Workers’ Compensation and Natural Disasters

We have seen displays of heroism and community in the face of natural disasters and emergencies. Civilians, first responders, communities of every background band together to help one another. Our immediate reaction is to assist when disaster strikes. Some may get injured during such tasks, and one has to ask-what happens if that’s part of your job?

Many states have regulations in place addressing the needs of workers and laborers in regard to natural disasters or emergency situations. Many workers may sustain injuries due to rescue and recovery missions, whether or not they are a first responder or part of an emergency services team. Others may encounter hazardous working conditions while trying to rebuild. Some of these regulations involve the expedition of prescriptions, procedures, and benefits so claimants aren’t left without medicine or wages. Insurance companies are also developing methods to make care and benefits more accessible-according to an article on BusinessInsurance.com, Chubb Ltd. managed to reach out to 400 claimants prior to the wreckage sustained when Hurricane Florence hit the southern U.S. in 2018. OSHA also released a statement regarding employer and employee safety after Hurricane Michael, the strongest storm on record for the Florida Panhandle.

The best way for employers and employees alike to stay as safe as possible in an emergency situation is to not only communicate, but also adhere to the planned out EAP, or Emergency Action Plan. As an OSHA requirement, employers that have 10 or more employees are required to have an Emergency Action Plan. This is a formal list of steps and procedures to take during an emergency or natural disaster. These include things like assigned training and roles for employees during an emergency, a way to report and communicate the emergency, and other related requirements.

Florence and Work Comp

‘Plan Ahead’: OSHA Spotlights Resources for Emergency Preparedness, Response

What employers should know as Hurricane Florence approaches

Earth, Wind and Fire: Workers’ Compensation Considerations in the Face of Natural Disasters

Natural Disaster Recovery Efforts: What You Should Know About Workers Compensation Policies

Disaster Preparedness, Recovery and Employee Safety During Hurricane Season

Emergency Action Plan

The App-Based Battleground

California and Seattle are the latest battlegrounds for lawsuits involving ride-hailing apps Uber and Lyft. As the gig economy expands, the definitions of job and employee are growing with it. However, the business model of the gig economy can be particularly daunting for their independent contractors-those of who are usually not subject to certain benefits, like workers’ compensation, bargaining rights, unemployment insurance, and the like. The industrys’ near-complete deregulation makes it easy to find work and make money, but consequently makes it hard to be protected from poor business practices.

“Seattle’s law, passed in 2015, requires the city to select a union as the exclusive bargaining representative of the estimated 9,000 drivers in Seattle who work for Uber, Lyft and other services. The law was put on hold pending the outcome of the chamber’s lawsuit”, according to an article on Reuters.com, linked below. While Washington state allows their cities, such as Seattle, to regulate Uber and Lyft, the 9th circuit court took issue with which part of the ride fees were regulated. The courts are allowing the challenge by business groups.

However, in California, the Supreme Court has passed a decision that makes it harder for businesses to “classify workers as independent contractors rather than employees.”, according to the New York Times. The decision could “upend their business models”, mandating minimum wage, overtime, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, etc. laws to be followed by companies. The law creates a simpler definition of employee and independent contractor, by way of substituting the current “test” for another, more streamlined one. This test would be based on someone completing tasks relevant to the business of the company, rather than degree of supervision and other contingencies that currently determine employee status. As the New York Times describes this new test;

“By way of an example, the court said a plumber hired by a store to fix a bathroom leak would not reasonably be considered an employee of that store. But seamstresses sewing at home using materials provided by a clothing manufacturer would probably be considered employees.

In addition, a company must show that it does not control and direct the worker, and that the worker is truly an independent business operator, not just classified that way unilaterally.”

On display in either case is the standard mentality of “safety of workers is a hindrance to businesses.” This has been a hot-button labor topic for the past few years: for-hire drivers demanding protection and benefits. New York City’s’ Black Car Fund was established for this very reason. However, this was before the integration of app-based transportation. This is not the first time Uber and Lyft have been at the crux of these issues. A class-action lawsuit that came about in late 2017 stated that Lyft was docking twice the amount of the Black Car Fund fee (2.5%) from for-hire drivers-once for the fee paid by drivers, and once from the drivers’ actual paychecks. The company ultimately settled for $3 million earlier this year.

