Tag Archives: ADA

Accommodation on the job for amputees draws media attention

Posted on by

A federal court in Nebraska recently ruled in a case about accommodating a wheelchair bound amputee on the job.

Two recent cases involving Walmart and accommodating workers with amputations have made the news recently.

The EEOC sued Walmart for allegedly failing to hire a Texas woman with an amputated hand as a stocker. Here in Nebraska, a federal district court denied summary judgment in a failure to accommodate claim involving an amputee who used a wheelchair and requested not to wear a long butcher coat because it got stuck in his wheelchair.

The Texas and Nebraska cases both turn on arguments about the failure of Walmart to engage in an interactive process to accommodate a disability. The Nebraska case also emphasized that this interactive process need not be formal which is a point I have made before.

The longer I practice workers’ compensation and employment law, the more I despise bureaucracy. Reading “The Utopia of Rules” by David Graeber in 2015 crystallized my thinking on the topic. In early 2017, I wrote a post about just cutting management out of the accommodation process altogether if possible. I wrote that such conduct would be protected as a protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act. (NLRA)

Well, thanks to Neil Gorsuch’s 5-4 majority opinion in Epic Systems, helping to accommodate the disability of a coworker may not be a protected activity under the NLRA. For now at least, federal courts don’t require that employees have to exhaust administrative remedies within what amounts to a private administrative state in order to accommodate a disability. Courts seem to give more legal power to an individual alleging individualized discrimination rather than employees acting collectively about the terms and conditions of their employment.

In short, employees have some real legal rights on the job so long as they acting as individuals within the frame of anti-discrimination laws. In order to act collectively employees either need to engage in direct action like strikes — which is a whole other topic —  or in the political arena.

 

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 ADA, amputees, Nebraska, Walmart and tagged , , , , .

The case against “Ghosting” for employees

Posted on by

Employers are increasingly complaining of employees “ghosting” or leaving suddenly without notice. Temple Law Professor and author Brishen Rogers correctly pointed out on Twitter that employee ghosting is protected the by the 13th Amendment prohibition of slavery. Other commentators have pointed out that employers have been “ghosting” employees for many years and that some turnabout is to be expected as unemployment declines.

Employee “ghosting” is also the flip side of employment at-will. Employers are free to fire you at any time, but you are free to quit your job at any time without notice.

The concept of giving notice before quitting isn’t rooted in any legal requirement. But giving notice before leaving a job can give employees some legal benefits. Providing written notice can provide more protections to employees if done correctly.

Unemployment

In Nebraska, if you quit your job you have to prove you had good cause for the quit to get full unemployment benefits, whereas if you are fired your employer has to prove you committed misconduct in connection with your employment to deny you full benefits. Often when an employee gives two weeks’ notice, an employer will have them stop working before the two week notice period ends. In this situation an employee, for the purposes of unemployment benefits, has been fired. So unless the employer can prove the employee committed some misconduct, then they will receive full unemployment benefits.

Putting notice in writing can be helpful because it explains why you are leaving. Under Nebraska law, there are several reasons deemed by good cause for leaving. Having one of those reasons in a letter could help you receive unemployment benefits sooner.

I recently had an employee who was asked to submit a resignation letter due to alleged concerns about her job performance. My client was smart enough to write down that she would retract her resignation if performance improved. My client ended up winning her unemployment appeal due in part to that letter as it wasn’t clear that she really intended to resign.

Other employment laws

Written notice can also help in other cases. If an employee resigns due to workplace harassment, written notice of a quit would put an employer on notice of the harassment if it wasn’t done so already. Adding in that the resignation would be retracted if the harassment was addressed would also help.

A written notice that an employee is quitting because of a medical condition could prompt an attempt to accommodate that condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  I have seen written notice of quits because of medical conditions be helpful in winning benefits in workers’ compensation cases as well.

Giving notice is also helpful to an employee quits a new job for a new job that falls through. Courtesy can help an employee maintain a relationship with an employer and make it easier for an employee to go back to a job.

 

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 ADA, Harassment, Nebraska, Unemployment, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , , , , .

West Virginia teachers show power of collective action

Posted on by

Teachers in West Virginia won a victory for working people recently after a nine-day strike forced lawmakers and their Governor to raise the pay of all public employees by 5 percent, agree to fix problems with the state’s health insurance system and maintain other employee protections.

