Monthly Archives: April 2015

Misclassification Bill Passes N.C. Senate

            A bill attempting to address North Carolina’s crisis of employers misclassifying employees as independent contractors passed through the Senate on Tuesday. Senate Bill 694 creates an “Employee Classification Division” within the Office of State Budget and Management which is tasked solely with the responsibility to oversee and enforce proper classification of employees. The tasks of the Division mostly involve investigating, preparing reports and developing strategies. While the Division also has authority to assess civil penalties, it is limited to assessing a penalty for misclassifying employees over the past three years (and in the future) of up to $1,000 per misclassified employee. This is not $1,000 for each year an employee was misclassified, but $1,000 per employee. There is also an amnesty program whereby any employer can come forth by April 1, 2016 and admit to fraud and face no penalty for past wrongdoings. Other possible sanctions for future wrongdoings include revoking a general contractor’s license, but if five or more members of the Board vote to reinstate, it can reissue any license at any time.

            Even though $467 million may have been lost each year in state and federal taxes due to employer misclassification, employers will get a clean slate for coming forward by next year. Because misclassifying employees allows employers to cut down their costs by an estimated 20%, cheating employers are able to win contracts with lower costs than their honest competitors. $1,000 per misclassified employee may be worth it to an employer who can stay above their competition and keep getting big contracts. This proposed legislation is a good first step, but it simply does not go far enough to stop the fraud.

 

Photo source: http://www.wncn.com/story/28936225/nc-senate-unanimously-agrees-to-take-on-employer-schemes

Workers’ Comp Programs Further Injure Injured Workers

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

Those of us who represent injured workers have known for a long time that workers’ compensation does not restore an injured worker to his pre-injury wage or status.  Two reports released in March show how workplace injuries have failed injured workers and leave them deeper in debt.  OSHA released a report indicating the changes in workers’ compensation programs have made it much more difficult for injured workers to receive benefits or medical expenses.  Although employers pay insurance premiums to workers’ compensation insurance companies who are supposed to pay benefits for medical expenses, employers provide just 20% of the overall financial cost of workplace injuries through workers’ compensation according to the OSHA report. 

This “cost shifting” is borne by the taxpayer.  As a result of this cost shifting, taxpayers are subsidizing the vast majority of the income and medical care costs of injured workers.  After a work injury, injured workers’ incomes average more than $30,000 lower over a decade than if they had not been injured.  Additionally, very low wage workers are injured at a disproportionate rate. 

Another report by ProPublica and National Public Radio found that 33 states have workers’ compensation laws that reduced benefits or made it more difficult for those with certain injuries and diseases to qualify for benefits.  Those hurdles, combined with employers and insurers increasing control of medical decisions (such as whether an injured worker needs surgery) reduced the worker’s likelihood of obtaining the medical care needed.

Overall, injured workers who should be paid under workers’ compensation are receiving less benefits and their medical care is being dodged by insurers and paid for by taxpayers through Medicaid and Medicare, or by increased insurance premiums for all of us through group health insurance rate increases.

Our general sense that injured workers are faring poorly is borne out by the research.

Are Concussions Worth the Risk for Hockey Players?

Professional hockey, much like football, is considered to be a dangerous, high contact sport. With recent news of San Francisco 49er’s linebacker Chris Borland’s decision to retire at age 24 due to concussions, a lot of NHL players are feeling pressure to step-back and reevaluate if game-related concussions are worth the risk to their long-term health.

Carolina Hurricane’s 22 year-old forward Jeff Skinner has been side-lined three times for concussions since his first season in 2010-2011. Skinner’s teammate Brad Malone, a 25 year-old forward, considers his multiple concussions to be just “situations” and has made the decision to keep playing despite the risk of acquiring a long-term brain injury. According to the News & Observer, Malone stated, “If that situation was affecting my life at home and the people around me, then I think that’s when I sit down and sort of reevaluate.”

The danger of having too many concussions is that they can cause players to develop Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain that is caused by repetitive brain injuries, and according to Sportsmd.com CTE can cause symptoms and behaviors similar to Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. CTE is considered to be the only preventable form of dementia. Hockey players are faced with a serious issue: continue to play professionally or quit the sport for the sake of future quality of life.

Original post in the News and Observer by Chip Alexander 3/31/15

Read more about CTE here: http://www.sportsmd.com/concussions-head-injuries/chronic-traumatic-encephalopathy-cte-2/

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

Hockey Players Face Deadly Threat from Skate Blades

Detroit Red Wings forward Drew Miller

Original Article here: http://www.newsobserver.com/sports/nhl/carolina-hurricanes/article17954633.html

Hockey players, while focusing on speed and precision, must simultaneously be aware of the ever-present threat posed by the sharp blades attached to the bottom of their ice skates. While fans watch the players skate so effortlessly on the ice, they sometimes fail to realize that these skates could easily destroy a career and even endanger a player’s life.

Ice skate blades are sharp enough to cut through muscles, tendons, arteries and can cause facial injuries resulting in serious scarring or even death. Detroit Red Wings forward Drew Miller was cut on both sides of his right eye requiring 60 stitches.  Zach Redmond, a Colorado Avalanche hockey player, was accidently cut on the inside of his right leg, severing his femoral artery and vein. Thanks to quick action by fellow Avalanche player Anthony Peluso and Assistant Coach Perry Pearn, who applied a tourniquet before he was rushed to a hospital for emergency surgery, he avoided bleeding to death.

Because of Kevlar cut-resistant socks, there has been some improvement in the number of injuries caused by skate blades. These socks protect a player’s calf muscles and Achilles tendons. Some players choose not to wear them due to the extra body heat that these socks create, but others have been fortunate enough to avoid injury due to the sock’s protection. Hockey is a dangerous game, and ice skates are one of the many hazards faced by players in every game.

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.

Facebook Postings Hurt Workers’ Compensation Claims

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

While Facebook is extremely popular and used by over a billion people every day, no Facebook posting has ever helped an injured worker in a workers’ compensation claim. On the contrary, use of a Facebook page poses real dangers for injured workers pursuing workers’ compensation benefits.

Since Facebook is a public site, anything posted can be used by respondent insurance companies in claims denial. Even the most benign postings (birthday parties, family gatherings, etc.) can pose problems. For example, a grandparent lifting a 30 pound grandchild when doctors have imposed a 10 pound lifting limit could damage a claim. Additionally, nothing prevents an Administrative Law Judge from looking at a Facebook page.  Even innocent posts may be subject to misinterpretation. A picture of the worker riding a motorcycle or fishing taken prior to the injury but posted afterward could place the seed of doubt in an ALJ’s mind that the worker is not as limited as he claims. The best advice is to be extremely careful about what is posted because “friends” are not the only one who can access your Facebook page.

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.