U.S. court revives challenge to Seattle’s Uber, Lyft union law

Gig Economy Business Model Dealt a Blow in California Ruling

Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court

The Black Car Fund; NPR Podcast

Lyft faces lawsuit over workers comp fees

 

 

Construction Industry needs Scaffold Law

Changes to the Scaffold Law have been at the crux of recent discussions in the construction industry. In New York, 2016 and 2015 were statistically the deadliest years for construction workers-dozens of articles recording deaths due to improper equipment were published. In late 2017, two workers fell to their deaths during the same day on separate projects in the city.

Many businesses are citing unnecessary regulations on businesses, higher insurance costs for businesses, and higher taxes as reasons not to proceed with the updates to the Scaffold Law. However, an article recently published stated that this was one of a number of myths surrounding the Scaffold Law. One of the most damning points listed is that most people don’t actually know what construction insurance premiums look like. In the article linked above, Harry Bronson from the New York State Assembly simply puts:

“Third, the facts about insurance premiums. We don’t have them because insurers won’t disclose them. Insurance companies are in the business of risk analysis based on data. Policy decisions should be made based on data. It is disturbing that insurance carriers refuse to disclose the truth about construction liability insurance premiums. Indeed, if the Scaffold Safety Law were legitimately a financial burden, then one would think that insurers would be eager to validate their position and put the information forward.”

While some are squabbling about red tape, costs, and taxes, NYCOSH published a report called The Deadly Skyline. The report appropriately starts with an in Memoriam section for those who were killed due to falls at sites, listing names, ages and locations. The youngest on the list was 19. One would think even those opposing the bill can agree, worker safety is priceless. The precursor to this was when a number of NYCOSH reports related construction injuries and fatalities to union or non-union work sites. These NYCOSH reports showed a greater likelihood to get injured on a non-union project, and that Latino workers’ had a greater likelihood for wage theft and of dying on a work site.

NYCOSH puts forth a number of suggestions as additions to the Scaffold Law in the report:

“In response to the health and safety crisis facing New York’s construction workers, NYCOSH has a series of recommendations. NYCOSH continues its call to protect the Scaffold Safety Law, which grants injured construction workers who fall on the job the right to sue an employer who puts their life in danger. NYCOSH is also calling for new legislation to increase penalties for companies that willingly violate the law and cause a worker fatality, and to revoke the licenses of criminal contractors who were convicted of felonies in the case of a worker death. Finally, NYCOSH recommends increased training for workers, like apprenticeship programs on large construction projects, OSHA 10s on all construction sites, and licensing for elevator construction workers.”

There is no report that could be made that would invalidate the need to not only uphold the Scaffold Law, but to also add NYCOSH’s suggestions to the legislation. When the safety and lives of workers are at risk, businesses should do what they can to protect them. This includes longer training, safer work sites, and generally better employer practices amongst the construction industry.

Links

Letter: NY Scaffold Law protects construction workers

OUR VIEW: Scaffold Law hurts businesses in New York

Misinformation muddies discussion about Scaffold Safety Law

Deadly Skyline: An Annual Report on Construction Fatalities in New York State

City Council can protect NYC workers from construction accidents by mandating better training

NYC official urges city to classify construction site accidents as union or nonunion

EXCLUSIVE: NYC urged to release info on construction accidents to show whether union jobs are safer

FDNY opposes plan to remodel WTC Health Program

The FDNY has come out in opposition to a new plan that would remodel the WTC Health Program, a detail hidden in the upcoming Federal Budget for 2019. As it stands, the WTC Health Program is a part of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, which is a part of the Center for Disease Control.

“The budget carves NIOSH out of the CDC and places it within the National Institutes of Health, but leaves the WTC Health Program within the CDC. But NIOSH and the WTC Health Program share many employees — and those workers would move with NIOSH, critics of the plan say.”, notes an article written on Firehouse.com, linked below.

