Tag Archives: penalties

Will worker-friendly prosecutors be stymied by the 8th Amendment?

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Newly elected Queens County NY District Attorney Tiffany Caban vows to crackdown on wage theft

Newly elected Queens County District Attorney Tiffany Caban vowed to step up criminal enforcement  of wage theft.  But prosecutors wanting to use the criminal justice system to push for workplace justice may be blocked by arguments adopted by the Colorado Supreme Court recently.

The Colorado Supreme Court held that a $841,200 fine to an employer for not having workers’ compensation insurance violated the excessive fines clause of the 8th Amendment. Colorado imposes a fine of between $250-$500 per day for every day an employer does not have workers’ compensation insurance.

The Colorado court found lower courts erred as a matter of law in not applying Supreme Court precedent stating that fines could be challenged if they were clearly excessive. The Colorado court found that there was an insufficient record to determine whether the fine actually was clearly excessive and sent the case back to the trial court for a factual determination.

While not controlling in other states or jurisdictions, the Colorado decision would likely be persuasive in jurisdictions, such as Nebraska, that impose daily fines on employers for not having workers compensation insurance.

But even if Nebraska did adopt the Colorado fine decision, I question somewhat the practical effect of the decision. Employers are rarely fined for not having coverage. Colorado employers still bear the burden of contesting their fine on a violation by violation or day by day basis. But this would also place a burden on prosecutors to prove violations on a day by day or violation basis. I believe this would discourage prosecution under Nebraska’s law as Nebraska law vests sole authority to prosecute fine cases to the Attorney General. The law also give doesn’t make prosecution mandatory.

My view is that the Colorado decision would be less persuasive in challenging penalties and fees awarded to employees under Neb. Rev. Stat. 48-125.

The Supreme Court has held that while civil fines are still fines under the 8th Amendment, fines do not include punitive damage awards in civil cases. Fines are limited to money paid to or taken by the government.

Neb. Rev. Stat. 48-125 awards penalties and attorney fees to employees where there is no reasonable controversy of fact or law as to an award of medical or disability benefits. No reasonable controversy is a difficult standard for an employee to meet. Penalties and fees under 48-125 serve as a substitute for a bad faith action in Nebraska.

Since penalties and fees are awarded directly to parties and they serve as a substitute for damages that could be awarded in a civil case, there is a good argument that penalty and fee awards under 48-125 would be immune from an 8th Amendment challenge.

On the flip side, since Nebraska doesn’t allow for punitive damages in civil cases, a narrow reading of Supreme Court precedent on fines might open up an 8th Amendment challenge. The fact that Nebraska doesn’t allow for punitive damages would give Nebraska employers a stronger argument to challenge an award of penalties and or fees under 48-125 as excessive.

Previously I wrote about how employee benefit plans under ERISA can complicate the resolution of workers compensation claims.   Employees have  the ability to have a court fine an insurance plan for not providing a copy of the benefit plan. This leverage may be lessened if more courts adopt the reasoning of the Colorado Supreme Court about fines.

Lawyers for injured workers should be proud of the success we have had making constitutional challenges to anti-worker changes to state workers’ compensation laws. But last year I wrote that the defense bar could also mount constitutional challenges of their own. They succeeded in Colorado. Hopefully legislators in Colorado will fix a decision that makes it harder to punish deadbeat employers who don’t provide workers compensation insurance to their employees.

One way to make fines pass constitutional muster would be to allow injured workers to share in the fine. This would probably mean changing fine statutes to allow for private prosecution, but if it was coupled with what amounts to a bounty it could mean more aggressive prosecution employers who didn’t get workers’ compensation insurance. In states like Nebraska, that don’t allow for punitive damages, I also think an award of a set general damage to a plaintiff where the employer didn’t have insurance would help penalize scofflaw employers.

On Monday, I wrote about my reluctance to criminalize workers’ compensation fraud. Allowing employees expanded civil remedies against employers who don’t carry insurance may be more effective in combating this form of workers’ compensation fraud. It may also be more permissible from a constitutional perspective.

But from a practical standpoint I am well aware of the leverage that criminal prosecution gives to an employee-side attorney in a wage and hour case. I represented an employee who was paid nothing for several weeks of sales work, Nebraska doesn’t have a so-called outside sales exception, so the emplyoer had no defense to not paying my client. Furthermore, Nebreska has tough language in our wage and hour act stating that county attorneys shall prosecute violations of the law. I hope newly elected pro-workers prosecutors will be willing to partner with civil attorneys in cracking down on wage theft.

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.

This entry was posted in Nebraska, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , .

Nebraska’s Statistics Inform in AFL-CIO Report

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Here’s the third installment in an occasional series about the annual report that the AFL-CIO recently released regarding fatalities at work. Today’s blog post focuses on Nebraska statistics and numbers only, and 2013 was the most recent year for which information was available, with some information coming from OSHA’s 2014 fiscal year. When that is the case, it is noted.

The table “Workplace Safety and Health Statistics by State, 2008-2013” includes Fatality Rates, which is the rate of deaths per 100,000 workers; Injury/Illness Rates, which is the rate of total cases per 100 workers; and Average Penalties from OSHA.

“Fatality Rates” in Nebraska were

  • 2008: 5.7
  • 2009: 6.2
  • 2010: 6.3
  • 2011: 3.9
  • 2012: 5.2
  • 2013 4.0

“Injury/Illness Rates” were

  • 2008: 4.4
  • 2009: 4.1
  • 2010: 4.2
  • 2011: 3.9
  • 2012: 3.9
  • 2013: 3.8

“Average Penalties” were $1,106 in fiscal year 2009; $1,279 in 2010; $2,984 in 2011; $2,835 in 2012; $2,565 in 2013; and $2569 in fiscal year 2014. This includes “averages per serious citation for conditions creating a substantial probability of death or serious physical harm to workers,” according to the report.

The table “Workplace Fatalities by State, 1995-2013” includes the following statistics. Please respect that one death of each yearly total was a real person with loved ones whose lives most likely changed abruptly after his or her death.

  • 1995: 54
  • 1996: 56
  • 1997: 46
  • 1998: 56
  • 1999: 66
  • 2000: 59
  • 2001: 57
  • 2002: 83
  • 2003: 51
  • 2004: 46
  • 2005: 36
  • 2006: 57
  • 2007: 63
  • 2008: 53
  • 2009: 57
  • 2010: 54
  • 2011: 39
  • 2012: 48
  • 2013: 39

The table “Fatal Occupational Injuries by State and Event or Exposure, 2013” included the following information for Nebraska: Total Fatalities, 2013: 39

  • Assaults and Violent Acts: 4
  • Transportation Incidents: 21
  • Fires and Explosions: 0
  • Falls: 4
  • Exposure to Harmful Substances or Environments: 1
  • Contact with Objects and Equipment: 9

The table “Number and Rate of Injuries and Illnesses by State for All Industries, Private Industry, State Government and Local Government, 2013” gives no explanation for why the number of injuries/illnesses was not applicable for state government for that year.

“Number of Injuries/Illnesses”

  • All Industries: 29,200
  • Private Industry: 24,700
  • State Government: N/A
  • Local Government: 3,300

“Rate of Injuries/Illnesses” per 100 Workers

  • All Industries: 3.9
  • Private Industry: 3.7
  • State Government: 3.6
  • Local Government: 6.2

The table “Hispanic or Latino Worker Fatalities by State, 1996-2013” … “includes both foreign-born and native-born” people, according to the document.

  • 1996-2001: 0 each year
  • 2002: 9
  • 2003: 3
  • 2004: 4
  • 2005 and 2006: 0
  • 2007: 4
  • 2008: 5
  • 2009: 0
  • 2010: 3
  • 2011: 3
  • 2012: 5
  • 2013: 3

The table “Foreign-Born Worker Fatalities by State, 1996-2013” shows that “the definition of “foreign-born” employed by the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries refers simply to workers not born in the United States or U.S. territories and does not convey information on citizenship at birth,” according to the document.

  • 1996-2001: 0
  • 2002: 12
  • 2003: 0
  • 2004: 3
  • 2005 and 2006: 0
  • 2007: 5
  • 2008: 6
  • 2009: 4
  • 2010: 3
  • 2011: 3
  • 2012: 7
  • 2013: 4

Finally, here are links to two previous blog posts written about the AFL-CIO report: Death on the Job Annual Report from AFL-CIO Informative, Useful and ALF-CIO Report: Here are Some of Nebraska’s Numbers and Rankings. Two more blog posts that include statistics from the report on Iowa will also be shared in the near future, as well as a blog post that includes many of the nation’s totals for the categories listed above.

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.

This entry was posted in Workplace Injury, Workplace Safety and tagged , , , , .

OSHA’s Region 7 Busy in September

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The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is frequently referred to as OSHA.

OSHA’s Region 7 covers Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, although Iowa operates its “own OSHA-approved job safety and health programs and cover state and local government workers as well as private sector workers.” In addition, the approved program “must have standards that are identical to, or at least as effective as, the federal OSHA standards,” according to an OSHA web page. The region has had a busy month releasing the results of investigations and resulting fines, so I thought it would be interesting to make this blog post a roundup of the results, which were gleaned from OSHA news releases, found at the web page for Region 7.

