Monthly Archives: January 2012

Connecting With Peers Energizes

Last fall I participated in meeting in San Diego with other lawyers who represent injured workers. We are part of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group (WILG), a network of like-minded advocates for workers’ rights, sharing information and knowledge, a sense of commitment and kinship, and networking to help each other and our clients.

I made a presentation on Workers’ Compensation Ethics and was challenged by my colleagues penetrating and sometimes perplexing questions and issues. Meetings on a national scale help to provide some perspective on the practice of representing injured workers.

Quite simply in Wisconsin, despite all of our recent problems with Union decertification and benefits rollbacks, we have an exemplary workers’ compensation system. I am routinely bombarded at gatherings, cocktail parties, seminars with stories about workers’ compensation fraud, allegedly perpetrated by workers. One focus of the San Diego conference was on employer and insurer fraud by misrepresenting and misclassifying workers, Continue reading

iPads And Workers' Rights, The Dark Truth

Recent news sheds light on the dark truth about what it takes to make that shiny new iPad.

“And right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China.” Made by an Apple executive, the end statement of a new investigative piece from yesterday’s New York Times perfectly sums up the problem.

Like many people in our country and around the world, I love my Apple products. This article, however, raises some legitimate concerns about the working conditions found in manufacturing facilities in China that supply and produce Apple products, like the iPhone and iPad. With large-scale business, the economic forces push for the production of products faster and cheaper, which can result in worker abuses (long work hours; excessive standing; chemical exposures etc.). The article explains how Apple’s described culture of secrecy (involving the need to surprise the public with the next “latest and greatest” technology) may contribute to the unknown and hidden working conditions at some of its supplier facilities in China.

The public–and potentially even myself–may not want to hear about these potential issues. Ignorance is bliss when using your glossy, new iPhone. While it does appear Apple engages in a good amount of oversight of its suppliers, this article hopefully will shed further light on any potential issues and push Apple to make sure all its products are produced in facilities that protect and value the safety of its workers.

Workers Beware Questionable (Fraudulent) Employer Tactics

It's time to start talking about employer fraud.

Over the course of 35 years representing injured workers, I have heard some whoppers – Employers’ questionable tactics that make even my jaw drop. With all the insurance company generated blather about “employee fraud” incidences of employer fraudulent tactics abound. Workers beware of the following:

  • Recorded statements taken by worker’s compensation carrier adjuster while employee is under medication or in the hospital still suffering from the injury. Questions such as “It’s true you had (low back pain, arm pain, fill in the blank pain, etc.) before your work injury, correct? You’ve had lots more pain from (your motor vehicle accident, sports injury, etc.) than you’re experiencing from your work injury, correct?
  • Employer “channeling” a worker to its “Return to Work Clinic” (doctors on company payroll whose opinion is “like some athletic coaches, ‘rub some dirt on it and get back in the game’.”
  • Telling employees to take sick leave rather than claim worker’s compensation.
  • Telling employees to file medical bills under their group insurance, not worker’s comp.
  • Nurse Case Manager who initially befriends the employee but later makes every attempt with the worker’s doctor to prematurely return the worker to the job before a healing occurs.
  • Employer paying worker in cash with no payroll stub (or gives workers a Form 1099 rather than a W-2). Continue reading

Unsafe Workplaces Equal More Injuries.

Unsafe Working ConditionsThe connection between unsafe workplaces and the increased frequency of work injuries seems like a no brainer. A study released by NCCI Holdings indicated worker’s compensation claims rose by 3% during 2010 (the first rise in frequency in over a dozen years). The study attributed the increased frequency to several factors

Because of these repeat violations,OSHA cited United Contracting and placed the firm on its “Severe Violator Enforcement Program”

including increases in employment since the onset of the recession in 2008, workers possibly being less fearful of losing their jobs for filing claims, and a lack of light duty jobs to which injured workers could return because of the poor economy.

One factor not referenced is the connection between increasingly unsafe work environments and work injuries. Two recent news stories in Wisconsin underscored this connection. OSHA fined a Wisconsin contractor $150,000

for violations while working on two bridges along highways in Wisconsin. The violation is more alarming because the contractors were working under a State contract to repaint the bridges. OSHA charged that the company did not have proper scaffolding at the bridges exposing workers to falls, and in fact one worker was injured in June after falling from a scaffold at one of the bridges. Because of these repeat violations, Continue reading

Memo To All Employees: Report Injuries Right Away Or Risk Losing Compensation

Don't miss the boat! Even a slight delay in reporting your injury can lead to zero work' comp benefits, thanks to a U.S. federal court ruling.

