Author Archives: Jon Rehm

Bill would expand job search exemption for laid off workers receiving unemployment

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Some employers don’t want their laid off employees looking for work

Some unemployed workers could be exempted from job search requirements under the Nebraska Employment Security Act if a bill being considered by the Nebraska legislature passes.

LB 428 introduced by State Senator Curt Friesen, would give the Commissioner of Labor the authority to exempt some workers on highway and street construction jobs from job searches as a condition of receiving unemployment benefits. The bill would expand the exemption from job search requirements for workers on layoffs who have an expectation of returning to work.

Nebraska requires laid off workers to make five job search contacts per week and one contact a day as  a condition for receiving unemployment benefits. Businesses support the reduction in unemployment taxes  brought about by policies such as tough job search requirements. But those job search requirements have had unintended consequences.

In another state with robust job search requirements for unemployed workers, Wisconsin, many employers in the construction industry complained about the job search requirements. They argued that the job search requirements made it harder to retain employees who traditionally collect unemployment benefits while being laid off over the winter.

Requiring workers on a seasonal layoff to look for work gives other employers the chance to “recruit” employees. Construction employers in Nebraska frequently complain of a worker shortage, so employee turnover encouraged by job search requirements would make that problem worse.

If you spend any time reading HR Twitter you know that “talent” recruitment and retention is frequently discussed. Setting aside the obvious solution of increasing wages, HR folks like to talk about creative ways to retain employees. Hence perks like ping pong tables in break rooms and casual dress codes.

Traditionally employers were usually the only way to obtain good health insurance, so workers stay in their  jobs to keep their health insurance even if the working conditions are poor.

There are also more coercive talent “retention” tactics such as non-compete agreements that are being increasingly absued by employers to the point that even some Republicans  are introducing bills to address the issue on a federal level.

In addition to reducing taxes, tough job search requirements are supposed to increase the size of the labor market by discouraging receiving unemployment benefits. But policies that may benefit business interests as a whole, like job search requirements to receive unemployment benefits, may not benefit particular employers who may struggle to hold onto valuable employees.

 

 

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. 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 Nebraska, Unemployment and tagged , , , .

Federal legislation may make it easier for injured workers to change jobs

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A Jimmy John’s franchise subjected sandwich makers to non-compete clauses

Recently introduced federal legislation could make it easier for injured and disabled workers to switch jobs without fear of having to fight a non-compete agreement.

The Freedom to Compete Act, introduced by Florida Senator Marco Rubio, would ban non-compete agreements for all employees deemed to be non-exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Non-exempt employees tend to be hourly and blue-collar workers.

The Freedom to Compete Act was prompted by reports of low-paid hourly workers being subjected to non-compete agreements. Most notably,  a Jimmy John’s franchise in Illinois subjected sandwich makers to non-compete agreements.

In October, I wrote about how the threat of a non-compete agreement may deter an injured worker from seeking work with another employer that is easier for them to do physically.

Non-competes in Nebraska

Nebraska outlaws restraints of trade by statute  and by case law. But non-compete agreements can be enforceable if they are reasonable in scope – for a limited time and geographic area – and ancillary to a contract of employment.

The general test of whether a non-compete is enforceable in Nebraska is that it is 1) not harmful to the public 2) not greater than necessary to protect employer’s legitimate interest and 3) not unduly harsh or oppressive to employee.

Courts in Nebraska tend to focus on whether the compete is too broad to protect the employer’s legitimate interest. A non-compete would likely to be held to be unenforceable under this clause if the employee had no personal or business contact with customers or prospective customers, didn’t know or have access to confidential information, has no skills or knowledge different than what they would have acquired in another business and the employer had no trade secrets regarding their industry.

The issue of whether a non-compete is unduly harsh is a separate issue. My feeling is that a good argument could be made that changing jobs as a way of essentially self-accommodating a work injury would fall into that category. I believe the Zweiner v. Becton-Dickinson East  case would bolster such an argument, but litigation is almost always uncertain and it can be costly. An injured worker looking at the prospect of a workers’ compensation claim may not be willing to take on a non-compete fight as well.

Other questions about Freedom to Compete

Other commentators have pointed out that Freedom to Compete could make already contentious non-compete cases even more contentious by turning them into employee classification cases.