It would remove a health program made for those who worked during a national emergency from an institution that specializes in occupational health. The statistic for denied disability claims is staggering, and the need for the stability of these kind of benefits goes without saying. According to the CDC, the age bracket effected with the highest rate of enrollment in this program were first responders between 45 and 64-or, to put it more clearly, those closest to retirement who are already in need of benefits. There has already been a greatly documented history of first responders having difficulty obtaining disability benefits from the City Retirement System. Restructuring this program would only exacerbate the problems that already exist.

According to an article posted about this same change on The Chief Leader, not only would this budget change be “inconsistent with the legislation mandated by the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2015”, but it is also regarded as a “blueprint for radically squeezing domestic spending on safety-net programs and things like occupational health.”

The shifting of leadership and resources would drastically change the way that those protected under this health program receive medical benefits, and what medical care they would receive as well.

FDNY Union Blasts Trump Budget for WTC Health Proposal

Predict Problems for First-Responders

Jon Stewart, lawmakers slam Mulvaney proposal on 9/11 health program

NYCERS: Why are more WTC Claims being denied than approved?

A number of news publications in New York have released articles begging the same question: Why isn’t NYCERS doing more for workers who were involved in 9/11 rescue, recovery, and clean-up operations?

The links below aren’t the first of the articles. It goes without saying that one article written about this is one too many. They all come to the same conclusion, stating that NYCERS isn’t doing enough to look at, or even consider, 9/11 Disability cases. Statistically, more of these claims are being denied than approved-that is if claims are looked at in any reasonable amount of time. Workers affected in the Battery Park neighborhood were given the right in November to sue the Battery Park City Authority for not working faster with their claims. No one should have to sue their city to be able to receive benefits for working under such tragic conditions. One FDNY EMT’s claim was denied twice, written about in an article linked below. An article written by The Chief Leader described a “lack of coordination” between NYCERS and the Victims Compensation Fund.

These are six articles from 3 different publications, all ending with the same answer: There is no rhyme or reason why more isn’t being done for those who have sustained 9/11-related illnesses.

Labor Department denies ex-OSHA inspector workers’ compensation as other agencies accept his 9/11 illness

NYCERS, WTC Disability Advocates Meet About Improving Responsiveness

Stop stalling on WTC sick: U.S. Labor Department and NYCERS are failing 9/11 victims

City is denying 9/11 first responders disability pensions

WTC Health Program Doctor Concerned About Benefit Denials

9/11 Cleanup Workers Can Sue Over Health Claims, Court Rules

November 2017 NYS WCB Proposal Summary

Back in September, thousands of injured workers, legislators, and other advocates stood with us in a far-reaching fight to stop the disastrous changes proposed by the NYS Worker’s Compensation Board. The public comment period ended in October and as a result of the uprising, the NYS WCB rescinded the initial proposal. November 22nd, the second proposal was released. A summary of it, written by our partner Richard Donohue, Esq., is below. The period for public comment for this ends 12/22/2017. You can email regulations@wcb.ny.gov before then to voice your opinions or concerns on the changes.


 

NOVEMBER 2017 PROPOSED SCHEDULE LOSS OF USE GUIDELINE CHANGES

 As indicated previously, the Board, under the direction of the New York State Legislature, has issued regulation changes and proposed amendments to the “Impairment Guidelines for Schedule Loss of Use”.  Their initial proposal dated 9/1/17 caused an extreme and fervent backlash from the labor community as well as from claimants and their attorneys during the public comment period which expired 10/23/17.  As a result, the Board issued a second set of proposed regulations and guidelines dated 11/22/17 regarding Schedule Loss of Use.

The November 2017 proposal rescinded the September proposal and also carried forward most of the existing schedule loss permanency guidelines, with several significant exceptions.  Although we are not in agreement with all the changes proposed in the November 2017 guidelines, we believe that this guideline proposal is a significant improvement over the initial September 2017 guideline proposal which would have devastated injured claimants and eliminated most awards for permanent loss of use to extremities.

Significantly, the November 2017 proposal eliminates the assignment of 10% to 15% schedule loss of use for rotator cuff tears, a proposal in which we are not in agreement and believe will result in lower awards for permanent shoulder injuries.  Additionally, the current existing guidelines arguably permit the addition of percentage losses for both forward flexion and abduction, whereas the November 2017 proposal states that only the greater of the two losses should be used in calculating the percentage loss of use.  We believe this will also result in lower awards for permanent shoulder injuries.

With regard to injuries to the elbow, some of the considerations given for mild to moderate loss of flexion are reduced insofar as the existing guidelines give a range from 7.5% to 10% whereas the new guidelines indicate only 7.5% for mild loss of flexion.  Whereas the range for moderate loss of flexion was 33.33% to 40%, the new guidelines indicate that only 33% loss of use would be given for moderate loss of flexion in the elbow joint.  We believe this will also result in lower monetary awards for permanent injuries to the elbow.  Similar reductions were incorporated into the guidelines for the hand.

Importantly, the new guidelines also delete a 7.5% schedule loss of use attributable for meniscus tears in the knee, whereas before they were approximately in the average range of 15% to 20% under the existing guidelines.

Changes were also made in the new guidelines proposal with regard to total joint replacements of both the knee and the hip which reflect advances in surgical techniques that have resulted in better outcomes for these type of surgeries.  Although we agree with the general proposal that the baseline for any schedule loss of use relative to total hip and knee injuries should begin at 35%, we believe the way the current proposal is written incorporates many range of motion finding deficits, thus making it unlikely that the final award will exceed the 35% figure, except in the event of a disastrous medical result.  Range of motion deficits should be added to the 35% baseline figure, not included in it.

Certainly, while the November 2017 proposal represents a significant advance over the prior September 2017 proposal which, again, was disastrous for injured workers, we believe that there remain areas in which benefits for injured workers can be improved by eliminating some or all of the aforementioned guideline changes.

An Urgent Message On Behalf Of Our Firm

HELP US STOP THE ATTACK ON WORKERS’ COMPENSATION! 

Below are several ways you can stand with us in opposition against these changes:

Sign these two petitions to make your voice known-Petition from AFL-CIO and Petition at MoveOn.org

Mail this postcard to the NYS Workers’ Compensation Board with a message to help you stand up for your rights.

Email your state senator stating your opposition to the changes. If you don’t know who your senator is, click here for the Senate’s website to find out.

THE PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD ENDS OCTOBER 23RD.

Follow the above methods to protect your rights before the comment period is over.


This past April, the New York State Worker’s Compensation Board was given the green-light to draft changes to the way payments are calculated for permanent injuries to extremities (Schedule Loss of Use evaluations). These suggestions were completed September 1st, and they ultimately resulted in drastic cuts to claimant’s benefits and, in many cases, elimination of any payment at all beyond the payment for lost time, even in cases where a fracture is sustained or surgery is necessary.

Sustaining a permanent work injury is already a stressful and life changing situation.   The current benefit calculations very often don’t even compensate an injured worker adequately for what they have lost both physically and economically.  Now, the NYS Workers’ Compensation Board and the New York Business community have just taken the next step in making it that much more difficult for claimant’s to get back up on their feet.

These guidelines call for the removal of rights that are intrinsic to the purpose of Worker’s Compensation Law. On top of drastic cuts to benefits during recovery, the guidelines provide greater discretion to the employers and IMEs. This will essentially create an environment of exploitation by those who oversee the injured party. These guidelines were not made in the interest of injured workers, and go against the foundation of what this law is supposed to do.

These proposed regulation and guideline changes are not only an egregious attempt to sharply reduce and/ or eliminate compensation awards to our injured members, they would also strip tens of thousands of injured workers of very important protections and due process rights by affording the employer/carrier doctors the ability to question the worker on non-medical issues, with associated penalties for “failure to comply” with the doctors’ inquiries. This is completely contrary to the purposes and intent of the NYS Workers Compensation Law, a law which has been in existence for over 100 years and was designed to protect those very same injured workers.

It is important to remember that, with the passing of the NYS Workers Compensation Law, the right of injured workers to sue their employers in cases of permanent injury was eliminated in exchange for a system which provides fair compensation for lost time and especially for permanent loss of functioning in extremity injuries. Should these new regulations be approved, our injured members will be left with little or no recourse when they sustain permanent loss of functioning of extremities while performing their work activities.

If adopted, these proposed regulation and guideline changes will certainly adversely affect our members. As a result, I implore you to take any and all action to help stop these proposals from taking effect.

Another Reminder That Initial Injury Reports Matter, Do Them Properly!

ANOTHER REMINDER THAT INITIAL INJURY REPORTS MATTER, DO THEM PROPERLY!

By: Sean Riordan, Esq.

Each and every time that I speak to union members throughout New York I harp on the importance of properly filling out the initial injury reports following an on-the-job occurrence. Recently a member said to me that they had “heard me give this speech a hundred times” to which I replied, “it’s as true today as it was the first time you heard it.” Helping me prove my point, just last month the Appellate Division again affirmed the tantamount importance of a Correction Officer’s initial injury report in the case of Hernandez v. New York City Employees’ Retirement System (“NYCERS”). While the lesson may be old and repetitive, it bears repeating.

In Hernandez v. NYCERS a NYC Correction Officer claimed to have been injured when an “inmate pushed her.” Ordinarily, this “act of an inmate” is sufficient to qualify a Correction Officer for a three-quarters (3/4’s) disability pension. However, as we have seen many times, NYCERS denied the Officer’s ¾’s application because the “contemporaneous documentation”, i.e. the initial injury reports, did not mention that the officer had been pushed by the inmate. The Court specifically wrote:

“Contrary to the [officer’s] contention, [NYCERS] was not required, as a matter of law, to credit her testimony that her injury occurred when she was pushed by an inmate. Indeed, her testimony conflicted with the account of the accident that was given in written reports that were prepared in connection with the incident. Inconsistencies between a petitioner’s sworn testimony and written documents present a credibility issue for the factfinder to resolve.”

Put plainly, this means that NYCERS does not have to accept as truthful a later, not previously documented description of how an injury occurred. It also means that the Court gives NYCERS extreme deference in determining which version of events they choose to believe, the initial injury report descriptions or a subsequent description of the occurrence. It is no secret which of these two choices NYCERS will choose. In fact, the NYCERS Summary Plan description for NYC Correction Officers explicitly states:

The NYCERS Medical Board and Board of Trustees are likely to believe that disability reports filed as soon as possible after an accident or other event have greater credibility than reports filed after a delay.”

Importantly, the credibility that NYCERS gives these reports is not contained to the inmate’s actions, but also to injury sites. NYCERS will look to these initial injury reports to determine what was injured during the inmate occurrence. If the initial reports do not contain the injury site that now disables you, NYCERS will not consider the injury related to the occurrence. Far too often officers feel extreme pain in one area of their body following an occurrence and only “minor” pain in others. Although the officer fully documents the area that is causing them a lot of immediate pain, they fail to include these other “minor” areas in their reports. Unfortunately, these other “minor injuries” frequently become more severe over time but NYCERS will not consider them related to the occurrence because they were not documented at the time of the injury.

Hernandez also makes clear that the “action” of an inmate is important when determining if an officer qualifies for ¾’s. The Court stated that “the mere fact that the [officer] was injured while she was in the presence of an inmate, or while she was engaged in providing a service for the benefit of an inmate, is insufficient” to qualify for ¾’s coverage. The courts have held that an inmate must perform an “affirmative act” that leads to an officer’s injury in order for coverage to apply.

Two simple rules emerge from the Hernandez case and other cases like it:

1) If an inmate was involved in your injury, fully document what action the inmate took that led to your injury. Fully describe what the inmate did that caused you harm;

2) Take a physical inventory or your body following an occurrence and document each and every body part that hurts in the initial paperwork, don’t overlook an injury site simply because you believe it is “minor.” If it hurts, put it down.

Lastly, if you fail to fully describe how the inmate caused your injury, or failed to put an injury site down on the initial injury report, you can and should use your filings with the NYS Workers’ Compensation Board to correct the record. Understandably, immediately after an injury officers are consumed by the pain they are feeling and/or are anxious about the events that just transpired. This can lead to mistakes/omissions in the initial injury report filled out for the Department. This is why filing your NYS Workers’ Compensation Forms as soon as possible after an occurrence is so important. If filed immediately after an injury, these reports can also be viewed as “contemporaneous documentation” of an event or injury. Use these forms to also fully explain the events that led to your injury and any additional sites of injury which you may have neglected to put down on the initial reports.

As always, if you have any problems, issues, concerns or questions I am always here to discuss the case with you. You can reach me any time at (212) 612-3198 or Sean@nycomplaw.com

Stay Safe!

 

Attorney Advertising.

New WC bills put worker at risk

Three new bills have been supported by the Business Council of New York as reforms to workers’ compensation insurance. In no subtle manner, the Business Council specifically favors the employer and insurance carrier in each of these bills, citing that some awards give too much back to the injured worker for too long a period of time. The most recent of the three was introduced at the beginning of this month.

All three proposed Bills currently hold an “In Committee” status according to the New York Senate website. Bill A5977 addresses impairment guidelines for Schedule Loss of Use awards, or SLU awards. Bill A6218 aims to limit workers’ compensation benefits for partial permanent disability (PPD) benefits. Lastly, Bill A6602 focuses on the schedule of the Permanent Partial Disability benefits, which the previous stated Bill already aims to limit. The benefits would be given for a determined amount of time after the date of accident, and any other PPD benefits that exceeded the rate would be paid to the insurance carrier. Bills A5977 and A6218 were both introduced at the end of February but A6602 was introduced this month, on March 9th. Another aim of the Bills is to extend the opt-out period for employers from 30 days to 120 days.

In an overwhelming public response against these proposed bills, a petition on MoveOn.Org received more than 600 signatures overnight. On March 16th the bill had 339 with a goal of 400, which was ultimately far surpassed. On the 17th, the petition had 1,012 and a new goal set to 2,000. Although the website does not currently state when the petition started, the first signature was submitted on March 9th, the same day that most recent Bill was introduced. The links to the Bills as well as the petition are all linked below. MDASR, LLP. stands opposed to these proposed bills and urges all those concerned with the protection of workers’ rights to sign this petition.

Assembly Bill A5977

Assembly Bill A6218

Assembly Bill A6602

Workers’ Compensation Petition

Workers’ Compensation & Sole Proprietors

A sole proprietorship is defined as a business owned and operated by one person. As per the New York Workers’ Compensation Board, the following points apply to people who are sole proprietors of a business:

  • If a sole proprietor doesn’t have employees, they can apply for workers’ compensation coverage but are not legally required to have it.
  • If they do have employees, they are initially excluded from this coverage. However, they can have themselves “elected” to be covered. In order for this to happen, the sole proprietor would have to file a C-105.32 with the insurance carrier.
  • A sole proprietor would be considered an employer.  If they choose to hire individuals to work for their business, need to have themselves elected out of the coverage they are currently under (if they are insured). This is different than a person hiring an independent contractor for a service. The individual seeking the service is not considered to be the employer of the person providing the service.

Etsy, an online marketplace, allows individuals to buy and sell various handmade and vintage goods. It started 12 years ago and had a reported 10-1 ratio of buyers to sellers at the end of 2014. This service is massively popular and is a great way for an individual to start their own business. Since sellers on the website are not “employed” by Etsy, who should they turn to if they get hurt while creating goods for their shop? This is a rather important topic if one considers the massive uprising of entrepreneurial businesses in general, not just online marketplaces. If someone has such success with their sole proprietorship or entrepreneurship that it becomes their main source of income, they should absolutely apply for workers’ compensation insurance. Mainly due to the fact that personal health insurance is not obligated to cover accidents that happen as a result of work, or in a workplace. Hospitals also typically ask how the injury happened. If a carpenter who owns their own business is building something for a paying customer and sustains a nasty injury, they wouldn’t need to pay out of pocket for their medical care. They would also get compensated for time lost from working on the goods they build or services they provide. If a persons’ entrepreneurial venture stands for the lion’s share of their income, this would be particularly important. According to an article on the Forbes website, linked below, the number of single-person businesses jumped nearly 4% between 2013 and 2014.

The standards for sole proprietorship and workers’ compensation are determined at the state level, so this could differ from one state to another. If you are a sole proprietor and are seeking workers’ compensation, make sure to check with your state’s workers’ compensation system!

How Visionary Entrepreneurs Are Creating Million-Dollar, One-Person Businesses