Category Archives: Government

Stop Work Orders In Massachusetts Created $1.4 Million In Fines And Obtained Coverage For Over 5,000 Workers

The Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council has released its Fiscal Year 2014 Annual Report (PDF link). This report contains some eyebrow-raising statistics. Between 2008 and 2014, Massachusetts was able to help over 50,000 workers receive coverage due to Stop Work Orders (SWOs). In 2014 alone the Agency was able to obtain insurance for over 5,000 workers who previously had no workers’ compensation coverage.

Stop Work Orders are issued to employers who are operating without workers’ compensation insurance. An investigator is sent to the worksite and if an order is issued, the employer must cease business operations immediately. Fines will then be given starting at $100 per day until penalties are paid and the company secures insurance.

In Fiscal Year 2014, there were 5,785 Field Investigations resulting in 2,150 SWOs issued and $1,430,599 in fines collected. While SWOs are in effect, employees are still paid for the first ten days out-of-work due to the order and the days missed are considered “days worked.” In addition to the fines that the employer receives, they will be added to a debarment list preventing them from bidding or participating in any state or municipal contracts for three years.

 

Original post on www.mass.gov/lwd/workers-compensation in April 2015.

 

OSHA Reports that Cost of Work-related Injuries are Shifting to Employees

Many decades ago, OSHA created workplace safety standards to help employees avoid injuries from dangerous working conditions. Despite these standards, each year more than 3 million workers are seriously injured or killed while on the job. Because Workers’ Compensation fails to cover all the costs of injury, some low-wage workers (who have a disproportionate rate of injury and have more hazardous occupations than other workers) are slipping below the poverty line ($24,250 for a family of four), and the financial burden of work-related injuries is shifting from those who created the unsafe work environment to the families and workers who are injured. In 2012 alone work-related injuries and deaths cost $198 billion, according to the National Safety Council.

According to a recent report by OSHA, Workers’ Compensation only covers about 21% of lost wages and medical costs, so injured workers and their private insurance policies are then forced to cover on average 63% of the injured worker’s medical bills. Taxpayers are picking up the final 16% of work-related injury costs.

The solution to this inequality is for companies to create a workplace that prevents injuries and illnesses from occurring in the first place. OSHA believes that the reason for the majority of work-related injuries and fatalities is due to a combination of the misclassification of employees as independent contractors, the rising usage of temporary workers, and workers from different companies that are forced to work together at the same jobsite despite differences in training.  About 4,500 workers are killed on the job every year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Three million serious occupational injuries and illnesses are reported annually and OSHA suspects that this figure is only a fraction of the unreported number of injuries and fatalities on the job.

Read more about the cost of failing to protect workers here: http://1.usa.gov/1zJOFCC

N.C. Workplace Deaths Being Under-Reported

The News & Observer recently published an article exposing the under-reporting of workplace deaths by the North Carolina State Department of Labor. The Department reported only 23 deaths for 2013 and for 2014, the Department reported 44 deaths. However, even 44 deaths is significantly less than the 243 workplace deaths reported by the Department in 2001. In a 2009 press release by the Department of Labor, NC was “one of the safest states to work.” However, according to the N&O, this reduction in reported fatalities is due to a change in methodology, not safety.

In 2006 the N.C. Department of Labor began reporting only the deaths that the Department had authority to investigate. That policy change excluded independent contractors (self-employed workers) as well as any death that falls under federal jurisdiction. Federal jurisdiction includes the death of a federal employee, any worker who dies while working on a military base or at a federal facility, any death in the mining industry, and any death that occurs around open waters including firefighters and divers. The State’s total also excludes laborers at small farms, owners of unincorporated companies, most workers who die on roads, and many workers who died months or years after the injury that eventually killed them.

Misclassification of workers as independent contractors (the topic of another investigation by the N&O) not only results in employers cheating the workers’ compensation system by failing to obtain insurance, but it also results in inaccurate data reported by the Department of Labor. This under-reporting is not due to increased safety and enforcement by our State, it is due, in part, to employer fraud of misclassifying workers.

Read more here.

Examining Workers’ Compensation Costs to Employers

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics National Compensation Survey 1991 – 2014 (Credit: Sisi Wei/ProPublica)

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

Business and insurance interests are bombarding state legislatures every day of the week to take workers’ rights away by complaining how most states’ workers’ compensation systems are too expensive.

Recently, ProPublica and NPR produced a very detailed explanation of the state of workers’ compensation, focusing, rightly so, on injured workers. This article, which was the first in the series, included an interactive graphic that showed that even though business are complaining about rising premius, workers’ compensation insurance coverage is generally at its lowest rate in 25 years, “even as the costs of health care have increased dramatically,” according to the article.

As examples, using the average premium cost to the employer per $100 of workers’ wages, Nebraska employers paid $1.93 in 1988, while they actually paid $.15 less for the premium in 2014, for a total of $1.78 per $100 of workers’ wages, according to the chart. Iowa was more dramatic, with the price of workers’ compensation insurance $2.79 per $100 of workers’ wages in 1988. It went down $.91 to $1.88 per $100 of workers’ wages in 2014.

By scrolling down in the article, a person finds another graphic that shows how employer costs have risen for other categories, but have fallen for workers’ compensation. Most notably, the cost of workers’ compensation insurance coverage (per $100 of workers’ wages) went from $2.71 in 1991 to $2.00 in 2014. During the same timeframe, the cost of health insurance went from $8.55 to $12.52 and the cost of retirement benefits went from $5.50 to $7.29, all per $100 of workers’ wages, according to the chart in the article.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore and Trucker Lawyers are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Six attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 90 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska and Iowa in state-specific workers’ compensation systems. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), and the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA).  We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

McCrory’s Fraud Statistics Questioned by Experts

Governor Pat McCrory

According to N.C. Governor Pat McCrory, workers’ compensation claims cause the state to spend about $150 million per year. He claims that research by CorVel, the state’s administrator for state employee claims, shows that roughly 40% of the workers’ compensation claims are related to abuse or fraud.

When attorneys, professors, and state employee representatives questioned this number, State Personnel Director Neal Alexander and McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis were unable to provide any statistical support for this claim.

It is uncertain why the Governor would make a serious allegation of this nature without the numbers to back it up, but if the goal is to cut fraud and abuse in the system he may want to start with evaluating why so many employers are “gaming” the system by misclassifying their employees as independent contractors, and not providing any workers’ compensation coverage at all. Taxpayers often end up footing the medical bills for disabled employees because the state has no uninsured fund.

An investigation by The News & Observer newspaper revealed last year that N.C. was losing approximately $467 million a year in lost tax revenue because of employer misclassification. That is real and tangible fraud, and legislation is needed to give state agencies the tools to go after these cheaters. 

For more information please read this article on WRAL by Mark Binker and Cullen Browder.

UN Announces Treaty to Restrict Use of Mecury

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman, from Jon L Gelman LLC.

Over 140 governments meeting at a United Nations forum in Geneva have agreed to a global, legally-binding treaty to address mercury, a notorious heavy metal with significant health and environmental effects.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury – named after a city in Japan where serious health damage occurred as a result of mercury pollution in the mid-20th Century – provides controls and reductions across a range of products, processes and industries where mercury is used, released or emitted.

These range from medical equipment such as thermometers and energy-saving light bulbs to the mining, cement and coal-fired power sectors, according to a news release issued today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which convened the negotiations.

“After complex and often all-night sessions here in Geneva, nations have today laid the foundations for a global response to a pollutant whose notoriety has been recognized for well over a century,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“Everyone in the world stands to benefit from the decisions taken this week in Geneva, in particular the workers and families of small-scale gold miners, the peoples of the Arctic and this generation of mothers and babies and the generations to come. I look forward to swift ratification of the Minamata Convention so that it comes into force as soon as possible,” he added.

The treaty, which has been four years in negotiation and which will be open for signature at a special meeting in Japan in October, also addresses the direct mining of mercury, export and import of the metal and safe storage of waste mercury.

Pinpointing populations at risk, boosting medical care and better training of health care professionals in identifying and treating mercury-related effects will also form part of the new agreement.

UNEP noted that mercury and its various compounds have a range of serious health impacts, including brain and neurological damage especially among the young. Others include kidney damage and damage to the digestive system. Victims can suffer memory loss and language impairment alongside many other well documented problems.

Among the provisions of the treaty, governments have agreed on a range of mercury-containing products whose production, export and import will be banned by 2020. These include batteries, except for ‘button cell’ batteries used in implantable medical devices; switches and relays; certain types of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs); mercury in cold cathode fluorescent lamps and external electrode fluorescent lamps; and soaps and cosmetics.

