Are You Kidding Me? Jimmy John’s Makes Sandwich Makers Sign Non-Compete Agreements

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I thought I was reading “The Onion” when I read that Jimmy John’s was forcing lowly paid sandwich makers in Illinois to sign non-compete agreements. Unfortunately, this is true, and that is tragic for Jimmy John’s employees and employees everywhere.

If there is a silver lining to this dark cloud for employees, it is that these agreements are generally not enforceable. My reading of Nebraska law leads me to believe that a non-compete agreement for a sandwich maker would not be enforceable. In Nebraska, non-compete agreements are only enforceable if 1) they are not injurious to the public and 2) protect some legitimate interest of the employer and 3) are not unduly harsh and oppressive upon the employee. Obviously these non-competes are unduly oppressive and harsh to employees, but they likely also do not protect a legitimate interest of Jimmy John’s. Employers can be protected from unfair, but not ordinary, competition. What unfair competitive advantage can an $8-per-hour sandwich maker give to another sandwich-making shop? Nebraska has struck down non-compete agreements for much more highly paid workers, like sales professionals whose livelihood depends on building relationships with customers. I cannot see how any court could equate a sandwich maker making the minimum wage with a highly-compensated software or farm-products salesperson.

But such legal reasoning is cold comfort for a low-wage worker who is stuck with one of these agreements. Such treatment of Jimmy John’s and fast-food workers in general explains efforts to unionize Jimmy John’s workers and other fast-food workers. If you are a food worker who receives one of these non-compete agreements, I would be happy to consult with you. I would also encourage you to visit jimmyjohsnworkers.org and/or fightfor15.org.

Also remember that an election is 12 days away in Nebraska, Iowa, and most of the rest of the country. Please get out and vote, and vote for candidates who support employee rights.

Does Workers’ Compensation Cover Ebola?

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The recent news of Ebola in the United States has given me pause to think whether the nurses in Texas who contracted the Ebola virus are covered under the workers’ compensation system.

Here in Nebraska, the nurses with Ebola would almost certainly be covered. In Nebraska, occupational diseases are covered as long as the illness or injury was peculiar to the particular trade or employment. Generally, regular diseases that the general public is exposed to are not covered occupational diseases. For example, influenza, colds, or even MRSA (a type of antibiotic-resistant infection) would probably not be covered for a healthcare worker. Those diseases could be contracted in limitless places or circumstances. However unlike those diseases, I would think that Ebola coming from one single, easily identifiable source would be covered and would easily be proven to have come from the job of being that patient’s nurse.

Let’s just hope we never get to a point where Ebola becomes widespread enough that it would not be a covered occupational disease. If it does, we will have more problems than the compensability of a workers’ compensation claim. 

Truckerlawyers.com Announces Mobile Website

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A new mobile website for truckerlawyers.com has gone live, said Rod Rehm, owner of truckerlawyers.com and Rehm, Bennett & Moore law firm.

It can be found on truckerlawyers.com/mobile or by searching for trucker lawyers on a mobile device. The site will make it easier for drivers who use cell phones and tablets to contact the firm for help with workers’ compensation, personal injury and employment-law issues, Rehm said.

“I have represented truckers from all over the United States for more than 25 years,” Rehm said. “We use technology a great deal in the firm’s day-to-day business when working with clients. Offering a mobile website to drivers is a choice that we made to give drivers an easier way to contact us. The reality is that not everyone is on the road with a laptop, so a mobile website is more convenient.”

The firm’s attorneys have over 70 years of collective experience in workers’ compensation and personal-injury law. For more details about the firm and its work with truck drivers, go to www.truckerlawyers.com to read about informational topics such as “Finding a Qualified Lawyers to Handle Your Case.”

To continue the conversation, feel free to reach out and follow or interact with the firm through these sites:

Finally, the firm’s blog continues to include news on workers’ compensation, employment, personal injury, Social Security disability, and consumer safety and alerts.

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

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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.

Did a Local Manufacturer Violate Federal Law with a Sudden Layoff?