A U. S. Court of Appeals has ruled that an employer can require an employee to report their worker’s compensation injury even more quickly than required under Worker’s Compensation Law.

A Tennessee machinist experienced pain in her hands when she was transferred to a new position that was “like a muscle strain” when she pressed down on her machine and the pain stopped when she let go. The pain continued over the next two weeks, progressing to numbness and tingling, which forced her to see the Company Nurse. The nurse asked her why she had not reported her pain earlier and she said she wanted to “try to work through it” because she needed the job and did not want to tell her employer she could not do the job.

The next day the company fired her for failing to communicating an injury in a timely manner. She filed a claim with the Tennessee Worker’s Compensation Department and the District Court, which dismissed the claim. On appeal, the 6th Circuit noted that even though State law allowed employees 30 days in which to report a gradually occurring injury, the employer had the right to terminate based on its own policy of not reporting.

Don’t Be A “Tough Guy”

I see these claims often in my practice; claims in which the individual sustains an injury and wants to work through the pain or otherwise see if the pain will go away. Under these circumstances the worker does not report the injury. Since all injuries in worker’s compensation are based on a date of injury, this heroic “non-reporting” ends up biting the worker in the rear. For many employers, no report means no injury.

Gradual Occupational Claims

This “I’ll work through the pain” motive is especially damaging in occupational injury claims, which arise from repetitive motion and not the result of a single trauma. While it is understandable that an employee not be characterized as a “whiner” or “complainer” in the worker’s compensation setting, those who do not report do not benefit.

Man Convicted in 2.7 Million Worker’s Comp Fraud—Not An Injured Worker

Employer fraud is far more common than worker fraud.

I read this headline in the Insurance Journal while ago. My assumption, even though I represent injured workers, was that the headline concerned an employee who had defrauded an insurance company. Why did I immediately jump to that conclusion? Because most of the headlines screaming about worker’s compensation fraud are headlines aimed at employees who are defrauding the system, even though the vast majority of worker’s compensation fraud involves employers.

The $2.7 million fraud case involved a North Carolina man, Carl Dalmus Fuller, who scammed a Florida based employment services company into purchasing a fake worker’s compensation policy. The employment company’s records showed it paid Fuller over $2.7million in premiums. The insurance company listed had no agent, and the business address was Fuller’s post office box.

Most of the headlines screaming about worker’s compensation fraud are aimed at employees who are defrauding the system, even though the vast majority of worker’s compensation fraud involves employers.

Fraud cases like this involving substantial seven-figure numbers involve insurance companies or employers who mischaracterize actual employees as Independent Contractors, miscategorize Continue reading

Is Winter Finally Here? Well, OSHA's Got Advice To Keep You Safe

Visit OSHA's page for helpful tips on staying safe.

A few weeks ago we posted on some of the hazards of to working in inclement winter weather. Well, given the record high temperatures we’ve had here in Wisconsin over the last month or so, that may have been premature. But this week the temperature’s dropping and there’s even a chance of snowfall predicted for later in the week.

With that in mind we thought we would pass on a bit of useful safety information. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a division of the U.S. Department of Labor, has launched a terrific web page dedicated to making working in winter storm conditions safer.

The page offers lots of great information on how to stay safe during storm or in it’s aftermath. It also includes guidelines from a range of major federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Continue reading

Cancer Concern Over Newest TSA Airport Body Scanners

The newest TSA airport scanners may pose a cancer threat.

According to a growing number of scientists and doctors the newest TSA airport body scanners, known as Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) scanners, may pose a cancer threat.*

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) insists the scanners are safe, and cites independent studies saying the radiation levels are below acceptable limits. However, according to some doctors, even a small dose of the ionizing radiation that the machines emit could pose a danger.

The TSA has installed about 250 of these body scanners at 40 U.S. airports.

*In Wisconsin, to proceed beyond mere speculation as to causation, a competent physician would have to indicate that the workplace exposure for a substantial period of time to the radiation from airport scanning was at least a material, contributory, causative factor in the onset or progression of a worker’s cancer condition.