Tag Archives: workplace violence

Will COVID barriers do double duty for workplace safety?

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Barriers designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 are popping up in stores, restaurants and offices. These barriers may also protect employees from violence.

A 2012 study by the Indiana Department of Labor showed that bullet proof glass was effective in protecting convenience store clerks from violence. The study also showed that barriers discouraged violence by preventing criminals from climbing or jumping over counters.

Even before COVID-19 retail and service employers were taking measures to protect employees against violence. Hy-Vee, a major Midwestern grocery chain, ended 24-hour operations this year before the COVID pandemic. That move likely protected employees from violence. Last year, I wrote about a local bank that started to restrict entry and another bank that put up barriers to protect tellers.

Companies took these measures before the term “essential worker” entered widespread usage and applied to retail employees. One silver lining to the COVID crisis is the newfound respect gained by retail, delivery, warehouse and other service employees like fast food workers.

The rise of the essential worker

This newfound respect could translate into newfound political clout. Many states have proposed laws giving workers a presumption of compensability for COVID-related claims under workers’ compensation laws. Some states have included retail employees within those presumptions.

Federally, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) introduced the Pandemic Heroes Compensation Act of 2020. Modeled after the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, the bill would allow essential employees or their families to claim compensation for injuries related to COVID. This fund would either supplement or provide an alternative to state workers’ compensation laws.

I believe this a semi-revolutionary development. Pre-COVID, first responders like police and firefighters held a privileged status within workers’ compensation laws. For example, in many states firefighters get a presumption of compensability for heart attacks. For non-firefighters looking to have an on the job heart attack covered by workers’ compensation, there is a higher standard of proof than a regular workers’ compensation injury.

First responders, in Nebraska and in many other states, can receive “mental-mental” workers’ compensation benefits. Mental-mental injuries are mental injuries without a physical injury. All other workers need to show some physical injury to have mental trauma from a workplace incident covered by workers’ compensation.

I believe politics explains why first responders have more protections under Nebraska workers’ compensation law. Politicians want support from first responders. First responders also have enormous political muscle through their unions. Most retail workers, at least in Nebraska, aren’t represented by unions. Some management-side attorneys worry, for good reason, that more employees may form unions in the wake of the pandemic. Labor organizing among retail employees could be necessary to translate goodwill from the public into improvements in working conditions.

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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Nebraska leads on first responder workers compensation benefits, but needs to do better

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The words “Nebraska” and “ahead of the curve” aren’t often used together. But when it comes to mental-mental workers compensation benefits for first responders, Nebraska has been well ahead of states like Florida, Washington and Oregon in providing those benefits.

Thomas Robinson, the author of the leading treatise on workers’ compensation, recently published an article summarizing recent state legislation expanding mental-mental benefits to first responders. Mental-mental workers’ compensation injuries are mental distress injuries not related back to a physical injury.

Nebraska first created mental-mental workers’ compensation benefits for first responders in 2010. The benefits were made permanent in 2012. In 2017 the benefits were expanded to prison guards and other state employees who work with high-risk individuals. Nebraska was well ahead of Florida, Washington, Connecticut, Oregon, New Mexico and Idaho which only recently expanded mental-mental workers’ compensation benefits to first responders.

Many first responders in Nebraska are volunteer firefighters. Those volunteers aren’t paid wages, but they are still covered by workers’ compensation in Nebraska. The coverage includes benefits for permanent and total disability.

I agree with Robinson’s arguments questioning the constitutionality of giving mental-mental workers’ compensation to first responders but not all workers. Robinson uses the example of truck drivers. I’ve written frequently about  the violence that low paid retail workers are exposed to in their work.

Workplace violence struck close to our office last week when a local man rammed his truck through the window of a Chick-Fil-A near Southpointe Mall in Lincoln. The man was armed with a stun gun and was shot by a sworn officer who reportedly driving through the drive-in. Under Nebraska law, the Chick-Fil-A employees could not make a workers’ compensation claim solely for mental distress. The officer would have a stronger argument for mental-mental workers’ compensation benefits.

I also agree with Robinson that teachers deserve mental-mental workers’ compensation benefits. The recent passage of mental-mental workers’ compensation benefits was partly motivated by a response to various high-profile school shootings. Other responses to school shootings have been less helpful. In April I wrote about work injuries sustained by teachers in Indiana during a mass shooting drill. In that injury a teacher was shot “execution style” with a paintball gun. The union representing teacher’s in Indiana drew attention to this incident in legislative testimony about school safety. That is one example of how unions help improve workplace safety.

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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