Tag Archives: COVID-19

Update: Nebraska placed on NYC-area COVID quarantine list

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This is an update of a post published on July 6, 2020

Americans can live and work where they want within the United States. But as I wrote last year, they aren’t free to claim workers’ compensation where they want. But true to form, COVID-19 has added another complication to this constitutional conundrum.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut announced fines for residents who did not quarantine for 14 days after travelling to states with rising COVID-19 cases. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut added Nebraska to the quarantine list on July 21st.

The City of Chicago implemented a similar quarantine policy, but have not added Nebraska to their list of states.

In short, injured workers in those states face a 14-day quarantine if they forced to travel to Nebraska for their workers’ compensation case. The new quarantine will impact truckers who live in those states who got hurt working for Nebraska-based Crete Carrier and Werner.

A rock and a hard place for injured workers

I sympathize with and share the public health concerns of my friends and colleagues in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois. But if COVID cases continue to increase and or more states start imposing quarantines, more injured workers are going be facing the prospect of a quarantine if they travel out of state for their workers’ compensation cases.

As enhanced unemployment benefits expire this month, a worker under quarantine faces a lot of uncertainty over income. This is especially true for an injured workers who may have already been facing financial hardship before the pandemic. Quarantines may give employers/defendants more leverage in settlement negotiations as well.

Alternatives to interstate travel?

Are there alternatives to in-person workers’ compensation hearings? Per Neb. Rev. Stat. 48-177, in Nebraska parties can agree to video hearings. But there is no way for a Judge to force a video hearing. Many lawyers and judges seem to prefer in person hearings when they need to weigh the credibility of witness testimony. Many workers’ compensation trials have the injured worker as the sole witness. But the credibility of the medical records submitted into the records often relies on the credibility of the witness.

Before trial, employers will often depose or question injured workers. Courts have more power to force video or telephonic depositions. So an out of state worker is more likely to avoid a trip back to Nebraska for a deposition. But I have had out of state clients compelled to travel to Nebraska for depositions.

Travel within Nebraska

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have seen more efforts to move depositions from central and western Nebraska to Lincoln. Within Nebraska, employers have less power to compel an injured worker to travel long distances for trial or deposition. At the IRS mileage rate, the cost of driving across Nebraska can equal the cost of air travel to a regional air hub like Denver or Chicago.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, 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.

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Feds prosecuting COVID fraud by employees

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My jaw dropped last Tuesday when I read a blog post by Ohio-based management defense attorney Jon Hyman.

Hyman posted the Department of Justice criminally charging an employee for allegedly defrauding his employer by submitting a forged doctor’s note stating he had COVID-19. Human Resources and management-side defense social media share a near obsession with Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) fraud by employees.

So why can HR now sic the FBI on employees who forge  off-work notes?

The CARES Act, interstate commerce and taxing power

The answer to this question is the CARES Act. Passed in response to the COVID-19 crisis, the CARES Act amended the FMLA to provide some employees with paid leave related to COVID-19. The CARES Act also used federal funds to expand unemployment benefits related to COVID-19.

Normally state law would govern the prosecution of small-time workplace fraud under crimes like forgery and unemployment fraud. But a federal bailout creates federal criminal jurisdiction. The United States Department of Justice is aggressively prosecuting COVID fraud. Some employer-advocates question the use of the federal power to regulate interstate commerce for the good of employees. But the interstate commerce clause also expands the ability to federalize crime. It seems like employer-advocates are welcoming the expansion of federal authority to prosecute fraud by employees.

Federal taxes partially fund unemployment benefits. This would give the federal government the power to federalize unemployment fraud through the taxing power granted to Congress by the Constitution.

The real COVID fraudsters

The Georgia case is the first known incident of an employee being prosecuted for forging a medical note. COVID-related fraud mirrors workers’ compensation fraud in that most fraud is not committed by employees.  Apparently organized crime is submitting false unemployment claims. Some individuals and businesses are falsely submitting claims under the Paycheck Protection Program. If an employee suspects their company is abusing the Paycheck Protection Program they could bring a claim under the False Claims Act.