The victory for the West Virginia teachers came shortly after many pundits predicted the downfall of public sector unions in the wake of an expected unfavorable decision from the Untied States Supreme Court in the Janus case. Many commentators pointed out that West Virginia was already a “right to work” state where unions can not compel the employees they represent to pay dues. 

The West Virginia teachers strike shows the power of collective action among employees. I have long advocated that employees exercise their rights under the National Labor Relations Act to work together to address the terms and conditions of their employment. Employees don’t need a union to exercise these rights. Collective action on the job can address bullying by a boss and can even help employees accommodate a disability.

The success of the West Virginia teachers seems to have encouraged teachers in Oklahoma to plan a strike as well. The example of the West Virginia teachers should also show employees that they can deal with smaller but no less serious issues with their employer or on their worksite.

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 Labor and tagged , , , .

Gorsuch, Chevron and Workplace Law

Posted on by
Judge Gorsuch

Judge Gorsuch

Employers and their attorneys are widely hailing President Trump’s nomination of 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. Part of the reason that management-side lawyers are praising Gorsuch is his position on Chevron deference. Gorsuch’s views on Chevron could affect how workplace laws are interpreted and how they apply to workers.

Chevron deference is a legal rule that a court will give the benefit of the doubt about the interpretation of the law to how the executive agency charged with enforcing that law understands the law. Gorsuch has criticized Chevron on separation of powers basis, stating that Chevron deference gives too much power to the executive branch at the expense of the legislative and judiciary branches. Recently, government agencies have been interpreting employment laws in a way that is more favorable toward employees. Recent rules issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act are a prime example.

Many workers who get hurt on the job are told that they must come back to work with no restrictions. Chevron deference could be a powerful legal tool for workers faced with such policies. The new EEOC regulations on the ADA outlaw 100-percent-healed policies or policies that require plaintiffs to return to work without restrictions. In the EEOC guidance on the issue, the EEOC cites Kaufman v. Peterson Health Care VII, LLC 769 F. 3d 958 (7th Cir. 2014) as an example of policies that they believe to be unlawful under ADAAA. This case represents a subtle but real shift from current 8th Circuit law as stated in Fjellestad v. Pizza Hut of America, 188 F. 3d 949, 951-952 (8th Cir. 1999) where the 8th Circuit joined other federal circuits that held that failure to engage in an interactive process in accommodating a disability was not per se discrimination, and that there was no duty to engage in the interactive process. The EEOC’s interpretations of the new regulations still require that a plaintiff be able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.

But as indicated by Kaufman, courts may be less likely to dismiss cases before trial, or in legal terminology, to grant summary judgment, on the issue of whether a plaintiff could perform the essential functions of the job with or without accommodation if the defendant does not engage in an interactive process or summarily decides that an employee should not be allowed to return without restrictions.

The fact that there is a split between regional appellate courts, a so-called circuit split, over “100 percent healed” policies increases the chances that the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether 100-percent-healed policies violate the ADA. Another issue where there is a circuit split that the U.S. Supreme Court will decide is the legality of mandatory arbitration clauses in employment agreements.

Many workers unwittingly give up their rights to have employment-law disputes heard in court when they agree to mandatory arbitration clauses as a term of employment. In D.R. Horton Inc., 357 N.L.B. No 184 (2012) the National Labor Relations Board ruled that mandatory arbitration clauses prohibited Fair Labor Standards Act collective action cases because they interfered with protected concerted activity under 29 U.S.C. §157 and 29 U.S.C. § 158. In Lewis v. Epic Systems, 823 F. 3d 1147, 1154 (7th Cir. 2016), the 7th Circuit struck down a mandatory arbitration clause partly based on giving Chevron deference to the NLRB’s decision in D.R. Horton. The 9th Circuit agreed with the 7th Circuit in Morris v. Ernst and Young, LLP, No 13-16599 (Aug. 22, 2016). Unfortunately for plaintiffs, the 8th Circuit disagreed with the D.R. Horton decision in Owen v. Bristol Care, 702 F. 3d 1050 (8th Cir. 2013).

If confirmed, Gorsuch would be unlikely to give much weight to the opinions of the EEOC or NLRB in interpreting employment laws. Chevron deference is an unpopular concept with pro-business conservatives. Recently, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives passed legislation that, if enacted, would abolish Chevron deference.

Conversely, Chevron deference is a popular concept with progressive employee and civil-rights advocates, as it allowed the Obama administration to expand employee protections in the face of a hostile Congress. But with the advent of the Trump administration and his immigration policies, progressives have a newfound appreciation for separation of powers.

Also, employee advocates probably will not like many of the new rules and regulations issued by Trump appointees such as Labor Secretary nominee Larry Puzder. A prospective abolition of Chevron could be helpful to challenging rules made by a Trump administration. An example from the last Republican administration is instructive. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court in Long Island Care at Home Ltd. v. Coke, 551 U.S. 158 (2007) gave Chevron deference to Bush administration rules to exclude home health aides from coverage under the FLSA. It was nine years later that the rule was overturned, giving Chevron deference to Obama administration rules regarding home health aides and the FLSA.

Disability Rights Take Center Stage at Democratic Convention

Posted on by

Demi Lovato at the DNCFormer Sen.Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, called for the elimination of the subminimum wage for certain disabled workers Tuesday afternoon at the Democratic National Convention. Harkin’s remarks followed two speeches about coping with disabilities on Monday night by disability advocate Anastasia Somoza and recording artist Demi Lovato as Democrats chose to highlight the 26th anniversary of the Americans with Disability Act.

The ADA isn’t normally a hot topic of discussion during political campaigns, but that law, state disability discrimination laws and other related laws will surely be affected by the fall’s federal and state elections. The presidential race will garner the most media attention. The presidential race is important because agencies like the U.S. Department of Labor and commissions like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will affect how the ADA is interpreted and enforced. Federal judicial appointments also impact how the ADA and parallel state laws are interpreted.

But disability discrimination laws are also affected by congressional and state races. Here are at four points to keep in mind when thinking about disability discrimination laws during this campaign season:

1. Disability rights have traditionally been a bipartisan issue. Both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 were passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by Republican presidents. A reader could assume that because of toxic partisanship that little progress will be made on disability rights, but that you could also infer that disability rights are so important that they could transcend partisanship even in a toxic political environment. This more optimistic view is bolstered by a study done by the Census Bureau, showing one in five Americans has a disability, so there is strong potential support for laws that help that the disabled.

2. Disability discrimination laws are a budget issue. In his speech, Sen. Harkin pointed out that 70 percent of disabled Americans are not working.Part of the reason that Republicans support disability anti-discrimination laws is that they help people maintain employment. Furthermore, the public accommodation sections of the ADA allow for disabled people to access employment through accessing transportation. The expansion of the Social Security Disability Insurance program has been a controversial issue. This increase in SSDI applications has partially been driven by the decline of workers’ compensation protections (see below). However, the purpose of the ADA was undercut in the 1990s and 2000s by the federal judiciary, which necessitated the ADAAA of 2008. It would be reasonable to assume that this misinterpretation of the ADA also helped drive the increase of SSDI applications.

3. Disability discrimination laws impact workers’ compensation laws. The Labor Department has indicated that 80 percent of the costs of work injuries are born either by government programs, private insurance or by taxpayers. In part, this is the result of a bipartisan and sustained attack on workers’ compensation laws in many state legislatures. One benefit that is routinely stripped or attacked is vocational rehabilitation, which allows workers to be retrained if they are unable to do their jobs.

In many workers’ compensation cases, a worker’s injury will give protections to that person under the ADA. This often means state workers’ compensation courts can decide questions of whether an employer could accommodate an injury and/or what duty the employer would have to reassign or retrain an injured worker who would be covered under the ADA. Recently, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals held that employers have an affirmative duty to reassign disabled workers. It’s still an open question whether that law would obligate an employer to reassign an injured employee under a vocational rehabilitation program. But seeing that the ADA and workers’ compensation statutes have the same general beneficial purpose of allowing disabled people to maintain employment, such case law could be persuasive.

4. The ADA may affect state disability discrimination laws. States have their own laws prohibiting disability discrimination. States like Nebraska have laws that are more expansive than the ADA when it comes to pregnancy, but provide fewer protections to disabled workers in general. In Marshall v. Eyecare Specialties, the Nebraska Supreme Court held that since Nebraska did not amend its disability discrimination statute like the ADA was amended in 2008, that Nebraska courts should be applying pre-2008 decisions interpreting the ADA to Nebraska’s anti-discrimination laws. State courts generally look to how federal courts interpret discrimination laws when they interpret state fair-employment laws, so federal elections can affect how state laws are interpreted. But state legislatures can enact laws that offer more protections than federal laws. This is the case when it comes to extending fair employment protections to the LGBT community and is increasingly true as more states are starting to view pregnancy like a disability that needs to be accommodated.

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 Disability, discrimination, employment law and tagged , , , , , , .

Is Your Job Causing Asthma or Making It Worse?

Posted on by

The spring allergy season that also causes asthma concerns is upon us, and this is especially evident in the Great Plains, where the wind blows dust and pollen throughout most days. 

A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that 16 percent of American adults had asthma that was either caused or aggravated by conditions at work. According to the National Institutes of Health, workers who are regularly exposed to chemicals and dust, such as millers, bakers, woodworkers and farm workers, are most vulnerable to work-related asthma. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America states that adults lose 14 million work days per year because of asthma. 

In terms of Nebraska, this means that approximately 134,400 days of work are missed in Nebraska due to work-related asthma. In Iowa, that number is closer to 224,000 days of work that are missed because of work-related asthma. This is an estimate of missed days nationwide in proportion to the population of the states. 

Workers should make sure their employers are providing safety equipment that protects against respiratory injury. Employees should make sure they are carrying inhalers in the workplace if they have been prescribed them by a doctor for asthma. 

But if a worker suspects their work is causing breathing problems or making pre-existing asthma worse, they should report that as a workers’ compensation injury and seek treatment with a specialist in treating breathing conditions. Medical bills for treating asthma should be covered like any other work injury, and any lost time because of work-related asthma should entitle an employee to temporary disability for lost time and permanent disability for permanent breathing problems. 

Work-related asthma would also be a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and under similar state laws. Further, an employee has protection against retaliation under most states’ laws, including Nebraska and Iowa, as well as under federal law, for reporting work conditions that cause asthma and/or from claiming workers’ compensation benefits for work-related asthma.

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 Workers' Compensation, Workplace Injury, Workplace Safety and tagged , , , , .

Here’s the Reality of Workers’ Compensation, the ADA, and Going Back to Work

Posted on by

As shown by a recent post from LexisNexis Legal Newsroom, workers’ compensation insurers and employers are finally starting to understand the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Hopefully the days of employers firing employees after their 12-week FMLA leave when the employee can’t come back to work “full duty” and/or “with no restrictions” are behind us. But just because most employers and workers’ compensation insurers are now complying with basic requirements, doesn’t mean that injured workers will be able to successfully defend their rights under the ADA and their ability to maintain employment.

Employers and insurers understand the importance of the “interactive process” and how it should involve the employee and the employer. But this is too simple. The process involves a doctor who may or may not know the employer’s true job restrictions. The insurer/employer can also be represented by a nurse case manager who is familiar with medical terminology, practice and might even have a pre-existing relationship with the doctor. That nurse case manager could also be in communication with an employer and have an idea of a job that the employee can be placed into.

In this situation, the employee is at a disadvantage. The employee usually doesn’t understand medical terminology or know the doctor. In addition, an employee probably won’t have a job description to present to the doctor so they will be at a disadvantage in return to work. This situation can be made worse if an employee appears to a doctor as if they don’t want to go back to work.

So what can an employee do?

1. Ask for actual copies of job descriptions. This way an employee is armed with the facts about the job. Furthermore, they can tell the doctor if the job description is accurate. Assuming the employee is credible in what they tell the doctor, they will have more basis than a nurse case manager in being able to describe the job.

Next, an employer has an obligation to engage in a “good faith interactive process.” If management decides that they won’t give out written job descriptions to injured workers who request them for the purpose of determining work restrictions, then that would be evidence of bad faith on the part of the employer.

2. If you can, pick your own doctor or surgeon. Unfortunately, some doctors are generally unwilling to give injured workers a fair break and can be way too cooperative with insurers or major employers. In Nebraska, employees can pick their own treating doctor and can pick their surgeon even if they give up their initial right to pick their doctor. Exercising doctor choice at least gives employees some control over their medical care and it makes it more likely that they will find a doctor who will be cooperative in regards to the ADA.

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, Workers' Compensation and tagged , , , , .