Certain kinds of non-electronic medical devices such as thermometers and blood pressure devices are also included for phase-out by 2020.

Governments also approved exceptions for some large measuring devices where currently there are no mercury-free alternatives. In addition, vaccines where mercury is used as a preservative have been excluded from the treaty as have products used in religious or traditional activities.

 

What’s the Matter With Kansas (a/k/a North Carolina)? – Part 2

In reviewing  workers’ compensation  legislation since 2010,  when the conservative majority took over the government in North Carolina, in Part I it was noted that Deputy Commissioners (administrative law judges) will lose their job security, effective July 1, 2015, and that insurance policies can be cancelled easier to help out general contractors, but what else has been passed?

Previously, if a worker was totally disabled for life he got lifetime disability (recognizing that there is no cost of living adjustment in future years and there is a cap on the dollar amount of  weekly benefits he could get). In 2011 the legislature limited benefits to 500 weeks (9.6 years). Brain injuries and other catastrophic injuries can continue beyond 500 weeks, but if the employee is still disabled and outside these exceptions, what happens? The insurance company is off the hook, and the taxpayer starts paying the price of the injury through social programs. The employer also gets a 100% credit on workers’ compensation for any Social Security retirement benefit the worker may receive. 

An insurance company can now seek an “independent” medical exam, even though the claim  has been denied. If an employee wants to be seen by a physician of her choice to review a permanent disability determination made by the insurance company’s selected physician, she can do so but the Commission is directed by legislation to “either disregard or give less weight to” any opinions that are not related to the impairment issue. The 2011 legislature required the Industrial Commission to review its administrative rules and after spending a year doing so, all but three of the rules were “disapproved” by the 2013 legislature. The process will now start over. The legislature has also made it more difficult for the employee to obtain documents from the employer by legislating that a subpoena for documents shall not issue less than 30 days prior to the hearing date. A process that is supposed to be “as summary and simple as reasonably may be” is now full of traps for unsophisticated employees (and their attorney, if they have one).

What's the Matter With Kansas (a/k/a North Carolina)?

What's The Matter With Kansas?In 2004 Thomas Frank, a journalist and historian, wrote a book entitled “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” It detailed the rise of political conservatives who obtained power by using hot button social issues, then passed legislation that worked against the economic interests of the vast majority of the citizens of Kansas. North Carolina has become the new Kansas. Conservative Republican legislators took control in 2010 and a Republican Governor, Pat McCrory, joined them in 2012. What has happened in the field of workers’ compensation with this new majority?

On August 23, 2013 Governor McCrory signed into law new legislation (HB 74) which removed Industrial Commission judges (Deputy Commissioners) from the State Personnel Act, effective July 1, 2015. These judges hear the initial claims of injured workers and in 2015 they will no longer be protected from being hired and fired “at will.” It is quite apparent that political interests will be looking over their shoulders as they make decisions about compensation and medical treatment for injured employees. Most of the public seems to be unaware of this significant alteration of the judicial system as it relates to workers’ compensation claims.

The 2013 legislature made it easier for workers’ compensation insurance companies to cancel policies, and for general contractors to escape liability when they failed to get a certificate of insurance from a sub-contractor. Several appellate cases had previously held that if a green-card receipt from a registered notification of cancellation could not be produced by the insurance company, the policy would still be in effect. If there is no insurance coverage for a seriously injured employee, who picks up the bill? Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security (in short, the U.S. taxpayer) gets stuck. North Carolina, unlike most other states, has no uninsured employers’ fund.  It’s just tough luck for those folks who legitimately get injured on the job but who have an employer who didn’t get required insurance.  An investigative report in 2011 indicated there are as many as 30,000 uninsured employers in this state, yet nothing has been done legislatively or administratively to address this problem.

Since 1929 the overriding principle of the Workers’ Compensation Act in North Carolina has been to provide injured workers with limited benefits, but speedy medical care and a prompt resolution of the claim. However, the system in North Carolina is becoming much more complex, time consuming and expensive, and the tinkering with the system seems never–ending by the conservative majority, which clearly seems to favor big business and insurance interests over the injured worker or the taxpayers who pick up bills that should be covered by insurance. Part II of this blog will discuss other legislative changes made since 2010. Stay tuned.