Although the proposed fines unfortunately do not reflect the severity of some of the injuries, OSHA’s job is not to punish businesses for injured workers, but for unsafe working conditions. That also means that fines are often decreased or eliminated when the hazard in the workplace is fixed. However, OSHA investigating a business based on an accident can often help an injured person’s workers’ compensation case.

  1. Date and location: Sept. 2, McCool Junction, Neb.

    Proposed fine: $84,000

    Number of citations for safety violations: one repeat, two serious to Farmers’ Cooperative at its McCool Junction fertilizer plant

    Details: A 73-year-old worker died from injuries after falling while loading a tanker truck on May 7, according to OSHA’s news release. Citations were related to lack of fall protection, lack of guard rails, and not providing railing on stairways.

  2. Date and location: Sept. 2, Kansas City, Mo.

    Damages paid to whistleblower: $12,000: $2,000 compensatory and $10,000 punitive

    Law violated: Federal Railroad Safety Act by Farmers’ Cooperative

    Details: A railroad conductor at the Murray Yard complex was disciplined in retaliation after a doctor’s appointment in November 2013 where the doctor told him to stay out of work for the rest of the day because of a personal illness, according to OSHA’s news release. Although the worker notified a supervisor about the doctor’s treatment plan, “the company then accused the employee of violating its attendance policy and subsequently disciplined the employee.” In addition to paying damages, the company must “remove disciplinary information from the employee’s personnel record and provide whistleblower rights information to its employees.”

  3. Date and location: Sept. 22, Omaha, Neb.

    Proposed fine: $133,900

    Number of citations for safety violations: three repeat and three serious, including confined space safety regulations, to Watco Companies of Pittsburg, Kan., a business that specializes in rail car repairs and has 30 employees in Omaha

    Details: A worker “reported suffering from respiratory inflammation after performing welding work inside a rail car in Omaha,” according to OSHA’s news release. An investigation in March was launched after the Nebraska Department of Labor Workers’ Compensation Division notified OSHA via a report of the illness. Repeat violations were “for failure to implement training, procedures and practices for safe entry into these spaces, including the company’s failure to evaluate for hazards, and to provide workers with communication devices or implement measures to prevent unauthorized entry.” Previous citations that made these repeat happened in Texas in 2013. “Serious violations were cited for failure to provide administrative and engineering controls to reduce damaging noise exposure, electrical hazards and lack of atmospheric controls in confined spaces.”

  4. Date and location: Sept. 25, Holdrege, Neb.

    Proposed fine: $14,000

    Number of citations for safety violations: two serious: “for failing to train workers in the recognition of unsafe conditions and to teach them how to access emergency medical services from a job site,” according to OSHA’s news release. The company is Van Kirk Sand and Gravel, operating as Van Kirk Brothers Contracting, which is based in Sutton, Neb.

    Details: One worker died and one worker was hurt after getting hit “by an excavator bucket while installing stormwater drainage in a trench … in Holdrege on July 17.” The inspection by OSHA “found that one of the employees sustained puncture wounds from the bucket after it disconnected from the excavator and rolled into the trench from a height of about 4 feet.” That worker died, and the other worker “suffered contusions and abrasions in the incident and has since returned to work.”

  5. Date and location: Sept. 25, Wichita, Kan.

    Damages paid to whistleblower: $261,787 for back wages and damages; and also reinstatement to their job and removing references to the disciplinary action from the employee’s record

    Law violated: Surface Transportation Assistance Act by Stericycle Inc. of Lake Forest, Ill., which specializes in biohazard waste disposal

    Details: “An investigation found the company wrongfully terminated a transportation supervisor at its Wichita terminal because the worker raised safety concerns after a driver was instructed to pull a trailer without a valid license plate,” according to the OSHA news release. When the employee was fired in September 2012, it was because of his status as a whistleblower. “It was determined that his protected activity was a contributing factor in the company’s decision to terminate his employment on Sept. 14, 2012, in direct violation of STAA.”

In addition to investigating unsafe working conditions, OSHA also works with nonprofits, businesses and industries to promote safety and accident prevention, which is what the remainder of the news releases in September are about.

  • On Sept. 3, OSHA announced that it is forming an alliance with the Heartland Workers Center of Omaha. This effort will “provide HWC staff, immigrant workers and others with education, guidance and access to training resources on protecting the health and safety of workers,” according to the OSHA news release. This includes promoting workers’ rights, how to make an OSHA complaint, what employers’ responsibilities are under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and providing Spanish-language safety and health training.
  • On Sept. 16, OSHA announced that it will work with Holder Construction Group to keep workers safe during the building of a data center called the Oasis project in Omaha, “which will include a chiller plant, administrative areas and supporting mechanical, electrical and plumbing rooms,” according to OSHA’s news release. The estimated 180 tradesmen who will construct the building, along with their employers, will learn “about hazards construction workers face daily on the job, including fall, electrical, caught-in and struck-by hazards.” In addition to other details, “all contractors and subcontractors on the project will be required to have specific written safety and health programs in place and attend meetings before major work takes place.”
  • Finally, on Sept. 25, OSHA announced in a news release that it was National Farm Safety and Health Week Sept. 21-27. Although the way workers’ compensation is handled when it comes to agriculture varies from state to state, ag is a dangerous industry. The news release includes both statistics and resources with many links for ag workers and their loved ones and also employers. The 2014 theme was “Safety Counts: Protecting What Matters,” according to the OSHA news release. “With a fatality rate of 22.2 for every 100,000 full-time workers, agriculture recorded the highest fatality rate of any industry sector,” in 2013. Issues include “awareness of confined space, farm equipment, grain handling … work-related lung diseases, heat exposure, noise-induced hearing loss, struck-by and fall hazards, skin diseases and certain cancers associated with chemical use and prolonged sun exposure.”

While it would be great if OSHA didn’t have to exist because workplaces were safe for employees, it is helpful to see both proactive steps taken to make workplaces safe and also businesses being held accountable when workers are injured because businesses or job sites are unsafe in Region 7.

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 Enforcement Cases Involving Temps On the Rise

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Today’s post was shared by Gelman on Workplace Injuries and comes from ohsonline.com

I am so glad to see that temporary workers are being included more in OSHA enforcement. It is just frustrating that it took an injury to a worker in New Jersey for one of the companies in the article below to be inspected through “a referral from the Maplewood Fire Department,” according to the article.

Our firm’s blog has included articles focused on temporary workers and their special challenges when it comes to workers’ compensation in 2012 and earlier this year.

The short article below that is today’s focus came from a business and industry publication, so I think it serves to put its readers on notice for OSHA’s renewed focus “on the safety of temporary workers.”

Generally speaking (with exceptions for some agricultural jobs), temporary workers qualify for workers’ compensation, though that coverage does not replace wages from your main job if the temporary job is a second job. Workers’ compensation laws and systems vary by state, so if you or a loved one is injured on the job, please speak with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney about your specific situation.

Today’s post shared from OshOnLine.com illustrates a new enforcement effort by OSHA that will improve the work environment for all Americans.OSHA’s emphasis on the safety of temporary workers is being driven home by a series of enforcement actions. The latest case announcement on June 19 involved the Macon, Ga., facility of a company named California Cereal Products Inc., which OSHA has cited for exposing full-time and temporary workers to electrical, fall, and noise hazards, with proposed penalties totaling $40,600. OSHA opened an inspection last December based on a complaint.

“The employer has failed to protect full-time and temporary workers from easily identified workplace hazards that can result in death or permanent disability,” said Bill Fulcher, director of OSHA’s Atlanta-East Area Office.

The case against beverage bottling company Maplewood Beverage Packers LLC and temporary employment agency Corporate Resource Services Corp. in Elizabeth, N.J., also began with a December 2013 investigation, but it started with a referral from the Maplewood Fire Department after a temporary worker was injured falling from a ladder. OSHA has proposed $182,270 in penalties. “Host employers and staffing agencies are jointly responsible for ensuring worker safety and health,” said Kris Hoffman, director of OSHA’s Parsippany Area Office. “Employers must protect all workers from job hazards-both permanent and temporary workers.”

[Click here to see the rest of this post]

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.

This entry was posted in OSHA, Uncategorized, Workers' Compensation, Workplace Injury, Workplace Safety and tagged , , , .

Is Your Workers’ Compensation Check Late?

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My work comp check was late or hasn’t come yet. Now what?

If you are entitled to workers’ compensation checks, and the insurance company has not paid them on time, you might be entitled to a penalty from the insurance company in addition to the amount that you are owed.

The penalties for late payments vary from state to state, but most states have laws to help workers when this problem arises.

In Nebraska, the work comp insurance company has 30 days to pay benefits from the day that it has notice of the disability, or 30 days from the day that the Court entered an Order, Award, or Judgment. If the insurance company does not pay the benefits within those 30 days, you may be entitled to Continue reading

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.

This entry was posted in Workers' Compensation, Workplace Injury and tagged , , , .