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Employees at the Store Kraft plant in Beatrice, Neb., were stunned to find out on Monday morning that Monday would be their last day on the job. Such short notice may be against federal law and entitle the laid-off workers to back pay and benefits for up to 60 days.

Under the WARN Act (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act), employers of more than 100 employees are required, in most instances, to give workers 60 days of notice in the event of a plant closing or a mass layoff.

Press coverage of the plant closing appears to show that Store Kraft is roughly at 100 employees. If Store Kraft had more than 100 employees, then it is very possible that their former employees may have a case under the WARN Act. The closing of the Store Kraft factory is devastating for its workers and hurtful to Beatrice and the surrounding community, but former workers may have a claim against Store Kraft for the abrupt manner in which the employer shut down the plant.

Struck-by Vehicle Incidents: OSHA’s Regional Emphasis Program for Region 7

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor, has announced via news release that it’s continuing its Regional Emphasis Program in Region 7 for struck-by vehicle incidents.

As was mentioned in a recent blog post, Region 7 includes the states of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.

Here is some additional information from the news release:

Over fiscal years 2008 through March 2013, “15 percent of all workplace fatalities investigated by the Kansas City Office … have involved vehicle accidents that struck employees in the workplace,” and there were 37 vehicle-related fatal incidents. The operator was the victim 43 percent of the time, while 57 percent of the time, the vehicle struck another worker. In addition, “seventy percent of the fatal incidents occurred at general industry work sites, while 24 percent happened in construction.”

Vehicles involved include “conventional vehicles, forklifts, semi-trucks and other moving industrial equipment” like cranes and yard trucks and cover the “construction, general and maritime industries.”

OSHA does inspections to follow up on complaints and referrals they get about the vehicles, and the news release also included a link that addresses struck-by hazards, which can be found here.

OSHA’s Region 7 Busy in September

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The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is frequently referred to as OSHA.

OSHA’s Region 7 covers Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, although Iowa operates its “own OSHA-approved job safety and health programs and cover state and local government workers as well as private sector workers.” In addition, the approved program “must have standards that are identical to, or at least as effective as, the federal OSHA standards,” according to an OSHA web page. The region has had a busy month releasing the results of investigations and resulting fines, so I thought it would be interesting to make this blog post a roundup of the results, which were gleaned from OSHA news releases, found at the web page for Region 7.

Although the proposed fines unfortunately do not reflect the severity of some of the injuries, OSHA’s job is not to punish businesses for injured workers, but for unsafe working conditions. That also means that fines are often decreased or eliminated when the hazard in the workplace is fixed. However, OSHA investigating a business based on an accident can often help an injured person’s workers’ compensation case.

  1. Date and location: Sept. 2, McCool Junction, Neb.

    Proposed fine: $84,000

    Number of citations for safety violations: one repeat, two serious to Farmers’ Cooperative at its McCool Junction fertilizer plant

    Details: A 73-year-old worker died from injuries after falling while loading a tanker truck on May 7, according to OSHA’s news release. Citations were related to lack of fall protection, lack of guard rails, and not providing railing on stairways.

  2. Date and location: Sept. 2, Kansas City, Mo.

    Damages paid to whistleblower: $12,000: $2,000 compensatory and $10,000 punitive

    Law violated: Federal Railroad Safety Act by Farmers’ Cooperative

    Details: A railroad conductor at the Murray Yard complex was disciplined in retaliation after a doctor’s appointment in November 2013 where the doctor told him to stay out of work for the rest of the day because of a personal illness, according to OSHA’s news release. Although the worker notified a supervisor about the doctor’s treatment plan, “the company then accused the employee of violating its attendance policy and subsequently disciplined the employee.” In addition to paying damages, the company must “remove disciplinary information from the employee’s personnel record and provide whistleblower rights information to its employees.”

