1 month left for 9/11 responders to apply for workers’ comp

Today’s post was shared by Gelman on Workplace Injuries and comes from nypost.com

First responders and volunteers who helped with 9/11 recovery efforts have only a month left to register for future workers’ compensation benefits in case they fall ill.

More than 20,000 people could be eligible, but they must register before Sept. 12.

The registration effort is part of the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board’s “Tell Us You Were There” campaign, designed to protect those who helped after the World Trade Center attacks.

“Most people are eligible. You should file a WTC-12 form whether you were injured or not and whether you were employed or volunteered,” the board said. “This preserves your right to future benefits, should you ever need them.”

Previous legislation guaranteeing the workers’ comp expired Sept. 13, 2010. But last year, Gov. Cuomo signed legislation that extended the deadline and expanded the list of covered illnesses.

Now WTC workers or volunteers can get benefits if they develop psychological ailments or illnesses of the upper or lower respiratory or gastroesophageal tracts.

The WTC-12 registration form is available at www.wcb.ny.gov/WTC12. Anyone with questions can call (855) WTC-2014.

In addition to Ground Zero, qualified applicants can have worked at the Fresh Kills Landfill, on barges or piers or at morgue sites — as long as it was before Sept. 12, 2002.

So far, 40,737 people have filled out the form, said Joe Cavalcante, a compensation-board spokesman.

There have been 5,165…

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Don’t Demean FMLA Leave

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

Workers do not have many rights.  It’s an unfortunate mantra I recite to many of my injured worker clients.  Of course, union protections exist in certain settings.  Protections against discrimination and harassment exist if unlawful conduct occurs.  However, in most circumstances, Wisconsin employees are “at will” employment–meaning they can be fired for any reason or no reason at all.

An “at-will” employee who is forced to miss work for their own serious health condition (or for a child’s health condition) can face a difficult situation.  Missing work can put their employment status in jeopardy.   In these situations, the protections provided by the federal and state Family and Medical Act are crucial.  While FMLA leave only applies to certain employment settings (generally those with over 50 employees), the FMLA can provide job protection for a certain amount of unpaid weeks while an individual is out of work.

Given this invaluble security, a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel caused me concern (“Agency scrutinizes family medical leave in Milwaukee County“).  The article raised questions about the amount of Milwaukee County workers using FMLA leave.  The article certainly paints this type of leave in a negative light, even suggesting the potential “abuse” of this FMLA leave by employees.

 FMLA leave is unpaid leave.  Unless an employee has other available/accrued leave benefits, when they are off on FMLA leave, the employer is not paying wages.  The employee is off work, not getting paid.  Thus, FMLA provides some job protection for the employee, but the employee is not getting rich being off work.  I find it questionable that many employees are abusing a benefit that does not pay them anything.  Demeaning the FMLA is concerning.

 

 

 

 

Inmate to receive $30,000 for being placed in solitary confinement

Today’s post was shared by The Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group and comes from www.post-gazette.com

A lawsuit settlement made public Tuesday brings to $386,000 the total paid by the state in relation to lawsuits stemming from the hazing of sex-crime inmates on the State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh’s F Block.

Robert Veith, 52, of the Hill District, is due $30,000 in settlement of his lawsuit claiming that he endured eight months of solitary confinement after he spoke out against tampering with another inmate’s food, according to his attorney, Steve Barth. Documents filed in U.S. District Court indicate that the case is voluntarily dismissed.

Veith, a repeat burglar, thief and robber, “spoke up against someone tampering with someone’s food who may or may not have been a pedophile,” Mr. Barth said. “He just said, ‘Hey, man, leave him alone.’ ”

That evening, according to Veith’s lawsuit, corrections officers Harry F. Nicoletti and Kevin Friess searched his cell and “assaulted him and he was slammed to the ground.” According to the lawsuit, Veith was then assigned to restrictive housing, in which the inmate leaves the cell for just an hour a day.

Five months into that punishment, then-Superintendent Melvin Lockett exonerated Veith of wrongdoing, according to the lawsuit. But Mr. Lockett was fired before Veith could be returned to the general population, and as a result the inmate lingered in solitary for three extra months, according to the lawsuit.

On F Block in late 2010, several corrections officers…

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Florida Employers May Lose Their Limited Liability/Exclusive Remedy Defense

“Decimated.” That is the word the Honorable Circuit Court Judge Jorge Cueto used to describe what’s left of Florida’s Workers’ Compensation Act after a series of reforms, notably in 2003, which attacked injured workers’ rights and benefits. After 2003 Florida became one of the most restrictive workers’ compensation jurisdictions in the nation. As it currently exists, Florida’s Workers’ Compensation Act does not provide any benefits for permanent partial disability and medical benefits are very limited.

There is a delicate compromise between employees and employers. Employees give up potential negligence claims against their employer (including damages for pain and suffering) in exchange for access to medical care and disability benefits. Employers thereby avoid lawsuits and are protected from claims by their employees under what’s called the “exclusive remedy” defense. This is the essential trade-off of any workers’ compensation act.

So what happens when you take away almost all of the employee’s rights through legislative reforms every year? Well, according to Judge Cueto, employers lose their immunity for civil lawsuits by employees. As a result, employers may now be vulnerable to lawsuits from their employees for work-related accidents where the employer was negligent, and seek damages, including pain and suffering, from their employer.

It will be interesting to watch developments in Florida as they unfold. However, it should also serve as a reminder about consequences of stripping away injured workers’ benefits under delicately balanced workers’ compensation acts in the future. 

Truckers Fired Over Workers’ Comp Claim: What to Do Next

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

Truck drivers have a remedy if fired for making a workers’ compensation claim.

A recent award of over $100,000 to a truck driver who was fired for making a workers’ compensation claim illustrated the protection drivers have under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA). New Prime of Springfield, Mo., had to pay the former employee lost wages, compensatory and punitive damages. “The company must also expunge the complainant’s employment and DAC Report records of any reference to his unlawful termination,” according to the article above. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is often criticized for a variety of reasons, enforced anti-retaliation laws that protect truck drivers who are unfairly punished for taking steps to protect their health and financial welfare. These laws can also be enforced through lawsuits as an alternative to the OSHA administrative process. 

Truck drivers need to be aware of this protection. Truck drivers also need to know that OSHA and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) have just announced an agreement to strengthen protections for transportation workers from coercion and retaliation.   

The industry publication FleetOwner gives more details about how OSHA and the FMCSA interact with the STAA in this article.   

Here is one helpful quote from the FleetOwner article:

“If OSHA finds that a complaint is valid, it can order the employer to reinstate the worker; pay back pay, interest and compensatory damages; pay punitive damages up to $250,000 where warranted; and/or take other remedial actions.”

In addition, “action by one agency didn’t preclude action by another in the same situation” when it comes to the STAA.

“OSHA’s mandate is protecting workers, while FMCSA’s mandate is safety, (an FMCSA document) said. And FMCSA can take action against a carrier or other entity but, unlike OSHA, it can’t compensate a driver. So a driver filing a complaint with FMCSA about coercion might be able to file a whistleblower protection complaint with OSHA and vice versa, FMCSA said.”

The recent award and very recent press release from OSHA are great news for truckers and their families. The laws that protect you work. There is an apparently serious effort to make them work better. It will now be easier to protect your health and welfare if you are injured on the job.

After the International Nutrition Building Collapse: OSHA Releases Report

The International Nutrition building.

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

I was going to write about a summary from the official OSHA news release and provide a compilation of web resources regarding the Jan. 20 International Nutrition building collapse in Omaha. This is relevant now because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) quite recently found the cause of the collapse after an investigation and levied proposed fines for the tragedy that killed two, injured nine, and doubtlessly affected all the other workers at the plant and all those folks’ loved ones in the greater community.

“OSHA has proposed penalties of $120,560 and placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program after its investigation into the collapse,” according to the official news release from OSHA.

The building’s collapse was because of “overloading nine storage bins on the building’s roof level,” the news release said, and the company was also placed on OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

Here is one link that was more of what I was expecting from the OSHA news release:

Business Insurance website: OSHA cites Omaha feed company for fatal plant collapse 

However, the business did respond via statement to at least three local media channels, and links to those stories are below. The level of denial by the business was frustrating, and I think the Omaha World-Herald newspaper nailed the tone of the story with its headline: “International Nutrition disputes OSHA’s conclusions that overloaded rooftop bins caused collapse.”

So not only does “the company strongly disagree with OSHA’s report,” it is “saying the citations are only allegations and that company officials didn’t know of any condition that contributed to the collapse,” said the reporter for KETVOmaha7 (this quote is attributed to International Nutrition’s attorney, Pat Barrett in the World-Herald article).

The business’ statement also included this quote from the WOWT.com story: “We look forward to presenting the facts demonstrating our commitment to employee safety – both before and after the accident. … At the same time, we welcome the opportunity to work with OSHA to continue to improve employee safety.”

I thought this was telling about the company’s “commitment to employee safety” from the WOWT.com article:

“In total, OSHA has visited the facility 13 times dating back to 1974. Eight of those visits led to violations; however, it had not landed on the Severe VEP program until now. OSHA officials told WOWT 6 News that usually occurs when companies rack up violations of $100,000 or more.”

To get more in-depth information, here are links to both the company’s statement at http://www.omaha.com/international-nutrition-s-july-statement/article_0997a878-10fc-11e4-8481-0017a43b2370.html and OSHA’s Citation and Notification of Penalty report at https://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/International_Nutrition_955579_Jul18_2014.pdf  

Finally, here’s a link to the actual news release again from OSHA: January structural collapse leading to 2 worker fatalities, 9 injuries at International Nutrition in Omaha caused by overloaded storage bins; OSHA cites company for 13 safety and health violations

“The company manufactures a feed supplement using multiple dry ingredients, rice hulls, solulac and limestone – the ingredients that were stored in the nine bins on the roof of the structure,” according to the KETVOmaha7 report.

The reality when it comes to workers’ compensation and lawsuits is nuanced, but the incident is stark in its details, and this information is from multiple news sources.

In 30 seconds, “close to 1 million pounds of steel, concrete, equipment and ingredients crashing through the plant” occurred, according to the World-Herald.

That 30 seconds and its aftermath is an experience that will take months and years for many to recover from. It is an experience that no worker or their loved ones should have to endure.

“Coming and Going” Rule Revisited

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

The Kansas Supreme Court has just reversed a State Appeals Court finding that an oil field worker was not entitled to worker’s compensation benefits after he was injured while riding home from his workplace.  The case is David C. Williams v. Petromark Drilling, LLC and Ace Fire Underwriters Ins. Co.  The Court reasoned that the nature of field work where an employee has no permanent place of employment but must travel from place to place to perform his duties was an exception to the “Coming and Going” rule.  That rule in most State Statutes indicates an employee is not entitled to worker’s compensation while coming to work or going home from work.

In Wisconsin case law and statutory provisions have extended coverage to the employer’s designated parking lot, travel between the parking lot and employer’s premises, injury off premises from a “spilled over danger” and commuting to work in an employer-provided vehicle used from time to time for job duties.  Wisconsin courts have etched away at the “Coming and Going” exclusion.  While a typical commute is not covered until the worker reaches the company parking lot, if the employer pays wages for the travel time or commute (“on the clock”), an injury during the trip is compensable.  The worker is also covered during the entirety of a special errand or overtime trip required by or for the benefit of the employer.  Also, where the use of a company truck was a “substantial part of the employment contract” a worker killed while commuting to work was found to be in the course of employment. An argument can be made that an employee commuting to work should be covered if required by job duties to have access to the car while at work, even if not compensated for the expense of commuting.

Wisconsin’s Commission and Courts have also wrestled with the distinction between a “traveling employee” who receives statutorily broad coverage, and a regular commuter whose trip to work is barred by the “Coming and Going” rule.

Ebola Guidance for Airlines

Today’s post was shared by Gelman on Workplace Injuries and comes from www.cdc.gov

Interim Guidance about Ebola Virus Infection for Airline Flight Crews, Cleaning Personnel, and Cargo Personnel

Overview of Ebola Virus Disease

Ebola virus disease (also known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever) is a severe, often-fatal disease caused by infection with a species of Ebola virus. Although the disease is rare, it can spread from person to person, especially among health care staff and other people who have close contact* with an infected person. Ebola is spread through direct contact with blood or body fluids (such as saliva or urine) of an infected person or animal or through contact with objects that have been contaminated with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person.

The likelihood of contracting Ebola is extremely low unless a person has direct contact with the body fluids of a person or animal that is infected and showing symptoms. A fever in a person who has traveled to or lived in an area where Ebola is present is likely to be caused by a more common infectious disease, but the person would need to be evaluated by a health care provider to be sure.

The incubation period, from exposure to when signs or symptoms appear, for Ebola ranges from 2 to 21 days (most commonly 8-10 days). Early symptoms include sudden fever, chills, and muscle aches. Around the fifth day, a skin rash can occur. Nausea, vomiting, chest pain, sore throat, abdominal pain, and diarrhea may follow. Symptoms become increasingly severe and may include jaundice (yellow skin), severe…

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