But while low level employees are not committing the vast majority of COVID fraud, low-level employees are the easiest to prosecute. Prosecuting low-level employees for COVID fraud serves at least two purposes for employers.

Reopening and unionizing

As the perceived threat of COVID recedes, many businesses are reopening and employees are returning to work. Employers complain that some employees are reluctant to return to work because of enhanced unemployment benefits. However many employees are expressing safety concerns about COVID exposure. Publicizing the prosecution of COVID fraud by employees calls into question the legitimacy of employee safety concerns. Criminalizing COVID fraud by employees also allows employers and their mouthpieces in the media to portray workers worried about COVID as welfare cheats.

The use of state power on behalf of employers against employees serves another purpose. Mike Elk of Payday Report tracked walkouts and strikes related to the COVID 19 pandemic. Management-side pundits are also expressing concern about rising pro-union sentiments by employees.  Prosecuting employees is one way to intimidate employees who want to form unions or engage in collective action in the workplace.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, 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.

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OSHA reverses course on COVID-19 reporting

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In what amounts to a reversal of policy, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) is requiring most employers to record possible COVID-19 exposure on the job. OSHA’s reversal will make it easier for workers to prove workers’ compensation claims for COVID-19 exposure.

Per OSHA requirements, employers must conduct a basic investigation about the potential causes of COVID-19 exposure. Employers must give employees any OSHA reports, upon request, about their work-related injury or illness.  Employees should also be able to obtain OSHA reports through discovery in a workers’ compensation case or from a union representative.

OSHA’s reversal increases the chances that state workers’ compensation agencies and courts will report better information about COVID-19 exposure. As I wrote in April, employers tend to blur state and federal reporting standards.

OSHA’s reversal on COVID-19 reporting coincides with the AFL-CIO suing the agency to impose stricter standards for COVID-19. In addition to the AFL-CIO suit, a workers’ group sued meatpackers over the public health effects of COVID-19 outbreaks at packinghouses. The reversal of policy also coincides with a group of state attorney generals suing Amazon over workplace COVID-19 data.

More federalization of workers’ compensation

But while OSHA’s actions place a small thumb on the scale for workers’ rights, the specter of federal immunity for COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims lingers. The Senate has yet to take up the latest COVID-19 bailout package passed by the House of Representatives.

But there may be some somewhat positive federal legislation impacting state workers’ compensation law. Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D. Mass) introduced a special fund that would compensate essential workers and their families effected by COVID-19 through a federal program. This legislation is modeled on a federal fund for workers killed and injured due to the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Another bit of good news is that the Senate passed a presumption for death benefits for first responders killed in the line of duty duty related to COVID-19. In my view, general federal immunity for workers’ compensation can co-exist with a presumption of compensability for first responders. I, and other workers’ compensation bloggers/commentators have written frequently about a two-tier workers compensation system. Legislators tend to favor first responders like police and firefighters. This political favor leads to the benefit of presumptions of coverage for certain injuries and protections for ‘mental-mental” injuries unavailable to less favored workers.

The rise of the essential worker?

Workers like retail workers belong to the second or less favored tier — or at least they did before COVID-19. COVID-19 has introduced the concept of the “essential worker” into mainstream discourse. Many states have looked to include essential workers in enhanced workers’ compensation laws for workers exposed to COVID-19. I’ve been writing about and advocating for these workers for years. But I guess it takes a public health crisis to recognize the importance of retail, warehousing, delivery and meatpacking workers.

Legislative changes in Nebraska?

Last week, Nebraska announced it will re-start our Legislature on July 20th. The Unicameral generally adheres strictly to unwritten norms about deference to committees. Generally, a bill about expanding workers’ compensation benefits would be discussed in the Business and Labor Committee. But the COVID-19 crisis is a highly unusual situation. It will be interesting to see if there are any COVID-19 related changes to workers’ compensation laws made when the legislature restarts.

COVID-19 related changes to workers’ compensation may have to wait until next year in Nebraska. Of course there could be a different legislature depending on the outcome of November’s elections. This is all the more reason to research, vote for and support legislative candidates who support expanding workers’ compensation.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, 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.

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Pandemic exposes problems with outsourced leave and disability

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The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing the deep flaws of unemployment insurance, workers compensation and the employment at-will doctrine. The pandemic also shows problems with how family and medical leave is administered.

Outsourced leave administration

Many large employers outsource FMLA leave eligibility decisions. Often times the leave administrator also decides whether an employee receives short-term and long-term disability. Even in normal times,  outsourced leave companies will miscalculate leave eligibility for employees. I believe this happens because the leave and disability companies aren’t communicating with HR departments. I’ve also heard from employees about faulty leave administration software.

Bad communication between leave administrators and HR departments leads to employees losing their jobs. Sure an employee can sue their former employer, but litigation is time consuming and uncertain.

But if even if leave companies and human resources departments are communicating, they may not be acting in good faith. Again, even in normal times human resources departments and leave administrators often hassle workers about insufficient documentation about the need for FMLA leave.

So, how does this pandemic make this bad situation worse.

Outsourcing leave during a pandemic

There are several reasons why leave administration falls short during a pandemic. First, more people will be taking leave either for themselves or take care of a family member. Congress has also expanded eligibility for family and medical leave benefits. As a result, like with unemployment, more people will be making demands for leave. This will slow down the process.

But, this heightened demand for leave could be met with a reduced response by leave administrators. The people employees rely on to process leave claims tend to be working at home.  Working from home has slowed down the processing of insurance and other claims.

Finally, family and medical leave requires medical documentation. Workers often stumble in completing required paperwork. But during a pandemic, doctors may lack the time to fill out paperwork. Despite this difficulty, the Department of Labor disagreed with the Centers for Disease Control and required employees to provide medical documentation of COVID-19 leave.

Why does leave administration stink so bad?

Family and medical leave administration sucks so badly for employees because it’s often tied to private disability insurance. Like workers’ compensation, private disability is a for-profit social insurance program. But unlike workers’ compensation , there is weak judicial accountability for denials of private disability.

Bluntly I believe the disability insurers use leave administration as a way to sell disability policies to employers. While disability policies can be useful for workers, insurers would rather collect premium than pay claims. Many employees would rather shift the cost of work injuries onto disability insurance.

When it comes to long-term disability policies, employers and insurers share goals when it comes to cost-shifting. Many long-term disability policies require covered employees to apply for social security disability insurance (SSDI). Policies often include language that lead the insurers recoup disability benefit payments if employees receive SSDI. This leads disability insurers file SSDI on behalf of employees even if they never decided to apply. I would expect to see this practice increase as unemployment increases to levels not seen since the Great Depression.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, 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.

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Holding meatpackers accountable for COVID-19 cases with public nuisance litigation

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The JBS Swift plant in Grand Island, Neb. is at the center of a COVID-19 outbreak in that community. (Photo credit to KTIC Radio)

The New York Times reported on a public nuisance lawsuit filed against Smithfield Foods for COVID-19 exposure created by a pork processing plant in Milan, Missouri.

What’s novel about the public nuisance suit is that it sues Smithfield for its effect on the surrounding community, not its employees.

Meatpacking plants are a hotbed of COVID-19 exposure in small cities and rural areas across the country. In Nebraska, workers at JBS Swift in Grand Island and Tyson in Lexington have high rates of COVID-19 exposure. Reports trace nearly 40 percent of COVID-19 exposures in Grand Island to JBS.

The Missouri case against Smithfield describes how fast line speeds help spread COVID-19. Workers and their advocates have long expressed concerns about line speed in meat packing plants. Line-speed is related to widespread joint and muscle injuries in packinghouses.

In my job, I spend a fair amount of time in both Grand Island and Lexington litigating against JBS and Tyson. Because of that experience, I’ve watched in anger/horror as COVID-19 tears through these communities. In my view, the same indifference that Tyson and JBS show about joint and muscle injuries has been shown about COVID-19.

Skirting the exclusive remedy of workers’ compensation

Part of my anger about COVID-19 in Lexington and Grand Island goes to the difficulty of recovering workers’ compensation benefits for COVID-19. Workers’ compensation laws provide little deterrent for packinghouses to limit COVID-19 exposure. Even if an employee can prove on the job exposure, workers can collect limited benefits from workers’ compensation. Workers’ compensation benefits are limited because employees are supposed to collect them without regard to fault.

Limited in benefits in exchange for not proving fault is at the heart of the so-called grand bargain of workers’ compensation. Workers compensation benefits are generally the exclusive remedy employees have for workplace injury and illnesses.

But a public nuisance claim skirts the problems with workers’ compensation laws. A public nuisance claim sues the packinghouses not for how they treat their workers, but for how their treatment of their workers effects the surrounding community. Exclusive remedy means that the workers can only sue their employers for a workplace injury or illness under workers’ compensation. Workers can only collect limited benefits from workers’ compensation.

Public nuisance is a legal theory that the packinghouses know well. Environmental advocates successfully used the tactic against a Smithfield subsidiary in North Carolina. I hope worker safety advocates obtain a good outcome in the Missouri case. I hope these suits spread to plants in other states.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, 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.

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Hard but not impossible: COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims

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Photo courtesy of QZ.com

An employee exposed to COVID-19 at work is likely limited to collecting workers’ compensation benefits. COVID-19 exposures are difficult workers’ compensation cases that have been made more difficult by guidance from the United States Department of Labor.

But difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Some COVID-19 exposures could lead to death, serious injury and or extensive medical expenses.  Here is how I think workers should pursue workers’ compensation benefits for COVID-19 exposure

What kind of COVID-19 workers compensation claims are worth bringing

Nebraska awards substantial workers’ compensation benefits to the survivors of workers who die due to work-related causes. Severe but not fatal cases of COVID-19 that lead to hospitalization can lead to substantial medical expense. COVID-19 can also have permanently disabling effects. In Nebraska, loss of function from COVID-19 is paid on how the injury impacts a workers’ ability to earn a living.

While a mild case of COVID-19 probably wouldn’t justify bringing a workers’ compensation claim, COVID-19 symptoms may flare up in the future. So regardless of the severity of the COVID-19 exposure, it would make sense for a worker who thinks they got COVID-19 on the job to investigate how they may have gotten the virus.

Playing amateur detective

Most COVID-19 cases will likely be proved by circumstantial evidence. This means that workers should try to rule out non work-related exposure and rule in work-related exposure. This may be challenging because workers who are likely to exposed to COVID-19 on the job are also likely to have friends and family members who have been exposed to COVID-19 who could have exposed them to COVID-19 outside of work.

Workers who have been exposed to COVID-19, or their friends and family, need to do the leg work to gather the facts about possible COVID-19 exposure before memories fade and supporting documentation disappears.

Why you will probably need an attorney to pursue a COVID-19 workers’ compensation case

I believe insurers and employers will deny most COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims for two reasons. One, the cases are hard to prove. Two, many insurance policies apparently have virus exclusions. A lawyer can help a worker, or the family of a worker, exposed to COVID-19 gather facts to support their case.

In Nebraska, lawyers can subpoena documents from employers as well as serve written questions called interrogatories, requests for admissions and requests for production to help prove up a case for COVID-19 exposure on the job. Lawyers can also take depositions. I’ve written before how some employers will likely cover up and under report COVID-19 exposure. But in Nebraska employees should have the ability to obtain absence logs, occupational health records and other information outside of typical injury reports that could circumstantially prove COVID-19 exposure on the job.

I think lawyers pursuing workers’ compensation claim related to COVID-19 in Nebraska need to file petitions and serve discovery as soon as possible. COVID-19 claims will likely require more factual investigation than a typical workers’ compensation case.

Cooperation from co-workers and fear of retaliation

To some extent proving COVID-19 should be covered by workers’ compensation will probably require some cooperation from co-workers. Concerns about retaliation from an employer are legitimate. I’ve also criticized what I think are the weakness of retaliation laws recently. But Nebraska law outlaws retaliating against employees who claim workers compensation benefits. Does that protection extend to co-workers who assist in a workers’ compensation claim? I’m not sure, but recently a federal judge interpreting Nebraska’s workers’ compensation retaliation law held that the law provides broad protections.

Good facts also make good law. What that means is a co-worker who gets fired for helping a co-worker get workers’ compensation benefits may create law that formally extends the protections of workers’ compensation retaliation in Nebraska.

Though mainstream media has not widely reported this news, credible outlets like Payday Report and Law 360 have reported about widespread strikes and employee walkouts over COVID-19 safety related concners. So far, no walk outs have been reported in Nebraska. But supporting a co-worker in a workers’ compensation claim is an act of solidarity like a walk out or strike. The ability for workers to recover workers compensation benefits for COVID-19 exposure may require acts of solidarity.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, 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.

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OSHA guidance on COVID-19 reporting could make it harder to prove workers’ compensation claims

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Bloomberg Law reported that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will not require non-medical and non-first responder employers to report possible COVID-19 exposures in the workplace.

OSHA’s decision on limiting reporting of potential work-related COVID-19 exposure could make it harder for workers to have COVID-19 exposure covered by state workers’ compensation laws. It will likely also make it more difficult to track exposure to the virus.

Injury reports and proving job-related exposure to COVID-19 through circumstantial evidence

Even if OSHA does not require most employers to report possible COVID-19 exposure, employers would still have to report possible COVID-19 exposures on the job to state workers’ compensation courts and agencies. However, many employers effectively use federal standards for recording an injury for reporting injuries to state workers’ compensation agencies. OSHA’s ruling may lead employers to under report possible COVID-19 exposures to state agencies.

In a blog post last week, Thomas Robinson wrote that many workers exposed to COVID-19 on the job will have to rely on circumstantial evidence to have COVID-19 exposures covered by workers’ compensation. But if employers aren’t required to log potential COVID-19 exposures, then it will be more difficult for employees to build their workers’ compensation cases with circumstantial evidence of other potential COVID-19 exposures in their workplace.

In theory employees could rely on state workers’ compensation reports to build a circumstantial case. But the lack of a federal reporting requirement may mean that employers don’t report potential COVID-19 exposure to state authorities.

Difficulties of tracking COVID-19 through medical records and billing

State workers’ compensation laws may provide another way to track the effect of COVID-19. Medical providers tend to ask about the cause of a medical condition or injury for the purposes of medical billing.  Knowing which COVID-19 cases were billed to workers’ compensation would be one way to track occupational exposure to the virus.

But there are problems with this approach. Doctors usually need to rely on patient history in order to determine whether an injury or illness is related to work. A worker may be unaware of how they contacted COVID-19.  Evidence that other workers were potentially exposed to COVID-19 may help doctors make that determination.

However, getting additional information to medical doctors and asking them to link an injury or illness to work duties is time consuming and often expensive. Sometimes a doctor will expressly conclude that an injury or illness was caused by work in their medical records. But with the advent of electronic medical records, it is less common to find causal statements in the body of a medical records. Unhelpful medical records will probably make it more difficult for workers’ compensation lawyers and public health authorities to investigate the causes of COViD-19 exposure.

COVID-19 and a two-tiered approach to workplace safety

I am disturbed by OSHA’s decision to limit reporting of COVID-19 by employers. The reason behind the decision is that many employers complained it’s difficult to determine if COVID-19 is caused by work. I agree that it will be difficult to cover COVID-19 cases under state workers’ compensation laws. But, filing an OSHA 300/301 report or a First Report of Injury in Nebraska isn’t an admission that an injury or illness is work-related.

Workplace safety advocates rightfully believe that this move by OSHA will make it more difficult to track COVID-19 exposure in the workplace to the detriment of retail, delivery, warehousing, transportation and food processing employees who are vulnerable to COVID-19 exposure.  In his blog post about proving up COVID-19 cases, Tom Robinson wrote passionately about how first responders and health care employees were getting more workplace safety protections than retail, delivery, transportation and food processing employees.

The two-tiered approach to workplace safety predates the COVID-19 pandemic. Lowly paid retail employees are routinely subjected to violence on the job, but they usually aren’t eligible for workers’ compensation benefits for strictly mental injuries or “mental-mental” injuries. By contrast, first responders are eligible for mental-mental benefits and a growing number of states are giving first responders a presumption that mental injuries are work-related. The COVID-19 pandemic is throwing these pre-existing divisions into starker contrast.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, 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.

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How COVID-19 complicates workers’ compensation claims

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COVID-19 (coronavirus) is disrupting life for everyone. If you were hurt at work before the pandemic hit, your life has been disrupted doubly. Here are some ways how COVID-19 is complicating workers’ compensation cases for injured workers.

Delays in medical treatment

I’ve heard several reports that physical therapists and orthopedic doctors are limiting appointments and delaying procedures because of the virus. So even if an insurer or claims administrator has accepted your claim and approved treatment, you may have to wait for treatment.

Some of this delay may not be bad for workers if temporary disability benefits are being paid along with medical benefits. In 15 years of practice, I’ve seen employers and insurance companies force employees to return to work sooner and sooner. The delays in medical treatment created by COVID-19 may give some employees more time to heal from their injuries.

FMLA

But on the flip side, delays in medical care will likely force some employees to lose job protected under the Family Medical Leave Act. (FMLA) While FMLA protections were expanded under the CARES Act, those expanded protections don’t give any additional job protected leave to employees who were hurt on the job if it wasn’t related to COVID-19.

Undermining doctor choice

In Nebraska, employees have the right to pick their own doctor to treat their work injury. These doctors are often primary care doctors. Of course during a pandemic, it is harder for an injured worker to see a primary care doctor and have a primary care doctor fill out necessary paperwork for a workers’ compensation case.

Unscrupulous employers may use the unavailability of a family doctor to steer an injured worker to an employer-friendly occupational medicine clinic. This tactic pre-dates the coronavirus, but expect the pandemic to provide a new talking point for human resources and workers’ compensation bureaucrats to manipulate medical care in workers’ compensation cases.

The gears of the workers’ compensation bureaucratic complex have not stopped grinding during the pandemic. Genex, who contracts with insurance companies to micromanage medical care for injured workers, wrote a blog post last week heroically portraying one of their nurse case managers overcoming the resistance of a treating doctor and COVID-19 to return an employee back to work. (Assuming they had a job to return to in the first place.)

But if insurance companies and their minions can play the “corona card”, so can injured workers. Injured workers have the right to exclude nurse case managers from examination rooms. I would suggest injured workers’ ask nurse case managers to observe “social distancing” and stay out of cramped examination rooms.

Loss of health insurance in denied claims

Thanks to firms like Genex, many employers prematurely quit paying workers’ compensation benefits. This often forces employees to pay for medical treatment related to work injuries with their health insurance. But this plan could go awry if employees lose health insurance benefits due to a layoff.

Under the law, employers are supposed to continue health coverage under COBRA. Injured workers may also be able to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. But COBRA coverage is too expensive for most employees and even ACA coverage can be too costly for many. Employees should see if they are eligible for unemployment under the CARES Act. Employees could help pay for health insurance with the additional $600 per week unemployment benefit on top of regular weekly benefits and extended weekly benefits available under the CARES Act. But even with increased unemployment benefits, injured workers may have to make difficult financial decision about pursuing medical care.

Previous posts about coronavirus/COVID-19

Navigating a workers’ compensation claim amid mass layoffs and economic uncertainty” – March 30, 2020

What workers should know about coronavirus and workers’ compensation” – March 23, 2020

The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, 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.

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