Tag Archives: return to work

Did the Supreme Court undercut ADA protections for employees of religious hospitals?

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Last week the Supreme Court decided that two teachers working at Catholic schools could not sue their employer for discrimination because of the “ministerial exception” to federal workplace discrimination laws.

The Supreme Court clarified (or broadened) what kind of religious school employees are excluded from anti-discrimination laws. The Supreme Court held that the First Amendment’s Religion clause precluded courts from second guessing the reasons for firing ministerial employees. The court held there was no formula for who was a ministerial employee. The court stated that depended on the extent an employee conveyed the message of the church and carried its mission.

Arguably, the Morrissey-Berru decision and the Hosanna-Tabor decision which it relied on only apply to religious school teachers. Before these decisions, lower courts held that most religious school teachers were covered under federal civil rights laws. (See the dissent from Justice Sotomayor starting at page 37 of the opinion.)

Who else will be excluded from civil rights laws?

So, if churches have broader latitude to discriminate against employees, how broad is that latitude. Would this apply to nurses and nurses aides at hospitals affiliated with a church? Nurses and nurse’s aides are often injured at work. Because of this fact, they often need to invoke the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Family Medical Leave Act. (FMLA) Would a religious hospital argue the ministerial exception to argue the ADA and FMLA did not apply to a nurse or nurse’s aide hurt at work?

So far, at least in Nebraska and the Eighth Circuit I haven’t seen any cases where that happened. But Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI), a major health care employer locally, has some expressly religious statements in its mission statement. Would that language be enough to argue ministerial exception? Maybe not, but religious freedom advocates have advised employers about steps they can take to invoke the ministerial exception defense.

Another commonality between Morrisey-Berru and Hosanna-Tabor

I believe that major church-affiliated health care employers will continue to follow the ADA and FMLA. Major employers and their HR departments tend to be risk-averse. But in litigated cases, I believe outside counsel would push ministerial exception arguments.

Both the Hosanna-Tabor and Morrisey-Berru cases involved ADA claims. This fact fails to surprise me and I doubt that it’s entirely coincidental. From a practical perspective, ADA claims tend to be better cases for employees than other civil rights cases. I believe this is so because employers are more likely to botch ADA/FMLA compliance than other forms anti-discrimination laws. Arguing the ministerial exception is one way to defeat an otherwise valid ADA case.

A return to the pre-ADAAA bad old days?

But when I started practicing in 2005, ADA cases were harder to win. What changed was the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 which broadened the definition of disability. That change made ADA cases easier to prove.

Those changes to the ADA also made it easier for workers to heal from work injuries and return to work after injury. Pre-2008, if an injured worker was not ready to return to work after their 12 weeks of FMLA leave they would likely be fired. This threat often forced injured workers to attempt to return to work before they were ready. In tandem with “100 percent healed” policies, injured workers would also work with their doctors to downplay or eliminate work restrictions. An employee who returned to work with “no restrictions” before ready risked injury and also compromised the value of their workers’ compensation case.

But if courts extend Hosanna-Tabor and Morrisey-Berru to health care workers, the past is prologue for those workers. If courts extend these cases to hold the FMLA does not apply to health care workers, the future may be worse than the pre-ADAAA past.

Common law employment law claims?

Left unaddressed by the Supreme Court is whether religious employers can claim exemption from common law employment law claims. For example, Nebraska law makes it unlawful to retaliate against a worker claiming workers compensation. The Nebraska Workers Compensation Act covers churches and church employees. Arguably it would defeat the purpose of that law to allow churches or religious employers to retaliate against those employees.

On the flip side, Supreme Court cases about employment law tend to persuade state court judges. In her dissent in Morrissey-Berru, Justice Sotomayor criticized the ministerial exception as judge-made law. But the law prohibiting employers from retaliating against employees who claim workers’ compensation is also judge-made. That fact may make judges in Nebraska more willing to create a ministerial exception in common law anti-retaliation claims.

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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Who is going to hire me with restrictions?