  3. Date and location: Sept. 22, Omaha, Neb.

    Proposed fine: $133,900

    Number of citations for safety violations: three repeat and three serious, including confined space safety regulations, to Watco Companies of Pittsburg, Kan., a business that specializes in rail car repairs and has 30 employees in Omaha

    Details: A worker “reported suffering from respiratory inflammation after performing welding work inside a rail car in Omaha,” according to OSHA’s news release. An investigation in March was launched after the Nebraska Department of Labor Workers’ Compensation Division notified OSHA via a report of the illness. Repeat violations were “for failure to implement training, procedures and practices for safe entry into these spaces, including the company’s failure to evaluate for hazards, and to provide workers with communication devices or implement measures to prevent unauthorized entry.” Previous citations that made these repeat happened in Texas in 2013. “Serious violations were cited for failure to provide administrative and engineering controls to reduce damaging noise exposure, electrical hazards and lack of atmospheric controls in confined spaces.”

  4. Date and location: Sept. 25, Holdrege, Neb.

    Proposed fine: $14,000

    Number of citations for safety violations: two serious: “for failing to train workers in the recognition of unsafe conditions and to teach them how to access emergency medical services from a job site,” according to OSHA’s news release. The company is Van Kirk Sand and Gravel, operating as Van Kirk Brothers Contracting, which is based in Sutton, Neb.

    Details: One worker died and one worker was hurt after getting hit “by an excavator bucket while installing stormwater drainage in a trench … in Holdrege on July 17.” The inspection by OSHA “found that one of the employees sustained puncture wounds from the bucket after it disconnected from the excavator and rolled into the trench from a height of about 4 feet.” That worker died, and the other worker “suffered contusions and abrasions in the incident and has since returned to work.”

  5. Date and location: Sept. 25, Wichita, Kan.

    Damages paid to whistleblower: $261,787 for back wages and damages; and also reinstatement to their job and removing references to the disciplinary action from the employee’s record

    Law violated: Surface Transportation Assistance Act by Stericycle Inc. of Lake Forest, Ill., which specializes in biohazard waste disposal

    Details: “An investigation found the company wrongfully terminated a transportation supervisor at its Wichita terminal because the worker raised safety concerns after a driver was instructed to pull a trailer without a valid license plate,” according to the OSHA news release. When the employee was fired in September 2012, it was because of his status as a whistleblower. “It was determined that his protected activity was a contributing factor in the company’s decision to terminate his employment on Sept. 14, 2012, in direct violation of STAA.”

In addition to investigating unsafe working conditions, OSHA also works with nonprofits, businesses and industries to promote safety and accident prevention, which is what the remainder of the news releases in September are about.

  • On Sept. 3, OSHA announced that it is forming an alliance with the Heartland Workers Center of Omaha. This effort will “provide HWC staff, immigrant workers and others with education, guidance and access to training resources on protecting the health and safety of workers,” according to the OSHA news release. This includes promoting workers’ rights, how to make an OSHA complaint, what employers’ responsibilities are under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and providing Spanish-language safety and health training.
  • On Sept. 16, OSHA announced that it will work with Holder Construction Group to keep workers safe during the building of a data center called the Oasis project in Omaha, “which will include a chiller plant, administrative areas and supporting mechanical, electrical and plumbing rooms,” according to OSHA’s news release. The estimated 180 tradesmen who will construct the building, along with their employers, will learn “about hazards construction workers face daily on the job, including fall, electrical, caught-in and struck-by hazards.” In addition to other details, “all contractors and subcontractors on the project will be required to have specific written safety and health programs in place and attend meetings before major work takes place.”
  • Finally, on Sept. 25, OSHA announced in a news release that it was National Farm Safety and Health Week Sept. 21-27. Although the way workers’ compensation is handled when it comes to agriculture varies from state to state, ag is a dangerous industry. The news release includes both statistics and resources with many links for ag workers and their loved ones and also employers. The 2014 theme was “Safety Counts: Protecting What Matters,” according to the OSHA news release. “With a fatality rate of 22.2 for every 100,000 full-time workers, agriculture recorded the highest fatality rate of any industry sector,” in 2013. Issues include “awareness of confined space, farm equipment, grain handling … work-related lung diseases, heat exposure, noise-induced hearing loss, struck-by and fall hazards, skin diseases and certain cancers associated with chemical use and prolonged sun exposure.”

While it would be great if OSHA didn’t have to exist because workplaces were safe for employees, it is helpful to see both proactive steps taken to make workplaces safe and also businesses being held accountable when workers are injured because businesses or job sites are unsafe in Region 7.

A Special Warning About Over-the-Counter Pain Medications

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Today’s blog post was written by respected colleague Jay Causey from Causey Law Firm in Seattle.

As was written on this blog almost exactly a year ago, there continues to be concern about pain relievers and the trade-off between whether the potential problems with pain relievers outpace the potential relief of pain.

This time, instead of a ProPublica study, ConsumerReports.org has released a special report that tackles the dangers of painkillers.

Prescription painkillers are very much a concern, but people take for granted that acetaminophen (also known as Tylenol) is safe. Both Consumer Reports and ProPublica agree that there needs to be much more consistent labeling and care taken with this product. The recent CR report specifically talks about inconsistency in dosage of over-the-counter acetaminophen, especially because different products may label for different maximum amounts of the drug per day.

“And with acetaminophen, accidentally taking too much is all too easy. That’s because it’s the most common drug in the U.S., found as an ingredient in more than 600 OTC and prescription medications, including allergy aids, cough and cold remedies, fever reducers, pain relievers, and sleep aids,” according to the CR article.

The CR article also encourages people to be aware of the risks versus the potential pain relief of other over-the-counter painkillers, as there are apparently “serious risks to your heart and stomach when taken regularly, as millions of Americans do” for “drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil and generic), naproxen (Aleve and generic), and Celebrex,” as Celebrex is also soon to be released as a generic over-the-counter pain remedy.

Yes, it is important to find pain relief, especially for chronic pain, but please be safe while doing so.

The dangers of prescription pain meds get a fair amount of regular attention in the media.  A recent Consumer Reports (CR) article described a 300% rise in prescriptions of opiods – particularly those with hydrocodone –over the past decade, and provided a scary statistic:  17,000 people – 46 per day – die from overdose of these drugs.

What is less well known, and gets relatively scant attention, is that over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers containing acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) take 80,000 people yearly to the emergency room from overdose.  Acetaminophen, widely regarded as a “safe” drug is now the most common cause of liver failure.

The CR article points out the primary problem:  the directions for usage of these OTC drugs are ridiculously confusing and misleading.  Many of these only provide the caveat “take only as directed.”  What exactly does that mean?  Wildly different things according the cautions provided by differing drug manufacturers.  Some labels advise taking no more than 1000 milligrams of acetaminophen daily while others set the limits four times that high.  In some bizarre bureaucratic misstep, the FDA has lowered the maximum per-pill dose of the drug in prescription medications but has not done the same thing for OTCs. 

CR warns that overdosing on acetaminophen is easy as it is the most common drug in the U.S., found in more than 600 OTC and prescription medications.  There is little margin for error in exceeding the maximum recommended dose as only as small excess amount of the drug can be toxic to the liver.  A scary little graphic in the article shows how easy it is to do this.  A person might take six 500 milligram Extra Strength Tylenol (states maximum daily dose of 3000 milligrams) starting in the morning and through the day; then be on NyQuil for a cold and take eight 325 milligram pills (states maximum daily dose 2600 milligrams); and then do Walgreens Pain Reliever PM as a sleep aid (two 500 milligram pills at bedtime for a daily dose of 1000 milligrams).  At the end of a 24-hour period, that person would have ingested 6,600 milligrams of acetaminophen!!  Repeated doses of more than 4000 milligrams of the drug have been linked to liver, brain and kidney damage.  Chronically large doses have been correlated with the need for a liver transplant, or death, more than from one large overdose.

In 2011, the FDA limited the amount of acetaminophen in prescription pills to 325 milligrams per pill, but there has been no similar limitation imposed for OTCs, even though that market accounts for 80% of that drug taken yearly in the U.S.  For those regular users of acetaminophen, signs of potential liver damage to watch for are:  dark urine, pale stool, upper right abdominal pain, and a yellowish tint to the whites of the eyes.

 

Photo credit: Be.Futureproof / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)