Poverty And Social Insurance

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Today’s post comes from guest author Thomas Domer, from The Domer Law Firm in Milwaukee. For many people, “entitlement” is a bad word, but I would argue that is not necessarily the case. A quick Google search shows that the first two definitions aren’t even negative: “the fact of having a right to something” and “the amount to which a person has a right” but the third definition is one that people against investment in social programs cling to: “the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.” One example of an “entitlement” program not written about below is SNAP: the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. In addition to the obvious benefits of providing food for the needy, SNAP actually keeps up demand for farm products and food, and “every dollar spent on SNAP spurs $1.79 in economic activity,” according to the USDA at this website. And, yes, injured workers and their loved ones often find themselves needing help that SNAP and other social safety nets provide because entitlements that should be found through workers’ compensation fall through. This is especially true when the workers’ compensation system (that has different nuances in each state) fails to provide both needed income and care to injured workers, and the workers and their loved ones suffer, and must turn to other safety nets written about below. I would argue that all are entitled to a safe job and the ability to get compensated and cared for when an injury occurs on the job, and that should be a right, not special treatment.

My business-owning friends harp constantly about “entitlements,” which, they say, cost them money in taxes and premiums. I routinely reply that these programs are a social safety net, the small price we pay to live together relatively peacefully  in a “civilized” nation.

My friend and Iowa workers’ comp colleague Paul Mc Andrew sent me an email that sums up this concept succinctly:

Did you know that in 2013, there were more than 25 million reasons to give thanks for social insurance? According to Census Bureau data released this fall, more than 45 million people in the U.S., or 14.5% of the nation, lived in poverty in 2013. The good news? Three vitally important social insurance programs – Social Security, unemployment insurance (UI), and workers’ compensation – and a related program, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), kept the poverty rate from being much higher. Together, these four programs kept more than 25 million people out of poverty.

Workers’ Compensation alone lifted 87,000 people out of poverty in 2013, including:

  • 16,000 children; and
  • 60,000 non-elderly adults; and
  • 11,000 elderly adults aged 65+

−−Elisa Walker, National Academy of Social Insurance

We workers’ comp lawyers can only help one injured workers at a time, but collectively…..

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), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Government, Legislation, Workers' Compensation and tagged , , .

Stolen Money: Wage Theft by Employers Common

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stealingWe all know that money is stolen from hard-working people every day in the form of robberies, burglaries and other thefts, but you might be surprised to learn that employers steal more money from hard-working people than robberies, burglaries, larcenies and auto thefts combined.

Although these numbers are based on 2012 data, the same probably holds true still today. The most unfortunate part of these statistics is that the victims of wage theft are usually the people who can afford the theft the least.

What is wage theft?

“Wage theft covers a variety of infractions that occur when workers do not receive their legally or contractually promised wages,” according to wagetheft.org.

“Common forms of wage theft are non-payment of overtime, not giving workers their last paycheck after a worker leaves a job, not paying for all the hours worked, not paying minimum wage, and even not paying a worker at all.”

What is even more sobering is to think based on these statistics: they get the numbers regarding traditional theft from what is reported to police, whether it is recovered or not. They get the data for wage theft based on what is: reported, looked into, taken to court, and won back for employees. So, I would be willing to assume that the numbers of wage theft are actually much larger, in reality.

Fortunately, there are remedies under state and federal laws to recover from those thieving employers engaging in wage theft. Even if it is something that seems small, like employers keeping a percentage of tips, it is still wage theft and is actionable in civil court. Contact a lawyer if you suspect your employer of engaging in the activities described above.

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), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Corporate fraud, employer fraud, Employment, Wage Theft, Withholding Pay and tagged , , , .

The Role Workers’ Compensation Plays in the Amtrak Train 188 Derailment

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Our sympathies go out to all of the friends and families of the victims of Tuesday’s Amtrak passenger train derailment in Philadelphia, as well as a wish for the recovery of those injured. The latest news reports indicate that, as of Friday morning, the crash has left at least eight dead and more than 200 injured. 

In reading some of the profiles of those fatally injured in the crash, I have thought about how the families of these victims move forward now. There has been a lot of discussion of the role of Amtrak’s negligence, train safety in the United States, and the engineer responsible for driving the train, but little has been mentioned of the role of the employers of the victims, some of whom were traveling to or from work or on work-related business. Some of these employers may be responsible for providing workers’ compensation benefits, and some may not. Of the eight fatalities, one individual was reportedly headed home following work-related meetings in Washington, D.C. Another was reportedly commuting home to New York from her job in Philadelphia. Although the circumstances appear similar, Nebraska and other states’ workers’ compensation law would likely treat these two claims very differently. 

Nebraska follows a going to and from work rule, which states that accidents occurring in the course of a worker’s travel are generally deemed not to be compensable when the worker is “going or coming” from his or her place of employment. This rule essentially finds that a worker’s daily commute is not covered by workers’ compensation. This travel time is not considered to be within the course and scope of employment. It is likely that the crash victim who was commuting home to New York and her family would not be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

One of the exceptions to the going to and from work rule is the “commercial traveler” rule. This rule essentially provides that, if a claimant must be required to travel in the performance of his or her duties and be on the employer’s business during travel, they are generally within the course and scope of their employment from the time they leave home until they return. Some exceptions may arise if it is determined that the employer’s interest was merely incidental, but generally those workers traveling on business, like the crash victim who was reportedly returning home from work-related meetings, should be covered by workers’ compensation.

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), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Workers' Compensation, Workplace Injury, Workplace Safety and tagged , , , , .

Safety, Workers’ Compensation Rights Are Concern in Many States

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Here is another sad round in the endless battle to preserve human rights against bigger profits.

On May 5, the Illinois House of Representatives met as the “committee as a whole” and heard testimony from an injured Oklahoma worker who had been devastated by cost- and benefit-cutting “reforms” similar to measures the governor of Illinois wants to impose on Illinois workers.

The article about this extraordinary event is important. One victim of losing long-held rights to compensation stood before a legislature of another state, educating them on what really happens to injured workers as a result of “reform.”

Fair workers’ compensation benefits are a fundamental human right. Human beings and their loved ones suffer with each takeaway, while CEOs are paid outrageous sums to increase profits. Injured Oklahoman John Coffell described exactly how he and his loved ones were affected.

“Coffell told the legislators that after injuring a disc in his back last summer, his pay dropped dramatically because Oklahoma had reduced the maximum wage-replacement benefits injured workers could receive from $801 a week to $561 a week.

“Almost immediately, he said, his utilities were cut off, his truck was repossessed and his family was evicted from their rental home. Because no relative could accommodate all of them, Coffell sent his three children, aged 5 to 9, to live with grandparents. He and his wife only had enough gas money to see them on weekends. They’ve had to rely on food stamps to get by.”

Because of his state’s workers’ compensation “reform,” Coffell’s children only got to see their parents on weekends.

Others who were affected by workers’ compensations in two different states – Illinois and Indiana – also painted the stark reality of how harsh a system can be at the hearing in Illinois. The contrast was obvious. “Laurie Summers — an Illinois nurse who dislocated her shoulder lifting a patient at a hospital in Indiana — said she had to drain her retirement savings and fight to get surgery.” But “Christine Fuller — who lived in Indiana, but whose father died from falling off a roof on a job in Illinois — said the survivor benefits she received from workers’ comp helped pay the mortgage and put her through college and graduate school.”

This testimony and hearing demonstrates that workers and their allies are gaining strength and finding new ways to fight the never-ending efforts to reduce costs, increase profits, and improve the business climate. These tactics frequently and all-to-often sacrifice workers’ safety and the safety net that is workers’ compensation.

This unusual event also shows that even though workers’ compensation programs are run at the state level, workers’ compensation “reforms” don’t happen in a vacuum. Businesses may tout the alleged advantages they get over other states by pushing these reforms through state legislatures. But a worker like Coffell from Oklahoma pushed back against the Illinois legislation, even though it didn’t directly affect him. He showed the struggle that a worker often has, regardless of the state where he or she was injured, to get workers’ compensation benefits, especially in states focused on “reform.”

“The ProPublica and NPR series has led to bills to raise benefits in Alabama and prevent medical care from being cut off in California. Officials have also warned insurers in California not to abuse the process and have launched an audit of how one insurer handled a claim in which a paraplegic’s home health care was terminated,” according to the recent ProPublica article about the Illinois hearing.

All concerned about the human rights of injured workers must keep working to find better, stronger and more effective ways to protect these human rights. Because a state’s business climate should not be more important than workers’ rights, safety and dignity.

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), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

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ALF-CIO Report: Here are Some of Nebraska’s Numbers and Rankings

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How did Nebraska fare in the recent AFL-CIO Death on the Job annual report? Generally speaking, better than some but not as well as all the other states.

Here’s some helpful information that quantifies how things are going for working Nebraskans when it comes to safety at work, looking through information from many sources, including the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“When it comes to job safety enforcement and coverage, it is clear OSHA lacks sufficient resources to protect workers adequately. A combination of too few OSHA inspectors and law penalties makes the threat of an OSHA inspection hollow for too many employers,” according to the report.

Staffing levels are stark at federal OSHA. Nebraska is one of 10 states (others include Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, South Dakota, Texas and West Virginia) where “it would take 150 years or more for OSHA to pay a single visit to each workplace,” based on current staffing levels, with the actual number in Nebraska being 163 years. Though at the current level of state and federal OSHA inspectors there is one inspector for every 71,695 workers, Nebraska is one of the states where “the ratio of inspectors to employees is greater than 1 per 100,000 workers.” That means for the 932,768 employees in the state in 2013, there were 9 actual inspectors, leading to a ratio of 1/103,641, according to the table “Number of OSHA Inspectors by State Compared with ILO Benchmark Number of Labor Inspectors.” Note that Nebraska relies on the federal program only, so unlike Iowa, there is no state OSHA program.

Here’s some statistics from the table “Profile of Workplace Safety and Health in the United States.” For Nebraska, there were 39 fatalities in 2013, meaning a rate of 4.0 fatalities per 100,000 workers, ranking the state 31st in the nation for worker fatalities that year.

In addition, there were 24,700 worker injuries or illnesses reported in 2013, resulting in a rate that was 3.8 injuries or illnesses per 100 workers. OSHA’s penalties in fiscal year 2014 averaged $2,569, or 4th in the nation, for “averages per serious citation for conditions creating a substantial probability of death or serious physical harm to workers,” according to the same table cited above.

The table “State-by-State OSHA Fatality Investigations, FY 2014” shows that 12 OSHA fatality investigations were conducted in Nebraska in fiscal year 2014. A total of $268,671 in penalties was proposed, with the average penalty per investigation being $22,389. The median initial penalty proposed by OSHA was $10,800, while the median current penalty is $4,800.

Businesses often negotiate down their penalties with OSHA, and OSHA also tends to decrease or eliminate penalties once there is evidence of the safety issues being fixed. This is because OSHA’s ultimate focus is on workplace safety, not on holding businesses’ accountable for workers’ injuries or deaths.

To get your questions answered about specific Nebraska or Iowa workplace safety concerns, please contact lawyers who are experienced in workers’ compensation law.

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), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Workplace Injury, Workplace Safety and tagged , , , , , , .

Death on the Job Annual Report from AFL-CIO Informative, Useful

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workplace death graphicThe AFL-CIO’s annual report about “the state of safety and health protections for America’s workers” has been written about in a previous year on this blog. The recently released 2015 version focuses in an in-depth manner on data from 2013 and includes around 200 pages of text, tables, details and information, along with a bit of jargon.

The report is extremely informative, and Nebraska and Iowa’s numbers will be examined in more detail in future blog posts, as these are states where the firm’s attorneys are licensed.

The report can also feel overwhelming once a person processes through the fact the each numeral on each chart represents the death of one person due to the workplace. There is also a ripple effect, as each person represented here had loved ones who both cared about and relied on that person. And for many involved, their lives changed drastically when their loved one died.

I appreciate the work, funding, thoughtfulness and effort put into compiling and analyzing the data, which includes a methodology section at the end of the report.

Here’s some sobering information from the summary.

“In 2013, 4,585 workers were killed on the job in the United States, and an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases, resulting in a loss of 150 workers each day from hazardous working conditions.

“Nearly 3.8 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported, but many injuries are not reported. The true toll is likely two to three times greater, or 7.6 million to 11.4 million injuries each year.”

States with the highest fatality rate in the nation include a couple of relative neighbors: North Dakota and Wyoming. West Virginia, Alaska and New Mexico round out the top five. Lowest state fatality rates in 2013 were Hawaii, Washington, Connecticut and Massachusetts (tied) and New York and Rhode Island (tied).

Please contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer if you or a loved one is hurt on the job or has questions about job safety.

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), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in AFL-CIO, Workers' Compensation, Workplace Injury and tagged , .

Youth Minimum-wage Law Not Only Wage Law Affecting Young Nebraskans

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Nebraska appears to be on the verge of repealing part of last year’s successful ballot measure – to raise the state minimum wage from the federal rate of $7.25 per hour to $9 per hour by 2016 – by creating a lower youth minimum wage. I agree with arguments against a youth minimum wage stated by opponents such as state Sen. Adam Morfeld. But this attack on Nebraska’s wage and hour laws concerns me for other reasons.

Many young people work in home health or as salespeople. Federal-wage law exempts home health aides and so-called outside salespeople from minimum wage and overtime laws. Nebraska law has no such exemptions, so home health aides and salespeople are covered by Nebraska’s minimum-wage law, while they are not covered by federal law. If Nebraska legislators can roll back wage rates in our wage and hour laws, it is possible that they might also create more exceptions to our minimum-wage laws.

Besides minimum-wage concerns, young people, especially students, may be working in unpaid internships that violate both state and federal minimum-wage laws. I recommend students (and employers of interns) read an excellent blog post by the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division about when interns should be paid. Students (and their employers) should also remember that unpaid internships may violate Nebraska wage and hour laws as well.

Though the Nebraska Wage and Hour Act does not allow punitive damages like the Fair Labor Standards Act, Nebraska law does allow for attorney fees and has a criminal penalty for wage violations not found in federal law. This criminal penalty can force quick settlements from employers if the liability for unpaid wages is clear. If an employee can clearly show they are owed an amount of wages, the employer may be forced to pay a penalty under the Nebraska Wage Payment and Collection Act. This penalty is also an incentive for employers to settle wage claims when liability for unpaid wages is clear.

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), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in employment law, Government, Legislation and tagged , , , , .

Workers Can’t Wait to Cash In?

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Worplace-Safety-Workers-Compensation-Worker-Injury-ConstructionIt’s not uncommon in the workers’ compensation arena that we hear allegations of malingering or workers being hurt on purpose to reap the monetary rewards of a work injury. Some employers refuse to settle a case as long as the worker is still employed by the company, fearing a large monetary settlement will encourage other workers to get injured.  The limited benefits of a workers’ compensation claim make these assertions ridiculous.  Specifically, no benefits are paid for the pain and suffering.  Additionally, the reality is that many states compensate a permanent injury for only a matter of weeks or years.  The worker and his or her family are left to deal with the ongoing effects of these injuries for the balance of their lifetime.

The Insurance Journal listed the top 10 leading causes “of serious, nonfatal workplace injuries” from “2012 claims data for injuries lasting six or more days and ranked the injuries by total workers’ compensation costs,” according to a recent article.

Not surprisingly, horseplay or purposefully getting injured was not among them. In fact, the leading cause of workplace injuries is ironically enough – overexertion! Overexertion and other exertion-related injuries made up almost a third of all workplace injuries. So much for the theory of money-hungry workers playing around or purposefully getting injured. Falls comprise two of the top 10 leading causes of workplace injuries, making up a total of just over 24 percent of all injuries.  Being struck by or striking objects combined for around 15 percent. Motor vehicle accidents (5.3 percent) and repetitive movements (3.1 percent) round out the top 10 list. The full list is detailed below. In total, the 10 most common work injuries accounted for almost 84 percent of all injuries.

  1. Overexertion 25.3 percent
  2. Falls on same level 15.4 percent
  3. Struck by object or equipment 8.9 percent
  4. Falls to lower level 8.6 percent
  5. Other exertions or bodily reactions 7.2 percent
  6. Roadway incidents 5.3 percent
  7. Slip or trip without fall 3.6 percent
  8. Caught in or by equipment or objects 3.5 percent
  9. Repetitive motions 3.1 percent
  10. Struck against object or equipment 2.9 percent

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that workplace deaths have decreased from 38 per day in 1970 to 12 per day in 2012, according to the article. Additionally, OSHA reports occupational injury and illness rates have declined 67 percent since 1970, all while employment has almost doubled.

Despite these accomplishments, insurance companies and large employers continue to lobby state legislatures about the injustice and cost of workers’ compensation benefits. In reality, workers and their families continue to bear the real burdens of workplace injuries.

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), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Disability, employer fraud, fighting fraud, Fraud, Work Injury, Workers' Compensation, Workplace Injury, Workplace Safety and tagged , .