Back in October, I wrote that non-competes need to be fixed legislatively. Some states have began introducing legislation to further limit non-compete agreements, I question whether Freedom to Compete would pre-empt state laws on non-compete clauses for white collar FLSA exempt employees. I wonder if Freedom to Compete isn’t a federal effort to head off state level reforms and even federally preempt some favorable state laws on non-compete clauses for white collar employees..

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. 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 FLSA, Nebraska, non-compete agreements, Workers' Compensation and tagged , , , , , .

Bill would eliminate workers’ compensation squeeze

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An Omaha senator seeks to limit or end the time many injured workers in Nebraska receive no workers’ compensation benefits due to insurance companies unfairly interpreting Nebraska case law about when payment for temporary disability benefits end and when payment for permanent disabiliy begins.

LB 526 introduced by State. Senator Mike McDonnell would add language to Neb. Rev. Stat. §48-121 that would continue temporary disability until the later of a) any permanent disability as measured by permanent impairment for a scheduled member disability has been determined or, in the event of a claim payable under a loss of earning power basis when a loss of earning power evaluation is complete or b) 30 days after the employee has been given notice of termination.”

The bill also requires employers to provide copies of evidence used to end temporary disability and give the employees the right to a medical examination at their employer’s expense in certain circumstances when temporary disability payments are halted.

Our firm strongly supports this new bill. Roger Moore wrote a good post in 2015 about the human cost of the temporary-permanent squeeze. Last year I wrote a post about how the squeeze came about through case law.

The argument underlying the squeeze is that temporary disability ends when a doctor states a worker has plateaued medically. That means temporary disability benefits stop. But permanent disability has needs to be ascertained before permanent disability benefits start. This could mean waiting for a permanent impairment rating or it could mean waiting for an FCE, having a doctor endorse the results and then having a vocational counselor determine disability. This can take weeks or even months. If an employee isn’t working that means weeks or months without income. I think allowing insurers to exploit the gap between temporary and permanent disability is an incorrect reading of the law because doesn’t effectuate the beneficent purpose of the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act to pay benefits in a timely manner to injured workers.

I also like the notice provision of the legislation. Once an injured worker starts receiving temporary disability benefits, they have some expectation that they will continue which would arguably create a constitutional property interest in continued receipt of those ongoing workers’ compensation benefits. Ending those benefits with no notice or explanation would arguably violate due process.

Critics of the legislation may point out there are cases involving multiple scheduled members that can also be paid on a loss of earning power basis which could cause uncertainty about the period of when temporary disability should continue. In such cases I believe that prompt payment of scheduled member impairments helps to eliminate the gap issue. However impairment ratings under the AMA 6th may undercompensate injured workers and be less likely to address the gap issue.

Our firm encourages our clients and others in Nebraska to contact their state senators and tell them to support LB 526. You can find out who your state senator is here and find their contact information here.

 

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. 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 Nebraska, Unicameral, Workers' Compensation and tagged , , , , , , .

Why Lincoln and Omaha probably won’t be following NYC in a minimum wage for Uber and Lyft drivers

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Lyft and Uber drivers in Lincoln don’t have the same legal protections as drivers in New York City

New York City recently implemented a $17 per hour minimum wage for drivers for riding hailing apps like Uber and Lyft. I wouldn’t expect similar measures exapnding wage and hour and/or workers’ compensation to gig economy workers in Omaha or Lincoln for two main reasons.

Local governments in Nebraska have their powers limited by the state

The first hurdle to a city minimum wage or city workers’ comepnsation laws in Lincoln or Omaha is the state constitution. Nebraska courts have held that only the state can regulate the employee-employer relationship unless the legislature authorizes a city or county to do so. The state has authorized cities and counties to draft civil rights ordinances.  Omaha and Lincoln have human rights commissions similar to the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission.

But the Legislature has not authorized local governments to implement their own minimum wage or workers’ compensation laws. No such legislation was introduced to that effect this year in Nebraska. In neighboring Missouri, the Missouri legislature reversed an attempt by the City of St. Louis to increase the minimum wage in that city above the state minimum wage. In short, I believe it would be unlikely that Nebraska would authorize local governments to implement their own workers’ compensation and wage laws in the near future.

