Category Archives: workers compensation reform

OSHA Reaches Employer Agreement to Stop Discouraging Employee Accident Reports

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Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman, from Jon Gelman, LLC – Attorney at Law in New Jersey. This article struck me as timely because firm associate Jon Rehm recently tweeted the following link via his personal account @JonRehmEsq “Exclusive: Judge blasts Union Pacific, awards injured worker $310K via @sharethis”. The Nebraska Watchdog article involved a whistleblower who was an injured worker and covered by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program, mentioned below in the blog. After being fired for reporting his injury, according to the link above, worker Brian Petersen was awarded $310,000 from Union Pacific and also got his job back. Although Mr. Gelman’s post is about BNSF, the OSHA Whistleblower Protection Program applies to UP and also trucking companies, among other industries, according to the blog.

Statistics regarding the reporting of accidents have historically been challenged for accuracy as employees have been fearful about reporting events, and employers have been reluctant for numerous reasons, including the potential of increased insurance costs. Now OSHA has taken a significant step to legitimize the process by seeking an employer accord not to take adverse actions against employees for reporting injuries in the workplace.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has signed an accord with BNSF Railway Co., headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, announcing BNSF’s voluntary revision of several personnel policies that OSHA alleged violated the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act and dissuaded workers from reporting on-the-job injuries. FRSA’s Section 20109 protects railroad workers from retaliation for, among other acts, reporting suspected violations of federal laws and regulations related to railroad safety and security, hazardous safety or security conditions, and on-the-job injuries.

“Protecting America’s railroad workers who report on-the-job injuries from retaliation is an essential element in OSHA’s mission. This accord makes significant progress toward ensuring that BNSF employees who report injuries do not suffer any adverse consequences for doing so,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “It also sets the tone for other railroad employers throughout the U.S. to take steps to ensure that their workers are not harassed, intimidated or terminated, in whole or part, for reporting workplace injuries.”

The major terms of the accord include:

  • Changing BNSF’s disciplinary policy so that injuries no longer play a role in determining the length of an employee’s probation following a record suspension for a serious rule violation. As of Aug. 31, 2012, BNSF has reduced the probations of 136 employees who were serving longer probations because they had been injured on-the-job.
  • Eliminating a policy that Continue reading

Workers’ Compensation Bills Scheduled for Monday Hearings

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The Nebraska Legislature

In this, the 100th year of workers’ compensation in Nebraska, I write a lot while the Legislature’s in session about how we advocate for workers. Now it’s time for Nebraskans to get involved in the lawmaking process to protect workers’ rights.

Two bills, LB 307 and LB 584, are scheduled for hearings in the Business and Labor Committee at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Mar. 18, in the Nebraska Legislature’s Room 2102. These bills could gut the protections workers get through the workers’ compensation system in Nebraska, including taking the choice of doctor away from workers. The bills would also take many decisions out of the realm of the doctor-patient relationship, local control, and even the state’s control, and hand those decisions to workers’ employers, insurance interests, and private companies that are focused more on making money than ensuring workers’ health and safety. A bill similar to LB 584 promoting evidence-based medicine fortunately did not get out of committee last year.

To educate folks more on some of the bills before the Legislature that affect workers and also see the perspectives the firm has to advocate for workers, please read these blog posts:

Help lawmakers hear your voice by getting involved and being vigilant! Call, email, or write your senator to share your personal story and how these bills affect real people. These links may be useful for contacting senators: Find Your Senator, Senators’ Web Pages, Senator Roster, and Business and Labor Committee. Members of the Business and Labor Committee include Sen. Steve Lathrop (District 12), Chairperson, Sen. Brad Ashford (District 20), Sen. Ernie Chambers (District 11), Sen. Thomas Hansen (District 42), Sen. Burke Harr (District 8), Sen. Amanda McGill (District 26), and Sen. Norman Wallman (District 30).

Because citizens’ involvement and interest in workers’ protections matter. Hearing from workers affects how our senators vote. So don’t take programs like workers’ compensation for granted – stand up, get involved, and be heard!

Workers’ Compensation – Safety Net for the Middle Class – Under Constant Attack

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LB 307 would take away the most basic foundation of workers’ compensation

Workers’ compensation law is one of the oldest and most basic protections working middle-class families are given by law. A current article by a pair of Washington state representatives points out this obvious but frequently overlooked truth.

Reps. Bob Hasegawa and Mike Sells point out: “Unless you’re self-employed, you’re probably covered by our state’s workers’ compensation program. It affects pretty much anyone who brings home a paycheck.”

They remind us that all jobs are covered and necessarily so because injury and disease comes about from virtually all kinds of employment: “the ranks of injured employees include everyday office employees: the guy whose back goes out after lifting too many boxes of copy paper; the secretary who can no longer click a computer mouse because of a repetitive-stress injury; or the delivery guy who shatters a hip slipping on a patch of ice. We’re talking about software designers, pizza twirlers, supermarket cashiers.”