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Injured workers who are looking to return to work with work restrictions after an extended time of healing from an injury face some problems in returning to work. In many cases the injured worker has been off work well beyond any time covered by the Family Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and or any leave of absence policy, so they are unable to return to their old job assuming they could do their old job.

Workers in this situation often ask “Who is going to hire me with restrictions?” It’s a legitimate question. Here a few do’s and don’ts from my experience as a lawyer representing injured workers.

Do: Work with vocational rehabilitation

Nebraska offers vocational rehabilitation, VR for short, as part of our workers’ compensation act. Sometimes vocational rehabilitation can mean an injured worker gets paid their so-called temporary total disability rate while they go to school. More often this means a vocational counselor helps an injured worker look for work while they are receiving those benefits. VR is the Rodney Dangerfield of workers’ compensation benefits – it often gets no respect – but it can be very helpful for injured workers. It’s also not a benefit that an insurance company will often voluntarily offer to an injured worker like medical benefits or temporary disability pay.

Nebraska also offers vocational rehabilitation through our state department of education. That fact confuses a lot of my clients when I talk about VR through workers’ compensation. But if an injured worker has settled their workers’ compensation case or is fighting their workers’ compensation case, they can use VR through the state department of education to help return to work

Don’t: Assume no one will hire you

Disability discrimination is real. That’s why there is the Americans with Disabilities Act and parallel state laws. Under the ADA, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against a qualified employee with a disability who can do a job with or without reasonable accommodations.

What that does that last sentence mean?. In plain terms, this means that so long as you meet most of the qualifications of the job, an employer or perspective employer should work with you to make minor tweaks to a job. Sometimes this means using a stool to avoid standing. Sometimes this means using a cart to avoid heavy carrying or lifting.

In practical terms, Nebraska employers claim there is a shortage of workers. I think business interests overstate this concern for political reasons, but as the job market has improved employers seems more willing to take chances on employees.

Don’t: Fail to disclose your restrictions or injury if asked by a new employer post-hire

In order for an employee to accommodate restrictions from an old injury, they need to know about the restrictions. While an employer can’t ask you about a disability pre-hire, they can ask about a disability post-hire so long if it is job related. The “Who is going to hire me with restrictions” line can get a worker into trouble if they don’t disclose they have some restrictions to certain body parts. Again, an employer needs to work with you to some extent on accommodating an old injury,

Failing to disclose an old injury can also make it more difficult to make a workers’ compensation claim if an injury with a new employer worsens an old injury. It can also be grounds to deny a workers’ compensation claim entirely. Failing to disclose an old injury can potentially be grounds for termination for dishonesty on employment application.

Don’t: Tell anyone who isn’t your lawyer or a family member that “No one is going to hire me with restrictions.”

Going back to the “Who’s going to hire me with restrictions?” It’s a legitimate question. But if an injured worker is still fighting a workers’ compensation claim, that statement said to the wrong person can hurt a claim.

Who is the wrong person? Anyone who isn’t a family member or your lawyer.

When a vocational rehabilitation counselor, doctor, insurance company lawyer, insurance adjuster or mediator hears “Who is going to hire me with restrictions?”  they tend to think. “This person doesn’t want to work” and or “This person isn’t hurt as bad as they think they are.”

Why do they think that way? If you work on the insurance-side of workers’ compensation for an extended length of time, I think you tend to perceive cases from that perspective. Lawyers and doctors and other professionals look at work differently. Many professionals tend to live to work rather than work to live. I believe that professional class people glamorize blue collar labor and tend to get nostalgic about blue collar or service jobs they did when they were younger. Professional class people also tend to consume media geared towards professional class people that tends to cover the workplace from the perspective of business.

But regardless of why professionals involved in workers’ compensation case think this way, those professionals have a lot of influence over the value of an injured workers’ compensation claim. Injured workers need to be careful about how they communicate with these professionals.

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 , , , , .

Back In The game Or Back To Work Too Soon?

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Senator Dan Quick has introduced employee-friendly legislation

Last weekend’s Big 10 Conference football championship game between Ohio State and Wisconsin contained some off-the-field controversy when former Wisconsin Badger and current Cleveland Browns player, Joe Thomas, criticized the fact that Ohio State starting quarterback J.T. Barrett was playing in the game six days after arthroscopic knee surgery.

While Barrett lead the Buckeyes to victory with 211 passing yards and 60 rushing yards, Thomas argued that college players should have the option of a second opinion when it comes to major surgeries like players do in the NFL. Thomas argued that team doctors are overly influenced by coaches who want players to return to action as soon as possible and that college players are over eager to return to the field.

A similar issue will be debated in Nebraska’s legislature next month. Senator Dan Quick of Grand Island has a bill on the floor that would require an employer to pay for a second opinion if an employee disputes a finding from a doctor paid for by the employer. Quick’s bill was inspired by his experience of being sent back to work prematurely by a doctor chosen by his employer’s workers compensation insurer.

Quick is an electrician by trade and is one of the few blue-collar workers who serves in the Nebraska Legislature. Another blue-collar worker, Lee Carter, was recently elected to the legislature in Virginia. Like Quick, Carter had a bad experience after a work injury. Carter had his hours reduced after his accident and was unable to find a lawyer because of confusion over which state had jurisdiction over his work injury.

Blue collar workers running for office may be a trend as iron worker Randy Bryce is running for Congress against House Speaker Paul Ryan and Wisconsin Firefighter’s union president Mahlon Mitchell is running for Governor of Wisconsin. I am encouraged that people like Dan Quick and Lee Carter have taken their bad experiences after work injuries and have gone into politics to directly address the problems they  faced first hand and make sure other workers will have better experiences if they get hurt on the job.

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 employment law, Workers' Compensation and tagged , , , , , , , , .

Why Should I Return to Work?

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Even if you don’t miss time from work, you might still have a workers’ comp case.

We appreciate all of our social-networking followers on Facebook and Twitter. This blog post is in response to questions posed by one of those followers.

Upon reading another blog post, we received commentary on Facebook saying: “…if you can work you dont [sic] have a case…you could still collect for time missed but you dont get to work and get paid for nothing…”

The answers to these questions vary depending on the situation, but hopefully these links provide more information about the benefits of filing a workers’ compensation claim and why returning to work does not mean you don’t have a case as implied by the comment above.

For example, even if your employer accommodated your work restrictions from your doctor or your employer paid your salary while you were off work, you still have a workers’ compensation claim and you are entitled to all of the rights that are provided under the workers’ compensation laws. Click here for more information.

In fact, it is possible 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 , , .

Should I Take a Lump-sum Settlement?

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A study shows that lump sum settlements do not discourage return to work

A study shows lump-sum settlements of workers’ compensation cases encourage return to work. Workers’ compensation laws are designed to pay benefits on a weekly basis unless there is a lump-sum settlement. Lump-sum settlements typically involve payment of a larger single payment rather than weekly payments. Injured workers often prefer the lump-sum approach for a variety of reasons. The limited nature of workers’ compensation benefits frequently leaves workers in a financial bind, and receiving a lump sum enables one to catch up. For instance, house payments can be eliminated with large settlements. Since weekly benefits end at the death of a worker, receipt of a lump sum can create some security for spouses.

There are criticisms of lump-sum settlements as well. One of the criticisms is that lump sums end all entitlement to benefits, including medical care. Another is that they discourage continued employment or return to work. A very recent study of how lump-sum settlements affect continued employment provides evidence that settlements do not discourage return to work.

An injured worker makes the decision of whether to enter into a lump-sum settlement or receive weekly benefits. Lump-sum settlement proposals are frequently made to injured workers without lawyers. A lump-sum settlement offer should be reviewed by an experienced lawyer to be sure the proposal is fair and in the best interests of the worker and her family. Injured workers should review and discuss the choice of settlement versus weekly payments with attorneys and understand the benefits and risks of each approach before deciding.

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 , , .