Am I Being Paid Enough?

Injured workers commonly ask whether they are being paid the correct amount of workers’ compensation benefits.  The question usually pertains to the weekly lost time benefits paid during while healing after an injury.  It is a question I take seriously as the weekly benefit is crucial to the injured worker and their family.  This blog post outlines how the weekly benefits are calculated.  If an injured worker has questions about benefits, they should reach out to an experienced workers’ compensation attorney. 

The starting point for calculations is the worker’s Average Weekly Wage. Specifically, when an injured worker is under restrictions by a treating physician following an injury and the employer cannot provide work, or when the injured worker is taken off work completely by a physician, the insurance company owes “temporary total disability” (also referred to as “TTD”).  Temporary total disability is paid at 2/3 of the injured worker’s “average weekly wage” (also referred to as “AWW”). 

For most workers, the average weekly wage is calculated in two ways under Wisconsin law, and the injured worker is entitled to the higher of the two calculations: 

  1. Hourly Rate x 40:

    The first option is the employee’s hourly wage at the time of the injury multiplied by the hours regularly scheduled to work (usually, full-time, or 40 hrs/week).  For example, an employee making $10 an hour, who usually works 40 hours a week, has an average weekly wage of $400 ($10 x 40).

    There are additional considerations for this equation.  For example, shift differentials (especially important to those in the medical field) should be considered as should overtime if the injured worker was regularly scheduled to work overtime hours.  Also, if the employee works alternating shifts from week to week, this needs to be taken into account.  If any of these apply, it is a good idea to reach out to an attorney to discuss whether the amount being paid is correct.  In my experience, insurance companies will ignore overtime payments and shift differentials when calculating the average weekly wage, which reduces the amount owed to the injured worker.

  2. Average Earning in the Year Before the Injury.

    The second option is the actual gross earnings during the 52 weeks before the injury divided by the number of weeks worked during that period.  For example, if an employee earned $52,000 in the 52 weeks before the work injury, their average weekly wage is $1,000.  The number of weeks worked includes any weeks the employee was being paid, including paid vacation or paid sick leave.

    In addition, all taxable earnings must be included when calculating the gross earnings, including overtime, incentive pay, profit sharing, and bonuses.  Other things of value, including meals, rooms, utilities, rent remission, may also be part of the gross earnings.

The injured worker receives the higher of the two calculations.  The AWW is an essential to a claim–affecting all other workers’ compensation benefits.  An injured worker should ensure they are paid the correct amount.  The Worker’s Compensation Act is designed to protect the worker and provide these wage loss benefits.  If you are injured and question the amount paid, contact an attorney.

Occupational Skin Diseases

Today’s post comes from guest author Anthony L. Lucas, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

In Wisconsin, if a worker suffers an occupational skin disease resulting in a permanent sensitization with loss of job or income, there is a chance to pursue a loss of earning capacity claim.

Occupational skin diseases are one of the most common occupational diseases. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates that in the United States more than 13 million workers are potentially exposed to chemicals that can be absorbed through their skin. In 2015, the last year for which data is available, over 15% of the reported occupational diseases were skin diseases.

 

These diseases include, but are not limited to, contact dermatitis (eczema), allergic dermatitis, skin cancers, and infections. Contact dermatitis, which has symptoms of painful and itchy skin, blisters, redness, and swelling, is the most commonly reported occupational skin disease. Workers in food service, cosmetology, health care, agriculture, cleaning, painting, mechanics, and construction industries and sectors are at risk of developing these diseases.

 

This type of occupational disease is clearly preventable. To control and prevent exposure to chemicals that cause occupational skin diseases, OSHA recommends that employers switch to less toxic chemicals, redesign the work process to avoid the splashes or immersion, and have employees wear protective gloves and clothing.

Steel company fined $115,400 by US Labor Department’s OSHA for failing to abate workplace hazards

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman, from Jon L Gelman LLC.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Jersey Shore Steel for four violations, including three failure-to-abate citations, at its Jackson facility. Proposed penalties total $115,400 after OSHA’s follow-up inspection opened in April.

“By not abating past violations, Jersey Shore Steel keeps its employees vulnerable to hazards that can cause injuries and, possibly, death,” said Paula Dixon-Roderick, director of OSHA’s Marlton Area Office. “It’s vital to correct all hazards immediately to protect workers at the facility.”

The failure-to-abate notices, which carry $111,000 in penalties, relate to the company’s failure to develop and implement a written lockout/tagout program that prevents inadvertent machine start-up; require fork truck operators to have their performance evaluated at least once every three years; and train workers to use portable fire extinguishers. A failure-to-abate notice applies to a condition, hazard or practice, found upon reinspection, that the employer was originally cited for and failed to correct.

The company was also cited for one repeat violation, with a $4,400 penalty, due to the lack of machine guarding on a press brake. A repeat violation exists when an employer previously has been cited for the same or a similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years. A similar violation was cited in November 2012.

The citations can be viewed at: http://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/jersey_shore_steel_insp_900106_sept30.pdf*.

Jersey Shore Steel has requested an informal conference with the OSHA area director in Marlton.

Wisconsin Workplace Deaths on the Rise

There is a bad trend in Wisconsin: Deaths on the job are on the rise.

Specifically, OSHA (on December 18, 2017) issued a release that there were five Wisconsin worker deaths in the last 22 days!:

  • (Madison):  On November 27, 2017, a 26 year old employee was abrasive blasting and cut his inner thigh (femoral artery) with the abrasive blasting nozzle.  Reference OSHA’s Abrasive Blasting web page for safety and health related information regarding abrasive blasting operations.
  • (Eau Claire):  On December 1, 2017, a 60 year old employee working on a logging site was struck by a backing forwarder (skidder) machine.  Reference OSHA’s Logging web page for safety and health related information regarding logging operations.
  • (Milwaukee Area Office):  On December 5, 2017, a 32 year old employee was struck in the head when an approx. 50 lb. part being worked on flew out of a CNC machine. 
  • On December 5, 2017, a 59 year old employee was struck in the abdomen by a piece of wood that had kicked back from a table saw.  Reference OSHA’s Woodworking web page for safety and health related information regarding woodworking operations.
  • (Milwaukee Area Office):  On December 9th, 2017, a 36 year old employee was struck-by a materials van and pinned between the van and loading dock the van was being backed up to. Employers are encouraged to review dock areas to identify hazards and take necessary corrective actions.  Reference OSHA’s e-Tool on Powered Industrial Trucks (Forklift) for information on dock safety.

These recent workplace deaths are in the same year as the devastating plant explosion in Cambria, Wisconsin, on May 31, 2017, resulting in the death of 5 workers and injuring many more.  OSHA proposed a $1.8 million fine related to this fatal explosion.

Sadly, these workplace deaths are on the rise in our country as a whole.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released its latest report on fatalities in the workplace, with data through 2016.  Unfortunately, the number of fatalites is the highest ever since 2008.  An informational chart can be found here.

While employers indicate there are ever-increasing safety measures at workplaces, accidents–even catastrophic ones–still happen.  And they are happening with more frequency.

Under Wisconsin worker’s compensation law, there are no pain and suffering damages for those family members left behind by the deceased worker.  A dependent (generally a surviving spouse or children under the age of 18) can bring a claim for death benefits–which are four times the worker’s annual earnings.  This amount can be (and can feel) woefully inadequate following a worker’s death.

Investigative Report Highlights Difficulties for Injured Workers in Wisconsin

A Wisconsin investigative article just hit the news, showing the major issues faced with litigating work injury claims in the state. (Injured Wisconsin Workers Face Higher Hurdles When Seeking Compensation).  The story highlights the unfortunate litigation process of one of Domer Law’s clients.  I’d urge readers to review the article for the full details of that process.

Signigicantly, the story goes further in-depth into the appeals process of a Wisconsin litigated case.  Following a hearing in front of an adminsitrative law judge, the losing party may appeal to the Labor and Industry Review Commission, or “LIRC.”  This body consists of three political appointees, who essentially are the final decision-makers on worker’s compensation claims.  The article highlights the alleged employer-friendly drift to decisions in recent years.

These articles are so important in revealing the human toll exerted by work injuries.  While there are no pain and suffering damages under worker’s compensation law, that fact does not diminish the real physical, economic, and emotional toll felt by the injured worker and their family.  That real world impact pushes us to keep fighting for the rights of workers each and every day. 

What Do You Mean, I Can’t Sue My Employer?

OSHA find the owner of the Didion Milling Plant in connection with an explosion that killed 2 workers and injured several more.

I sat down this morning with a television reporter interviewing me about a horrific explosion in Wisconsin that killed 5 workers and injured many more.  The explosion on May 31, 2017 at the Didion Ethanol Plant in Cambria, Wisconsin occurred when corn dust exploded, destroying the entire plant.  OSHA hit the company with a $1.8 million fine, calling it a preventable explosion.

The reporter’s question to me was “Why can’t the employees sue their employer?”  The answer goes back over 100 years in Wisconsin to the “Grand Bargain” that was struck between management and labor.  Sometimes referred to as the “great tradeoff,” employees traded away their right to sue their employer, even for egregious safety violations, in return for wage loss and medical benefits to be paid regardless of fault.  The goal was to relieve the injured employee from the burden of paying for medical care and replace lost wages.  At the turn of the 20th Century, Wisconsin workplaces were often dangerous places, and employers had little incentive to make them safer.  Injured workers could rarely afford the kind of legal cost for recovery efforts in court and employers benefitted by use of contributory negligence, assumption of risk and co-employee negligence as bars to an employee’s recovery in court.

The administrative system that was established by worker’s compensation was created to provide a direct remedy to the employer and to limit (by Exclusive Remedy) litigation against the employer.  The system was supposed to insure a method of providing benefits to an injured employee during the period of disability and to ensure the employees were not reduced to poverty because of injuries.

Speed, dependability, and financial assistance were components of the new system, and by making employers responsible for injury, the law offered strong incentives to make workplaces safer.  Unfortunately, that has not occurred.  The latest statistics indicate that over 100 people die annually in Wisconsin and over 5,000 annually across the nation.

Revealing to a grieving widow that the remedy available is limited to four times the deceased worker’s annual income is precious little consolation for loss of a spouse’s life and lifetime income.

The Road Ahead: Adjusting To Life After An Injury

Today’s post comes from guest author Catherine Stanton, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

As an attorney who has represented injured workers for more than 27 years, I see first hand what an injury can do to workers and their families. A number of years ago I represented an injured electrician, who as a result of an overextension injury sustained on the job, ended up having multiple surgeries. Almost immediately, this once athletic, high wage earner with a beautiful family and comfortable lifestyle saw an abrupt end to the life he knew.

My client faced a debilitating injury. He was no longer able to travel, his personal relationships suffered, and his once strong physique withered away. His financial situation was dire and he was unable to afford his home. Beside the extreme physical impairment, he ended up being treated for major depression. Both the insurance carrier’s medical providers, as well as the claimant’s treating doctors in this particular case, agreed that the claimant was totally disabled or incapable of performing any meaningful work activity – a standard not easy to meet.

Many of those injured on the job may not be able to return to their prior employment. Yet, according to the law, that does not mean they are totally disabled from any employment. If they are able to perform any work activity at all then they may be considered partially disabled. The amount of weekly payments an injured person receives and the length of time an injured worker receives these benefits is dependent upon a number of factors including degree of disability and loss of earning capacity. A partial disability can be considered mild, moderate, or marked.  These degrees are further broken down into when an injury is deemed permanent to a percentage loss of earning capacity. In some cases the difference of one percent loss of earning capacity can mean the difference of a full year of additional benefits. As you can imagine, much of my practice is consumed with litigation regarding the degree of disability and the loss of earning capacity.

The road for those who are partially disabled is not an easy one. Despite the Workers’ Compensation Board’s determination that an injured person has an ability to perform some work activity, it does not always translate into being able to obtain employment. In the case of serious injuries resulting in extensive lost time, the employer may have had to fill the position or the employer may not be able to accommodate the physical limitations. This puts injured workers in a position of having to look for alternate employment that they may not be trained for. The Board recommends a number of resources available to those seeking assistance, including one-stop career centers, as well as participating in vocational rehabilitation programs and continuing education such as SUNY Educational Opportunity centers adult career and continuing education. For more information go to www.wcb.ny.gov/labor-market-attachment

Many workers who are unable to obtain employment because of their injuries apply for Social Security Disability benefits. The standard for Social Security disability is different than Workers’ Compensation and relies more on the age and ability of the injured person to be retrained and to obtain relevant future employment. Social Security Disability benefits are payable for any illness or injury and do not have to be work related. All medical conditions are considered by the federal judge when making a determination as to eligibility, including physical or emotional impairments.

While an injury on the job can be life altering, there are resources available. You may never be able to return to your pre-injury status, but knowing your options allows you the ability to have some control over your future.

 

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.

Protecting Yourself At Work: What To Do If There Is An Active Shooter

Today’s older post is especially timely and comes from guest author Catherine Stanton, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

As an attorney who has been practicing before the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board representing injured workers for more than 27 years, I am drawn to organizations that assist workers. That’s why I am a member of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health (NYCOSH), whose mission notes that every worker has the human right to a safe and healthy workplace and that workplaces injuries are often preventable. As a member, I receive many emails with various announcements regarding workplace safety, as well as statistics of injuries and deaths that occur on the job, many of which are preventable.

It is a sign of the times that on May 23, 2017, I received an email about educating workers on how to best respond in case of an active shooter. NYCOSH, along with the New York City Central Labor Council (NYCCLC), was sponsoring the event that was meant to educate participants on what actions to take to prevent and prepare for potential incidents, including what to do when an active shooter enters the workplace. Many of the cases that make front page news are mass shootings or those in the name of terrorism. Few of us can forget the Islamic extremist, who along with his wife fatally shot 14 of his co-workers at a Christmas party. Many of us go about our workday never anticipating a disgruntled employee, a client harboring a grudge, a terrorist, or a coworker intent on robbery, who may come to our workplaces with murder on their minds. When NYCOSH set out to sponsor their recent event trying to deal with a growing problem in this country, there was no way of knowing that workplace shootings would be in the national headlines three times in just two weeks. 

Last week we were shocked and appalled by the images of Republican Senators and their colleagues being shot at by a deranged person not happy with current politics. While many of our elected officials have heavy security when they are at work in the Capital’s office buildings, these members were on a ballfield early in the morning practicing for a charity baseball game taking place the next day. Despite the close proximity of the Capitol Police there to protect Steve Scalise, the current United States House of Representatives Majority Whip, five people were shot. Thankfully the sole fatality was the shooter himself.

In Orlando in early June, a disgruntled ex-employee systematically shot and killed five coworkers and then himself. A week later, a UPS employee in San Francisco walked into a UPS facility and killed three coworkers before killing himself.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in 2015 there were 354 homicides by shooting at the workplace. There were 307 in 2014, 322 in 2013, 381 in 2012, and 365 in 2011. Based on these statistics, it is clear that this is not an issue going away anytime soon. These are scary times and we all need to prepare for this new normal. 

While I was not able to attend the NYCOSH event, I did go to the website for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which offered these suggestions for responding when an active shooter is in your area.

  • Evacuate if you can.
  • Run as fast as you can and leave everything behind.
  • Just get out if possible.
  • If there is no accessible escape route, then hide somewhere and lock and blockade the door and silence any noise such as a radio or cell phone.
  • Lastly, if your life is in imminent danger, take action and try to incapacitate the shooter.
  • Throw things.
  • Use anything as a weapon.
  • Don’t go down without a fight.

It’s unfortunate that we even have to talk about protecting ourselves from active shooters. But in today’s day and age, we can never be too careful. As a mother, I worry for the safety of my children when they walk out the door as I’m sure many of you do as well. As a lawyer, I worry about the safety of workers every day on the job who are continually dealing with workplace injuries that could have been prevented.

 

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.