Tag Archives: preemption

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

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

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

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

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

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

Non-competes in Nebraska

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

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

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

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

Other questions about Freedom to Compete

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

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

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in FLSA, Nebraska, non-compete agreements, Workers' Compensation and tagged , , , , , .

A quarter-step forward but two steps back on fee scheduling air ambulance charges in workers compensation

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Congress may have implemented a partial legislative fix in response to a growing number of state and federal court decisions, the most recent out of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, holding federal law regulating aviation preempts workers’ compensation fee scheduling of air ambulance bills.

The FAA Reauthorization Act authorized the Secretary of Transportation to appoint an advisory committee to suggest rules about charges for air ambulance services. But this “fix” may actually give air ambulance companies more power to avoid having their charges “fee scheduled” under state workers’ compensation laws.

The main controversy about air ambulance charges is that users, including injured workers, can be stuck with paying the difference between what insurance paid and what is billed. In workers’ compensation, when a provider accepts the “fee schedule” then an employee can not be billed further by the medical provider.

But since many courts hold that a state cannot regulation air ambulance charges, state fee schedules do not apply to air ambulances in that situation. This is because when a state law conflicts with a federal law, the federal law preempts the state law.  Charges for air ambulances are often in the tens of thousands of dollars because of the cost of helicopter flight.

On a negative note for workers, the fact that the Department of Transportation is issuing rules regarding air ambulance charges could strengthen the case that the regulation of air ambulance expenses preempt state workers’ compensation fee schedules.

In another downside for workers, the air ambulance industry will get three members of the advisory board that will be helping to draft the rules, while there will be one “consumer representative” as well as two other representatives generally representing the health insurance industry. There is a chance that consumer interests could get short-shifted by the Department of Transportation.

One upside for workers is that the legislation indicates that it should breakdown air ambulances expenses between transportation and non-transportation expenses. Non-transportation expenses could be more likely to be subjected to fee schedules which would reduce the cost of air ambulance services.

Recent case law would indicate there was an emerging majority view that the fee scheduling of air ambulance charges under state workers’ compensation laws would be preempted by federal law. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal court in West Virginia that held that state regulation air ambulance charges would be preempted by federal law. The 4th Circuit joined the 10th Circuit, 11th Circuit and courts in Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, North Dakota, Texas  and West Virginia in holding that workers compensation fee scheduling of air ambulance services are preempted by federal law.

Three things disturbed me when I read over the recent 4th Circuit decision and the West Virginia federal decision it upheld. The first thing that bothered me was any lack of discussion by the court about how fee schedules fit into the beneficent purpose of workers’ compensation laws. Legal analysis oftentimes requires balancing of different interests, but there was no more than cursory balancing of interests in the latest air ambulance case.

Fee schedules were generically described as a “regulation” in the most recent air ambulance case. The deregulation of air service was described by the District Court as an unvarnished good. Recent press coverage has demonstrated how business interests have worked to influence the federal judiciary. The recent air ambulance cases show a strong anti-regulatory bent and how that influence may manifest in court decisions.

Finally, the District court upheld a contracts clause challenge to state workers’ compensation fee schedules. I don’t know if the contracts clause argument would have succeeded without the pre-emption argument, but the contracts clause has historically been used to strike down workplace safety and workplace rights laws. As a plaintiff’s attorney, I don’t like seeing the contracts clause being used to weaken workers’ compensation laws. Again, this could show how business interests are influencing the federal judiciary.

But if Congress has legislated on air ambulance fees and the DOT will be regulating the area, there is some possibility that Congress or the DOT could change those rules and regulations in a way that would help workers, by say, ruling that air ambulances have to accept workers’ compensation fee schedules if one is in place. Ideally air ambulances would be excluded by Congress from the definition of common carrier as argued by proponents of the West Virginia fee schedule for air ambulances.

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 Constitutional law, preemption, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , , , .

Are surveillance drones watching injured workers in Nebraska?

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An eye in the sky watching injured workers?

Nearly 7 years ago, I wrote a blog about employers and insurance companies using surveillance of injured workers to fight paying workers’ compensation benefits in hopes of finding any reason to reduce or deny an injured workers name. Recently, our Plaintiff lawyer colleagues in other states have noticed use of drones for video surveillance of their clients.

I have not personally experienced “drone surveillance” of any of my clients yet, but I am sure the insurance companies will soon find a way to follow suit in Nebraska. In discussions with other workers compensation lawyers throughout the country, other lawyers have that mentioned insurance companies have used drone-surveillance against their clients in multiple states.

Is drone surveillance even legal? Well, that might depend on what state you live in. However, the FAA does have guidelines on the use of drones and restrictions of how those drones may be operated. Some surveillance tactics may run afoul FAA rules.

Also, many states have enacted their own laws to protect citizen’s privacy from drone-use and cameras. Here are a few examples:

Arkansas forbids the use of drones to invade privacy

California forbids the use of drones to invade a person’s privacy and to record anyone without his or her consent.

Texas Code Section 423.002(a) lays out specific situations in which drones with cameras may be used and insurance surveillance is not one of them.

Virginia makes it a criminal misdemeanor if drones are being used to harass if given notice to desist.  

Florida also prohibits a person from using a drone to record someone if such person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, with the presumption being that someone has a reasonable expectation of privacy if they are on their own property. 

While it is good that states are acting to protect privacy from the intrusion of aerial drones, there may be a legal fight over whether federal rules should preempt state laws about drones.

While aerial drones may be used to sniff out workers’ compensation fraud by employees, I doubt they will be effective in stamping out the larger problem of employer and provider fraud in workers’ compensation.

In summary, while I have not seen it in Nebraska yet, it is a possibility that some day drone surveillance will be used here. However, given all of the regulations (along with the cost and conspicuousness of drones) it is doubtful that drone surveillance would be used. If it is used, Nebraska may have to enact some laws similar to these other states with regards to drone use.

 

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 Fraud, Nebraska, surveillance, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , , .