Category Archives: Workers’ Compensation

Examining Workers’ Compensation’s ‘Grand Bargain’ and the Upcoming Election

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Here’s why people should support candidates who will protect workers’ rights. Understand that the ongoing workers’ compensation issues faced by state legislatures are not going away, so state legislatures are the front lines when it comes to making sure workers’ compensation systems are not diluted even more for injured workers and their loved ones.

Here’s some background. Over 100 years ago, workers’ compensation law was developed across the United States. Nebraska was actually one of the pioneering states, back when we were more progressive.  Workers’ compensation was viewed as the “Grand Bargain,” with several presumptions on how the system should work. A January 2014 LexisNexis Legal News Room Workers Compensation Law blog post addresses these presumptions. The blog itself is a respected neutral source on workers’ compensation issues.

While employers and insurance companies are chipping away at the protection workers’ compensation systems offer to injured workers and their loved ones through stalling tactics such as disputing if an injury happened at work or just straight out refusing coverage, those same interests are bending the ears of each state’s politicians to further erode the “Grand Bargain.”

Year in and year out, business and insurance groups cause a large number of bills to be filed that take away benefits from workers or make it more difficult for workers to obtain benefits or take control of their treatment for work injuries.

A recent study’s results, written in the same blog by the same author, reinforces what many injured workers, their loved ones, and their attorneys already know: essentially that workers in New Mexico (and I would argue that this is easily applicable to injured workers in many states) are no longer benefitting from the “Grand Bargain.”

The Grand Bargain Is Out of Equilibrium

“An important part of the ‘grand bargain’ between employers and employees within the workers’ compensation arena is the idea that just as the wear and tear on an employer’s machinery ought to be reflected in the price of the employer’s goods or services, so also should the wear and tear on the employer’s work force. A product’s price should reflect the total cost of production, including the costs associated with work-related injuries and illnesses. The Seabury study adds weight to the argument that the grand bargain is out of equilibrium, that workers’ compensation benefits do not adequately replace what a worker loses through his or her injury, that the physical and economic costs associated with work-related injuries and illnesses are not being fully addressed, and that the injured worker is at least partially subsidizing the overall cost of America’s goods and services with his or her lost income.”

The bottom line from this respected author is that workers’ compensation benefits should not be reduced, made more difficult to obtain, etc., when workers who get injured already make less money over a 10-year period of time than workers who aren’t injured.

So let’s elect legislators who will both restore and support the “Grand Bargain” for injured workers and their loved ones.

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Ebola Outbreak: Are You Prepared And Protected?

I have been carefully following the Ebola outbreak, both the cases in the United States and those around the world. I am saddened to see anyone suffer from this horrible virus, but the preventable infections, including the infection of multiple health care workers in Dallas, are particularly alarming. Health care workers are on the front lines of our fight against this deadly disease and their bravery should be recognized. They are an infected patient’s first point of contact with a hospital and are in close contact with infected patients during their struggle, often having to work with blood and bodily fluids, the primary methods of transmittal. 

The lack of preparation on the part of some of our healthcare institutions has been extensively covered in the news. According to reports from Dallas, the hospital where the first patient was admitted had a complete absence of protocols for caring for patients with Ebola. This lack of preparation has put thousands of people at risk of infection and at least potentially contributed to in the spread of the outbreak in the United States from one patient to at least three. But the failure lies not only with local hospitals, it is also due to a slow and uncoordinated effort by our Federal government.

Even if existing protocols had been followed in Dallas, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, admits that the Federal guidelines are inadequate. The Centers for Disease Control is revising its protocol for the treatment of Ebola patients, but the recommended steps will take time to fully implement. The CDC’s current protocol was originally developed by the World Health Organization for the treatment of infected patients in facilities in rural Africa, not in busy American hospitals.

Even before the comprehensive protocols are developed and implemented, our health care workers should to be trained on the basics and given the proper equipment for their own protection. For example, nurses must be trained in and practice the complicated and tedious getting in and out of hazmat suits. Training must happen quickly, as the situation could become dire – as of today we only have 4 hospitals in the United States that are fully equipped with a pre-trained staff. Those hospitals can treat a total of 9 Ebola patients. We are just not equipped for a large domestic Ebola outbreak.

Further, as this CNN video below explains, health care workers are not the only ones at risk. Because Ebola can survive on surfaces like doorknobs, tables and fabrics long after an infected person has touched them, many locations may need to be disinfected in the coming weeks as the true extent of the outbreak becomes known. Just last week a group of airline cabin cleaners at LaGuardia Airport went on strike because of the possible health risks of cleaning surfaces touched by Ebola-infected passengers. Like health care workers, the workers who are in charge of the disinfection process should follow the Federal guidelines once they are released.

 

In addition to the possibility of Ebola infection, working in extraordinarily difficult conditions is highly stressful and the complicated new procedures could lead to injury. We urge all workers to be extremely cautious when training on and implementing new procedures.

If you are a Health Care worker involved in an accident or occupational injury, please consult us regarding your financial and medical rights. Workers are entitled to know about their rights under the law, whether it is from a traumatic injury or from occupational conditions due to repetitive activity at work over time. There are deadlines to filing a claim so please contact Pasternack, Tilker, Ziegler, Walsh, Stanton & Romano, LLP as soon as you can.  

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Best Ways To Protect Yourself From Common Workplace Injuries

Last week marked the 25th anniversary of Workers’ Memorial Day – a day set aside to remember those who were injured or died on the job. President Barack Obama issued a proclamation in which he noted “we must never accept that injury, illness, or death is the cost of doing business.”  While we have come a long way from the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in which 146 workers were killed while trapped inside a garment factory due to locked doors and a collapsed fire escape, it is clear that we haven’t come far enough.

Recently, the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) issued a report on Workplace Safety in the Construction Industry. The report was frightening. Just last year alone, 23 construction workers were killed while performing their jobs. According to the NYCOSH report, many of these construction deaths could have been prevented had proper safety precautions been taken. The report noted that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), established by the U.S. Congress to enforce safety practices, is understaffed, thereby leaving many worksites uninspected. Also, penalties for infractions are far too low to deter some employers from not implementing proper safety precautions. 

Many of us in the workforce thankfully are not engaged in hazardous employment, but there are dangers often not anticipated. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, overexertion due to lifting or bending the body was the leading cause of workplace injury in New York. These types of injuries are seen in health care, food services, educational services, retail, professional and business services. In short, most work-related injuries are not confined to the construction industry but rather are occurring in every industry.  

What should you do to protect yourself from many of the common injuries? First and foremost, know exactly what your job duties entail. Find out how to properly perform your job before you engage in your work.

  • Make sure your workspace is maintained in a neat and orderly way so that you don’t trip on wires or boxes, or slip on papers, or food or oil in the food service industry.
  • If your office has a break room or kitchen, make sure spills are cleaned up immediately.
  • Office supplies should be stored properly so they don’t fall on you or your coworkers.
  • Know the proper way to lift heavy items to protect your back
  • Make sure your computer workstation allows you to maintain adequate posture so you don’t put undue strain on your arms, hands and back
  • Have an ergonomic keyboard that can help reduce injuries to your wrists
  • If you are not trained as a technician, do not try to fix equipment; bring in a repairman
  • Make sure you are instructed on what to do in case of a fire; know where the exits are and make sure your company engages in fire drills

If all else fails and an accident does occur, know the proper procedure for reporting an injury.   Workplace safety is crucial. It will save employers money as injuries result in loss of manpower and higher insurance rates, but most importantly, workplace safety will save lives.

 

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717. 

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Can Social Media Participation Impact Your Benefits?

Many of us are enamored with social media. It is a wonderful way to communicate with those across the country, around the world or right around your block. It is a way to keep with touch with friends, acquaintances and even professional colleagues. However, in our world of ever increasing technology, there are ever increasing risks. We have seen time and time again on the nightly news reports stories of cyber crime, internet scams, child predators and the embarrassing things people post on the world-wide web. We often try to impart this knowledge to our children as their youthful indiscretions can come aback to haunt them as they start applying for jobs as employers regularly now google potential candidates. Websites such as MySpace, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, while entertaining and useful, can also put injured workers at risk. It is easy to forget that a photo posted on social media can come up on many internet searches. It is easy to forget that the internet is not part of the private sphere but is the public square. It is also easy to forget that anyone can create a profile and seek to join anyone else’s network of “friends” on one of these sites.  That includes investigators who work for insurance companies and defendants attorneys.

By applying for benefits, you are stating that you are injured and are unable to work or only able to perform part-time or intermittent work. Information available on the internet that appears to contradict your application for benefits can result in your being denied benefits or even result in a fraud charge being leveled against you. This could be information about your professional or personal accomplishments, a home-based business, or even volunteer activities, which may be no longer current or may not accurately reflect your level of functioning since your injury. Those pictures of you on vacation in Jamaica doing the limbo might be entertaining but they could also put you at great risk if you are indicating a disability. These types of stories appear regularly in the news media. Furthermore, and even more importantly, recent court decisions around the nation and even in New York have ruled that plaintiffs may have to permit defendants access to their social networking sites and even their hard drives for analysis.

Therefore it is imperative that if you are applying for benefits based upon a disability be it workers’ compensation, social security disability or even for negligence to be cautious when posting anything about yourself on the internet.  This includes photographs, statements, travel plans, and commentary about your own social activities.  Furthermore, we cannot stress enough to take care when accepting new persons into your internet social networks.  Make sure you actually know who you are opening up yourself to, for they may not be the person you think they are, and could be in the employ of an insurance carrier.

Finally, it is extremely important that all persons using social networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace make sure that the privacy settings for their profiles are set to the maximum. On Facebook this should prevent a person’s profile from being found even if their name is searched. The bottom line is if you are disabled, you should never engage in any activity contrary to your injury as one funny moment in time on social media can impact you for your entire life. 

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Summer Means Safety Reminders for Teen Workers

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

L&I urges workplace safety for teens as summer hiring season nears

Teens are gearing up to search for summer jobs and the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) is urging employers, parents and others to support safety during “Safe Jobs for Youth Month” in May.

A total of 477 youth ages 12-17 were injured in the workplace in 2013, making this year’s observance more important than ever, said Mary E. Miller, occupational nurse consultant with L&I and a youth employment expert. Of the total, 156 were in the food and hospitality industries. The next largest total, 66, occurred in the retail trades. There were no fatalities.

“Teens are eager to work and may not question a workplace situation that doesn’t seem right,” Miller said. “We’re trying to ensure youth perform safe and appropriate work and employers, parents and teachers can all help.”

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a proclamation making May “Safe Jobs for Youth Month” across the state. More information is available at www.TeenWorkers.Lni.wa.gov. The agency also offers presentations from injured young workers for students. Miller can provide a separate talk for employers and teachers.

In recent years, the number of injuries has increased despite an overall decrease the past decade. Injuries in 2003 totaled 1,135. In 2011, injuries reached a low of 425 before increasing the next two years. Injuries range from lacerations, strains and sprains to more serious fractures and concussions, Miller said.

“Employers are eager to give young workers a start in the world of work” Miller noted. “The result is we need to continue to help employers provide teens with tasks appropriate to their age.”

In general, 14- and 15-year-olds may perform lighter tasks, such as office work, cashiering and stocking shelves. Work assignments for 16- and 17-year-olds can be less restrictive and can include cooking, landscaping, and some use of powered equipment and machinery. The limits on the hours of work for all minors vary by age.

Generally, if safety equipment other than a hard hat, eye protection or gloves is required, then it’s not an appropriate job for minors. All minors are prohibited from working with powered equipment such as meat slicers and forklifts, Miller noted.

In agriculture jobs, restricted job duties differ for youth. The agency has specific information on its website at its Agricultural Jobs for Teens page.