Nebraska and Iowa, where our firm practices have solid well established laws (for more than a century) that protect the middle-class workers and their families. The Washington state representatives describe their situation this way: “Our proven, century-old workers’ comp system protects all of these employees and their families from economic ruin in the event of a severe or long-term injury. That’s the good news.”

The never-ending bad news is that this fundamental middle-class protection is under constant assault in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Each year various business and insurance interests present bills to state legislatures asking to limit benefits, gain more control over healthcare for the injured, limit healthcare for the injured, and generally weaken protections for middle-class workers and their families.

In Nebraska, I am working with the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA) and other pro-consumer groups to resist the latest round of attacks on the middle class. One of the bills, LB 307, is supported by a deceptively named organization, Nebraskans for Workers’ Compensation Equity and Fairness. This bill would take away the most basic foundation of workers’ compensation laws, the requirement that these laws be interpreted liberally to protect our middle-class workers. The bill also strips workers of physician choice and allows insurance/employers to terminate benefits if you don’t go to company doctors.

Another bill, LB584, provides for treatment guidelines established by a private company in California and enforced by utilization reviews by other private businesses, including consulting doctors from all over the United States and perhaps the world. Having Nebraska physicians second-guessed by someone from another state or country seems far from fair and hardly protective of physicians or workers’ rights.

Nebraska’s Evidence-Based Medicine Proposal And The Golden Rule

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Nebraska big business and big insurance has introduced a bill to impose evidence-based medicine and utilization review (EBM/UR) on Nebraska workers. The proposal, LB 584, designates a California corporation to review what kind and how much medical care our injured workers are to receive. I have many criticisms of the bill that will be discussed from time to time. One of my fundamental problems is who reviews the care proposed by Nebraska doctors for our injured workers.

Most EBM/UR systems involve reviews by doctors, many of whom are retired, from other states. These doctors aren’t familiar with the high-quality doctors who practice within the state. Illinois has a form of EBM/UR, and my Illinois colleagues informed me that some of the utilization review had been outsourced to India. The Illinois Department of Insurance has recently dealt with these out-of-state reviews by requiring that Illinois doctors must be reviewed by other Illinois doctors. Peer review of care ought to done by peers, not some stranger half a planet away.

Would the business and insurance interests pushing EBM/UR want their treatment recommendations for a loved one second-guessed by a retired physician in another state or an offshore physician? Especially when that treatment recommendation was made by a trusted Nebraska physician who knows the loved one’s individual circumstances? I understand that business is always concerned about costs, but the worker must be protected. Workers should be treated as businesses would like their loved ones be treated. Sadly, big business and big insurance doesn’t seem to think the Golden Rule applies to injured workers and their families.

“Open for Business” In Wisconsin Does Not Mean An Option To Provide Workers’ Comp For Workers

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A recent article from Wisconsin colleague Tom Domer points out that workers’ compensation insurance is required, i.e., mandatory, and not optional in most states for almost all businesses. Nebraska and Iowa make insurance coverage mandatory for employers, too. And it’s not fair or realistic for employers to skimp on covering their employees workers’ comp. That’s one of the ways taxpayers can get stuck with medical bills – when a business cheats its employees and the public by not carrying workers’ compensation insurance.

Companies are trying to cut costs and demand more productivity in these bad economic times. Unfortunately, one way “start up” and other employers are attempting to cut costs is by not insuring their workers under workers’ compensation. It is simply not acceptable to allow these employers to forego this fundamental protection for their employees. We field calls daily from workers whose employers do not have workers’ compensation, who tell their employees to file claims under group insurance policies (which are shrinking) or Medicare or Medicaid. This “cost shifting” to some kind of public assistance is simply not acceptable.

Failing to hold employers accountable for not having workers’ compensation coverage puts workers at risk. It also violates fundamental fairness. It would be like not holding drivers who have basic liability insurance accountable, because uninsured drivers put everyone else on the road at financial risk. Many states (North Carolina, Texas, California, Michigan, to name a few) are undergoing fundamental workers’ compensation “reform” in the name of cost saving. One of those “cost savings” should not be the failure to purchase workers’ compensation for their employees. Every employee in Wisconsin that employs even one person who is paid $500 in a quarter must have workers’ compensation insurance, and any employer who employs at least three employees( regardless of what they are paid) must have workers’ compensation insurance.

It is simply not acceptable to allow these employers to forego this fundamental protection for their employees.

Wisconsin has an “Uninsured Employer’s Fund” for those employees whose employers should have insurance but do not. Although the Fund pursues these scofflaw employers vigorously, many employees fall through the cracks, and we all pay the price through medical expense filtering down to Medicaid, Medicare, Badger Care, or some other public assistance.