Even if cities in Nebraska could enact wage and hour and workers’ compensation ordinances, it seems unlikely that cities would do so to cover gig economy workers.

There doesn’t appear to much political will among cities in Nebraska – even in Democratic-controlled Lincoln – to expand employee protections to ride hailing drivers. In fact, the Lincoln City council voted in 2017 to exempt Uber and Lyft drivers from the same licensing requirements as taxi drivers.

In fairness, Lincoln had a long history of being poorly served by a taxi cab monopoly. Complaints about regulatory fairness from former monopolists fell on deaf ears. But Lincoln’s taxi monopoly was broken in 2012 before the rise of ride hailing apps. Lincoln and Omaha lack an organized voice for drivers like they have in New York City. Without such a voice, worker classification issues among urban professional drivers will likely continue to be unheard at a state and local level in Nebraska.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. 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 Nebraska, Wage and Hour, Workers' Compensation and tagged , , , , , .

Mold on the job: not just workers’ compensation

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Mold doesn’t have to be this obvious to be harmful in the workplace.

Teaching is not thought of as a hazardous job, but 120 teachers in Stamford, Connecticut have filed workers compensation claims due to mold exposure that effects half of the buildings in their district.

Mold is a relatively common hazard for white collar employees. When mold infests a building, it is common to have many employees affected. Mold is sometimes visible other times it can be hidden in insulation. Mold exposure is typically thought of leading to hayfever like allergic symptoms, but it can also lead to symptoms like chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome and weight gain. About 25 percent of people are especially sensitive to mold and that sensitivity can be tested for by doctors.

In Nebraska, an employee just needs to show that an occupational factor or factors were a contributing factor to the injury. An employee exposed to mold in Nebraska should be able to collect workers’ compensation benefits for mold exposure even if they had pre-existing allergies or mold sensitivity. But other states have more stringent causation standards, so it could be harder to receive workers’ compensation benefits for mold exposure in those states.

The mass mold exposure by teachers in Stamford, Connecticut raises many interesting legal issues outside of workers’ compensation.

Challenges of collective action in the workplace

The first issue is the question of collective action when 120 employees are injured by a common hazard. The teachers are fortunate to be represented by a union. A union can be helpful in accommodating work injuries and helping employees gather information that can prove their workers compensation case. In a case of mold exposure, it is important to gather information about mold levels so doctors have sufficient foundation to relate symptoms to mold exposure. A union is helpful in getting such information.

But public sector unions are under attack by recent and upcoming Supreme Court litigation.  The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) gives nonunion employees some right to act in a group or collective manner about the terms and conditions of their employment. But that right may have been limited by the Epic case decided by the Supreme Court at the end of the 2018 case.

Fortunately claiming workers compensation is a protected activity in most states. That means employees facing a common cause of injury would be protected from retaliation for pursuing workers compensation claims. Some states, like Nebraska, also have whistleblower statutes that would protect employees from reporting hazardous work conditions.

In cases where many people have suffered a common harm, they can file a collective or class action case. I don’t know if Connecticut allows for such claims in workers compensation. But a collective or class case in workers’ compensation could be a simpler and less epxenseive to handle workers’ compensation cases involving mass mold exposure.

Third party claims

Collective or class litigation is generally allowed in cases of mass negligence. Fault usually doesn’t matter in workers compensation, but if a third party is at fault for a work injury the employee (and in Nebraska the employer as well) can sue that third party. A third-party case usually gives an employer some right of subrogation that allows them to be repaid some of what they paid the employee in workers’ compensation benefits.

In a case of mass mold exposure employees and employers could be looking to sue a landlord or builder for negligent construction or maintenance. But if s third party didn’t cause the injury, employees are stuck with defined workers compensation benefits and employers have no hope of being repaid for workers compensation benefits they paid to employees.

The downside to s third party claim is that they usually require more expense to prove negligence. In my experience handling individual mold exposure workers compensation cases, the value of the claims usually would not justify the expense of third-party litigation. But if enough employees are joined in a case, it would make sense economically to pursue a negligence case.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. 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, Nebraska, third party claims, Workers' Compensation and tagged , , , , , , , .

