential aspects of a world-class safety program: jobsite worker involvement (84%), strong safety leadership abilities in supervisors (83%), regular safety meetings with jobsite workers and supervisors (82%) and ongoing access to safety training for supervisors and jobsite workers (77%).
  • The most popular safety policies are the site-specific ones, including creating site-specific safety and health plans and training programs for all employees and subcontractors. However, there is room for wider adoption of these measures, especially among small contractors (fewer than 20 employees).
  • While most contractors (66% or more) encourage workers to react to and report hazards onsite, far fewer ask workers for input on safety conditions (50%) or involve workers in safety planning (39%).
  • Toolbox talks remain the most effective way to communicate safety messages and provide information on tools, practices, and materials.
  • Contractors still expect to increase their use of online training in the next few years, but, surprisingly, a lower percentage reported using it than in 2017.

Takeaway: While involving jobsite worksite workers has topped the list of essential aspects of a world-class safety program since 2015, this report shows that strong safety leadership by supervisors and regular safety meetings between jobsite workers and supervisors are also essential. The study reveals more opportunities to engage jobsite workers as well as opportunities to strengthen the training of supervisors.

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

Study: Experiences of healthcare in Australia’s Workers’ Compensation schemes

SourceJournal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, January 2020

Findings: The study aimed to determine how stressful healthcare provider interactions impacted the return to work. The findings were consistent with previous studies – “stressful healthcare provider interactions have a negative association with return to work.” Understanding and respect from providers led to a more trusting relationship and faster return to work, whereas lack of understanding and poor communication were associated with negative outcomes.

Takeaway: Don’t underestimate the value of creating and maintaining strong injured worker/doctor relationships that are based on trust, compassion, and understanding. “…Experiencing stressful interactions with providers was significantly associated with 33 percent lower odds of return to work.”

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

Study: Top 20 most physically demanding jobs

SourceInsurance Providers

Findings: To identify the most physically demanding jobs, researchers analyzed data from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) and created an index to measure the overall level of physical demands for different jobs based on strength, stamina, coordination, and flexibility requirements. Not surprisingly, 15 of the top 20 jobs were in careers such as roofers, construction, and firefighters. But the #1 spot for the most physically demanding job may surprise you. Among all occupations on this list, dancers require the greatest amount of stamina, flexibility, and coordination.

Takeaway: Don’t get swayed by stereotypes. Not all physically demanding jobs involve manual labor.

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

Study: Demand conditions and worker safety: evidence from price shocks in mining

SourceYale Insights

Findings: The study examines the relationship between demand and safety. While it’s often speculated that higher demand could lead to improved profits and more investment in safety, the authors found that it incentivized firms to focus on production over safety. “In economic terms, the opportunity cost of focusing on safety – that is, the potential profits lost – goes up when demand is higher. And that creates a second force counteracting the greater ability to invest in safety.”

The research is based on the mineral mining industry in the US, where accident reporting is carefully monitored and the global price reflects demand. Researchers found that a 1% increase in price led to an increase of .15% in serious injuries and mortality – evidence supporting the opportunity cost hypothesis. Records from the mine inspections provided even starker evidence that high demand leads mines to prioritize production over safety. A 1% increase in price led to a .13% increase in violations of health and safety regulations; many deemed from a negligent or willful act by the employer.

Takeaway: For years, safety and production were viewed as competitors suggesting workers and managers had to choose whether to work safely or get the job done quickly at any cost. Smart employers ingrain safety into production by treating it as an integral part of the systems and processes and this relationship is not compromised when production pressures intensify. If there’s a race to beat the clock, there are no winners – injuries and losses inevitably occur.

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

Workplace Wellness Programs the Key to Cutting Insurance Costs

According to numerous studies, healthier employees lead to lower premiums. And if employers can make their employees healthier without cutting benefits or shifting more premium costs to their employees, is there a downside? After all, Fortune 1000 companies have been using wellness to combat rising health care costs for years.

According to a Duke University study, the cost of obesity among full-time employees is estimated to be $73.1 billion. As a result of health problems linked to obesity, lost job productivity could be more costly than medical expenditures. The report recommended that employers promote healthy foods in the workplace, encourage a culture of wellness
from the CEO on down, and provide economic and other incentives to employees who show signs of improvement. While workplace wellness programs began as a niche industry, they have morphed into comprehensive programs for worksites of all sizes.

They’re touted as an effective business strategy to improve the health and productivity of
workers, reduce health care costs, attract new employees, and retain existing ones.

Sadly, these programs have no value if they’re not used. A study by the National Institute
for Occupational Safety and Health, “Availability of and Participation in Workplace
Health Promotion Programs (WHPPs) by Sociodemographic, Occupation, and Work
Organization Characteristics in U.S. Workers,” found that approximately 47 percent of workers have access to WHPPs and only 58 percent of those with access actually participate.

So, who’s using WHPPs and who’s not?

That depends on several factors, including the type of job and whether the employee is full time or part time.

Occupations such as farming, fishing, forestry, food preparation and serving, construction, and extraction had the lowest availability of WHPPs and workers in these occupations were also the least likely to participate in the programs. Employees who worked less than 20 hours a week, worked regular night shifts, were paid by the hour,
or worked for temporary agencies were also less likely to participate.

Researchers also identified barriers that kept workers from participating, including time
constraints, lack of awareness, low supervisory support, and perceived need, but noted such barriers vary by industry.

The report concluded that employers should gauge workers’ priorities before designing and implementing WHPPs and to customize programs to their employees’ specific needs in order to maximize participation.

Another factor that may be helpful in gauging participation is to identify which wellness perks were most important to workers and how those perks impacted productivity.

Polling among employees was surprising. It wasn’t fitness facilities nor technology-based
health tools that topped the list of why workers had job satisfaction, but air quality and natural light.

Air quality and light were the biggest influencers of employee performance, happiness, and well-being. Also high on the must-have list was water quality, followed by comfortable temperatures, then acoustics and noise levels.

Not surprisingly, employees want to be able to customize their work environment, such as the temperature and natural light.

One company has taken those needs to heart by managing the acoustic levels in their employee’s space by creating a floor plan without assigned seating. Neighborhoods of workspaces were designed specifically for employees collaborating in person, remotely, or those who choose to work alone. Similar arrangements can be made for temperature and light.

Here are seven steps employers can take to improve their results:

  • Make WHPPs employee-centric – Survey employees about their workplace wellness priorities and tailor or modify the program to those needs.
  • Integrate WHPPs with workplace safety programs – For positive results, common safety issues such as work schedules, workplace culture, ergonomics, substance exposures, noise levels, fatigue, and so on should be incorporated with the wellness
    program.
  • Recognize that workplace wellness is more than physical health – Studies have shown that most worksite health programs focus on physical activity, nutrition, and stress management. Environmental factors such as air, light, temperature, and acoustics are usually overlooked.
  •  Personalize as much as possible – Employees love to personalize their workspace, whether it’s framed photos of their kids or Star Wars memorabilia. Along those same lines, employees expect the company to take their well-being into account in
    all aspects of work.
  • Recognize that workplace wellness is more than physical health – Studies have shown that most worksite health programs focus on physical activity, nutrition, and stress management. Environmental factors such as air, light, temperature, and acoustics are usually overlooked.
  • Recognize the challenge of changing human behavior – Personal behaviors and habits, including health and safety, are very difficult to change. It takes take time and effort.
  • Give employees a sense of ownership – Much like a culture of safety, employees must buy into a culture of wellness. Consider a wellness committee from a cross-section of departments and employees to provide input and drive participation.
  • Monitor employee satisfaction – Attempt to measure the return on investment of WHPPs, including health care costs, absenteeism, disability claims, and workers’ compensation claims. It’s important to incorporate “soft” measures, too, such as satisfaction and morale.

In addition to holding down insurance premiums, wellness programs can positively affect workers’ compensation costs, although measuring the impact takes longer because of the method of calculating the experience rating.

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