 

Photo credit: The Library of Congress / Foter / No known copyright restrictions

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Occupational Disease: New Cancer Study and Firefighters

Today’s post comes from guest author Thomas Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

Worker’s compensation has provided benefits or coverage for occupational diseases for generations.  In Wisconsin an occupational disease is one acquired as a result of working in an industry over an extended period of time. An occupational disease cannot result from a single incident, but rather it is the result of a disease process. Wisconsin has not excluded any occupational diseases from its worker’s compensation benefit provisions. One of those disease processes is cancer. 

Studies are done regularly to determine the cause of disease as medical science advances. A recent study concludes that smoke and chemical exposure by firefighters may cause higher rates of cancer among firefighters. Firefighters, while usually healthier than the general population, have a higher incidence of cancer. A presumption of employment connected cancer exists for firefighters in Wisconsin. The statute applies to any State, County, or municipal firefighter who has worked for ten years with at least two-thirds of the working hours as a firefighter who has cancer of the skin, breast, central nervous system, or lymphatic, digestive, hematological, urinary, skeletal, oral, or reproductive symptoms. For that firefighter whose disability or death is caused by cancer, the finding is presumptive evidence that the cancer was caused by employment. Note, however, no presumption exists for firefighters who smoke cigarettes or use tobacco products for claims after January 1, 2001. Benefits for firefighters include Temporary Total Disability, Permanent Partial Disability, and if the disease (either heart or lung) precludes a return to work, duty disability payable at 75% of the firefighter’s salary, may also apply. 

As medicine and science evolve, there may be more recognized “occupational” diseases and more workers and their families compensated for harm caused by the workplace.

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“No Trauma” Does Not Mean No Injury

Today’s post comes from guest author Thomas Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

I’ve been investigating Wisconsin and national fraud statistics in worker’s compensation to prepare for a national presentation I am making in Cape Cod in July. One fascinating and recurring basis for denial of worker’s comp claims (and potential claims against employees for fraud) stems from an insurance carrier’s review of the initial medical report.

Often the physician or emergency room nurse, physicians assistant or First Responder will ask an injured worker “Did you have any trauma?” If the answer to the question is “no”, the medical records will routinely indicate “no trauma”. This information is translated by the insurance carrier as a denial that an injury occurred. The level of medical sophistication for an injured worker is routinely limited. Most of my clients (and based on inquiries with other workers’ attorneys, their clients as well) believe a trauma is something akin to getting hit by a bus. They do not equate the notion of trauma with lifting a heavy object such as a table or a box. The criteria for traumatic injuries in most states, including Wisconsin, is that a single incident or episode caused the injury or aggravated a pre-existing condition beyond a normal progression. In many cases a lack of “traumatic injury” at the initial medical presentation is not an accurate indication of whether a traumatic injury actually occurred.

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Medical Care Politics in Worker’s Compensation

Today’s post comes from guest author Thomas Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

The mythology surrounding employee fraud in worker’s compensation is pervasive. Many of my clients begin their conversations with me indicating the following: “I’m not one of those folks faking their worker’s compensation claim.”  The exaggerated media publicity concerning employee fraud has also resulted in outright worker intimidation regarding filing a claim. I had this conversation today with a prospective client.

Attorney: Why didn’t you report the incident?
Client: I didn’t want to have that on my record.  Nobody will hire me if I have a worker’s comp injury.
Attorney: Why didn’t you seek medical treatment?
Client: I do not have insurance.
Attorney: Can you obtain insurance under the Affordable Care Act?
Client: You mean Obamacare?  No way!

Fear of being stigmatized as a complainer, whiner, or simply a recipient of worker’s compensation benefits has prompted many legitimately injured workers from filing a worker’s compensation claim.

The adverse publicity concerning the Affordable Care Act (and its pejorative popular name “Obamacare”) results in many otherwise qualified workers from obtaining the health care they need, especially when denied by a worker’s compensation insurance carrier. 

The politics of medical care intrudes in the worker’s compensation arena daily.

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