Nebraska comp. court rule changes could help physician-owned hospitals

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Lincoln Surgical Hospital (above) could benefit from recent changes to NWCC rules on doctor referral

While Judges debated and rejected changes to rules about expert testimony in the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court, there was little discussion about a change to court rules allowing for a controversial practice among doctors.

At last month’s public meeting of the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation court, the court unanimously passed a change to NWCC Rule 50 that allowed doctors to refer to facilities where the doctors have an ownership interest.

 Supporters of so-called “physician-owned” hospitals many of which are surgical hospitals, argue that that these facilities provide services at a much lower costs than hospitals. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal detailed how hospital systems can inflate the costs of medical care by limiting referrals of primary care doctors employed by them.  Medical costs comprise roughly 60 percent of total workers’ compensation costs. Not surprisingly insurers like doctor-owned hospitals because of the lower costs.

But physician-owned hospitals can’t take Medicare or Medicaid due to changes brought about by the ACA. Hospitals argue that physician owned hospitals shift the cost of poorer and unhealthier patients on to them which is why the ACA disfavored physician-owned hospitals.

Essentially the change to NWCC Rule 50 was a victory for insurers and doctors over hospitals. Since the early 1980s medical expenses have taken up an increasing share of workers’ compensation expenses — now comprising 60 percent of the total expense. If the change to Rule 50 does lead to lower medical costs for the same level of service, then it should be helpful to injured workers because there will be less pressure to reduce benefit levels through legislation.

These legislatively mandated reductions in benefits usually mean worker receiving less compensation for permanent and temporary disability. Reductions in disability for compensation for injured workers has recently been cloaked in legislation adopting the American Medical Association Guide to Permanent Impairment, 6th Edition which has been the subject of many state-level constiutional challenges  from plaintiff’s lawyers.

 

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. 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 Nebraska, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , , , .

Millennials suffer most work injuries in Nebraska

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Nearly 2/3 of reported work injuries in Nebraska are workers under 40

Workers under the age of 40 comprise 65.7 percent of reported work injuries in the state of Nebraska according to recently released statistics by the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court.

Put another way, Millennials are the generation that suffer the most work injuries in this state. Viewed one way, the fact that so many young people get hurt on the job belies the assumption that young people are lazy or soft. Much like the misconception that all blue collar workers are white, there is an assumption that young people don’t do blue collar work.

But viewed another way, negative stereotypes about millennials  jibe with perception held by many that injured workers are just trying to get out of work or “milk the system”. In that mindset, millennial employees would be more likely to claim workers compensation because workers’ compensation claims are almost per se fraudulent.

In Nebraska and most states injured employees have some protection against discrimination if they file a workers’ compensation claim. (Although it is a close issue as to whether an injured worker is a member of a protected class or engaging in a protected activity or both) But workers under the age of 40 in Nebraska and in most other states have no protection against discrimination based on age.

The fact that stereotyping young people is legally permissible means that respectable business types have no problem with sharing humor like the “Millennial Job Interview” video that made the rounds on the internet. I doubt that any video that  sterotyped a protected class like this video stereotyped millenials would have openly shared without rebuke.

I suspect allowing discrimination against young people negatively impacts terms and conditions of employment for young people. Lawmakers in Canada, where age discrimination laws generally kick in at age 18, seem to think it does. I also wonder whether negative stereotypes about millennials would lead employers to discount safety complaints from younger workers or lead them to believe that younger workers exaggerate the extent of their injuries.

Stereotypes about lazy young people aren’t new to millennials. Future generations including, Generation Z , will likely be subject to negative stereotyping. Human nature may not change, but laws controlling discrimination may force employees to change their behavior. Laws outlawing age discrimination against young people may also promote workplace safety as young people suffer the bulk of work injuries.

At least one millennial in Nebraska will have an opportunity to shape workplace law in Nebraska. Lincoln Senator Matt Hansen was elected to chair the Business and Labor Committee in the Nebraska legislature. Hansen has a good record on workers issues and I believe he will work hard to preserve and maybe even expand employee rights in Nebraska in this important position.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. 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 Nebraska, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , .