Category Archives: Legislation

States with Opt-Out Workers’ Comp System are Strict on Injured Workers

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Dallas attorney Bill Minick (Photo credit Dylan Hollingsworth for ProPublica)

Today’s post was written by guest author Hayes Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm in North Carolina. In 2015, ProPublica and NPR have done a great service to the public by making in-depth reports on workers’ compensation systems in many states. Their most recent focus was looking at the opt out systems implemented Texas and Oklahoma. These similar systems essentially strip workers of the protections that workers’ compensation gives, stacking the deck dramatically toward employers and their insurance companies.

Fortunately, Nebraska is not an opt out state yet. But many Nebraska employers, especially those who are self-insured for the purposes of workers’ compensation, have adopted many tactics from opt out states. I think the most prevalent tactic is hoodwinking employees into filing for short- or long-term disability when an injury should be covered by workers’ compensation. Employees often unknowingly agree to this in situations where the work duties aggravated an old injury or pre-existing condition or if there is some minor delay or defect in reporting the injury. If you sign up for private disability insurance, you are often asked to deny that your disability is work related. That can doom any possible workers’ compensation claim in the future. If you are being asked to sign up for long-term or short-term disability for a medical condition that may have been caused by work injury, contact a workers’ compensation attorney.

Texas and Oklahoma have both adopted an “opt-out” system for Workers’ Compensation. ProPublica along with NPR recently published an in-depth look at the results in these two states. Under this system, employers can opt-out of state mandated workers’ compensation insurance by creating their own policy for injured workers. These employer-written policies give employers 100% control over the terms, the benefits, and even settlements.

Specifically, ProPublica and NPR found that these employer-created policies generally have strict 24-hour reporting requirements or even require an injury to be reported by the end of a shift. This means, if an employee does not report their injury within their shift, or within 24 hours, they are prevented from bringing a claim at all. Period. End of discussion. Employers can also dictate how much benefits will be paid and some employers have capped death benefits for employees who are killed at work at $250,000. Whereas under the State Workers’ Compensation system, if a deceased worker leaves behind minor children, they will continue to receive benefits until they turn 18 (which could easily end up being well over $250,000 when you factor in lost wages until the worker would have been 65). This is potentially detrimental to a young widow or widower who is left with very young children.

This morning we tweeted a recent ABC news article that a worker was killed when he fell at a construction site in Charlotte. I’d hate to think that his or her family would be limited to recovering only $250,000 in the event the worker left behind dependent family members and young children. Money can’t begin to replace someone who is lost to us too early from an accident at work, but $250,000 would hardly cover a lifetime of income that the family will lose, especially if young children are left behind.

 

To read more on how the Opt-Out system is affecting injured workers in Texas and Oklahoma, go to: ProPublica: Inside Corporate America’s Campaign to Ditch Workers’ Comp.

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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A Seat at the Table: Lifting the voices of Americans at work

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Rob Hathorn at the White House

Rob Hathorn shares his story alongside Joe Schmidt, an employee at Market Basket, in the East Room during the White House Summit on Worker Voice on October 7.

Today’s post was shared by the U.S. Labor Department and comes from medium.com.

What kind of investment do you, as a worker, have in the company for which you work? And what kind of an investment does the company have in you?

This article talks about all kinds of useful values when it comes to workplace culture and was based on the White House Summit on Worker Voice.

What values are shared and appreciated in your workplace? And are all included in the discussion? Be sure to read the entire article so you can see the six principles that President Obama laid out to help achieve the goal of shared prosperity for all workers.

All are important for a well-rounded discussion, but I was especially interested in number 3: “If you work hard in America, you should have the right to a safe workplace.”

We see the consequences, on a daily basis, of that particular principle falling short. But businesses can and should do better. I hope they will.

Have a safe and productive day.

Last week, autoworker Rob Hathorn sat in the East Room of the The White House and told his story:

He and his wife and their six year old daughter live in Mississippi, where he works at the Nissan plant in Canton. Rob is a production technician on the frame line, but when he started at the plant, he wasn’t a Nissan employee. Instead, he worked for a contractor, earning less and receiving fewer benefits than the people working right next to him. After two years, he was able to transition to being a Nissan employee, but only as a so-called “PermaTemp,” a permanent, temporary employee and an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one. That means he earns $14 an hour, and the highest he can ever earn is $18.35. Full-time Nissan employees working alongside him doing the same job earn $24 an hour. He would have to work 70 hours to earn the same amount that some of his coworkers earn in 40. He has to train workers who earn more than him to do the same job.

Sitting next to Rob in the East Room was Joe Schmidt, the operations supervisor for Market Basket — a New England regional grocery chain that made national headlines last year when employees up and down the chain of command — from baggers and warehouse stockers to long-tenured managers — walked off the job to protest the firing of their beloved CEO. I asked Joe what would happen if there were two people working side-by-side at Market Basket, performing the same tasks, but one earned just a fraction…

[Click here to see the rest of this post]

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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ProPublica: Big Problems with Workers’ Compensation Opt Out

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Dallas attorney Bill Minick (Photo credit Dylan Hollingsworth for ProPublica)

ProPublica has published a new and shocking exposé on the continued corporate efforts to do away with workers’ compensation. Big Busness wants to decide how much they can pay without legally required benefit levels. They want laws that allow the fox to guard the henhouse to borrow an old country saying. Texas has already allowed this situation. Working families and their supporters need to gird their loins for battle after battle to preserve and improve the workers’ compensation system while Big Business continues to spend time and money to take benefits away.

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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Hurt at Work? Here’s Your Eviction/Foreclosure Notice

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For too many of our clients, an injury at work means certain financial distress. Even for clients whose benefits are paid in a timely manner, there are certain built-in time frames when they will receive no benefits or benefits at a much lower rate than a full paycheck (sometimes as little as 5 or 10 percent of a typical paycheck).  

In Nebraska, temporary benefits are paid only until maximum medical improvement is reached. We try to have a report waiting for the doctor when it appears as if he may conclude an injured worker is at that point. However, due to the workload of the doctors and sometimes the need for a Functional Capacity Evaluation, a worker can go months without any benefits coming in before the receipt of the report. There is no interim benefit payable to get a worker and his or her family by until permanent benefits are paid.  

This situation is made worse when a claim is denied. In that situation, a worker may find herself unable to work for several reasons. First, an employer may not think it’s their responsibility to accommodate work restrictions for a non-work-related injury. This may also ultimately result in a worker being fired for missing too much work. Second, a doctor may not allow the worker to work due to the severity of the injury. Typically an employer will refuse to pay temporary benefits since the claim was denied.  

Most families in this country live paycheck to paycheck or with only a month or two of built-up savings.

“Forty-four percent of Americans are either in debt, have no savings at all, or have only enough savings to tide them over for up to three months if they lose their jobs, according to an Assets and Opportunity report last year,” according to this article on the Fiscal Times website

Too often in this country, families of injured workers are being evicted or losing their homes due to gaps in the compensation system for work injuries.  “In reality, the costs of workplace injury and illness are borne primarily by injured workers, their families, and taxpayer-supported safety-net programs. … Workers’ compensation payments cover only a small fraction (about 21 percent) of lost wages and medical costs of work injuries and illnesses; workers, their families and their private health insurance pay for nearly 63 percent of these costs, with taxpayers shouldering the remaining 16 percent,” according to a recent OSHA report titled Adding Inequality to Injury: The Costs of Failing to Protect Workers on the Job

Legislatures should endeavor to create a payment system to alleviate the built-in financial woes for even compensable 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.

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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.

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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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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.

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Improving Workers’ Compensation for Workers: Another View

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There’s a lot to debate and digest in the recent NPR/ProPublica workers’ compensation series. The Center for Effective Government has published an analysis that adds to the discussion. The piece’s catchy title is Six Charts Explain How Workers’ Compensation is Deteriorating. It points to evidence that supports the need for change that protects workers, rather than reducing business costs.

The article points out: 

  • The amount employers pay into workers’ compensation programs is at historic lows.
  • Workers’ comp is not burdening business.
  • The costs of workplace injuries and illness have shifted to workers.

I don’t agree with the author’s recommendations for improving workers’ compensation (federal preemption) but am convinced that the evidence is strongly on the side of ending the current spate of “cost reduction aka profit enhancement” proposals that show up in state legislatures annually. We should be focusing on improving the system for workers and reducing the human and economic costs for injured workers and their families.

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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