Young Workers More Likely to Get Hurt


If you are a younger worker, you are more likely to get hurt on the job.  That is the conclusion in a recent interesting article in Occupational Health & Safety: Protecting our Future: Young Worker Safety on the Job.

The article offers theories on why younger workers are hurt more often, as well as suggestions on what employers can do to protect their workers.   In many instances, younger workers are performing more physical jobs, lack experience or proper training, and may be less likely to speak up or ask questions about what is being required.  The article offers some great suggestions for employers, including:

Remember that young workers are not just ‘little adults.’ You must be mindful of the unique aspects of communicating with young workers.”

This is a helpful reminder for all of us in positions of authority or supervision.

It should be noted that younger workers (under age 27 in Wisconsin) carry a “presumption” of maximum earnings for permanency benefits.  Wisconsin law recognizes that a worker’s earning capacity before age 27 may not be an adequate representation of their actual earning power/capacity.  Injured workers–under age 27–are wise (beyond their years) to consult with an experienced attorney. 

Federal “Takeover” of Work Comp?

State workers’ compensation laws are facing increased scrutiny from the federal government.  As reported by NPR, the U.S. Labor Department is exploring the idea of further oversight of state-run workers’ compensation systems.  The full Labor Department report can be found here.

Traditionally, beginning with Wisconsin in 1911, individual states enacted, amended, and ran their own workers’ compensation system.  These systems certainly shared the similar overall framework of the “grand bargain” of work comp: an inability to sue an employer in exchange for defined benefits without proviing fault.  Within this framework, though, the state-led process allowed each state to tailor its approach in line with the industries of their state and particular legislative goals.

However, in the past decade or so, state legislative enactments around the country have significantly reduced (and in some cases, slashed) worker’s compensation benefits for injured workers.  A deep dive on the effect of these efforts was revealed in a series of stories by ProPublica and NPR.  The new Labor Department report echoes the refrain of these stories–indicating:

Despite the sizable cost of workers’ compensation, only a small portion of the costs of occupational injury and illness is borne by the employer. 

Costs are inappropriately shifted to the worker, their families, and the government (through other benefit programs).

Furthermore, with lowering costs on employers for workplace injuries, those employers–especially “high hazard employers”–have less incentives for safety or preventing injuries in the first place.  

As such, the Labor Department suggested the need to explore federal oversight or minimum federal standards for state workers’ compensation laws.  It even suggests the potential to reconvene a national commission–last seen in the 1970s–to study state workers’ compensation systems.  Any of these proposals would be major sea changes to the traditional state-led approach.

Whether any of these proposals will move forward is unknown, but one fact remains: based on legislative attempts to reduce injured workers’ benefits, the state-led workers’ compensation systems face increased scrutiny.   Pushed too far against workers, these laws face constitutional challenges–and ultimately the threat of federal oversight or takeover.



Don’t Believe What Insurance Carriers Say: Workers Do Finish Retraining Programs

“He’ll never go back to school.”  “He’ll never complete school.”

As a representative of injured workers, I hear those refrains on repeat from insurance carriers.  And, guess what?  It’s just not true.

Vocational retraining claims straddle the line between being a worker’s advocate and being their social worker.  Under the law, if an injured worker has permanent limitations following an injury that does not allow them to return to their former employer, they can pursue vocational retraining benefits–which includes receiving weekly workers’ compensation benefits (2/3 of weekly wage) along with compensation for meals, parking, books, mileage and tuition.  As an advocate, I’m urging an injured worker to pursue retraining to maximize their benefits under the law.  But more importantly, I put on my “social worker” hat to encourage these workers to return to school as a means to help themselves, their families, and society as a whole.

Restoring an injured workers’ earning capacity serves as the underpinning behind vocational retraining benefits.  Simply put, we want to incentivize working.  If a worker is too injured to return to their old line of work, let’s try to get that worker retrained (presumably to a less physical field) so they can reenter the workplace and be a productive member of the economy.  Social work and advocacy fit together when encouraging a worker to go back to school.

However, far too many insurance carriers scoff at the viability of injured workers returning to school–especially after decades of absence from a school setting.  Even though not everyone is a great school candidate, I’m amazed each and every day watching my clients pursue their retraining with passion and vigor.   I feel pride and vindication when that same client forwards me a copy of their certificate or diploma after completing the program.  That document is immediately forwarded to the insurance carrier.  (I recently forwarded a completed diploma from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and one from Milwaukee Area Technical College).

Most workers just want to be back working.  They want to earn income, provide for their families, and find purpose.  If a work injury knocks them out of their old job, most workers embrace the idea of going back to school and finding a new field that fits their limitations.   Even for individuals with limited eductional backgrounds, most schools provide incredible academic support or remedial programs.  Under Wisconsin law, we can claim vocational retraining benefits for remedial or GED programs, even before a worker begins a formalized program (though consulting with an attorney first is best).

I’d urge insurance carrier to not underestimate the efforts of a motivated worker.


Wisconsin Law Changes: Retraining Benefits Made Better

Injured workers now have greater access to vocational retraining benefits. The new law changes, while providing a number of employer-friendly provisions, also contained pro-worker enactments—especially for those injured workers who need to go back to school.

A major public policy goal of the worker’s compensation system is to restore an injured worker’s pre-injury earning capacity, meaning get the worker back to the wages they made before getting hurt. To facilitate that goal, if an injured worker has permanent limitations that do not allow them to return to their injury job, the worker can pursue vocational retraining benefits. Under Wisconsin law, these benefits are meant to compensate a worker during the entire schooling period. The insurance carrier is responsible for weekly maintenance benefits (at 2/3 of the employee’s average weekly earnings) during every week the worker is in school, as well as tuition, book, travel and meal expenses during school. Many retraining programs are for approximately two-year associate degree programs, but, depending on the worker’s pre-injury wages, the paid-for program could involve a bachelor’s degree or beyond.

In a victory for workers, the 2016 new law allows for prospective vocational retraining benefits. Historically, when a vocational retraining claim was “ripe” for presentation at a hearing was uncertain. Some administrative law Judges indicated that a retraining program only became viable and ripe for hearing when the worker actually was attending classes. Unfortunately, many injured workers—who cannot return to their former employment and have no other source of income—do not have the financial ability to go to school on their own. As such, these workers could not enroll in or begin school unless the workers’ compensation insurance carrier was ordered to pay for prospective schooling.

The legislature clarified this issue, and effective March 2, 2016, Judges have the authority to issue prospective orders for vocational retraining benefits (Wis. Stat. § 102.18(1)(b)2., as amended by 2015 Wis. Act 180). Specifically, a carrier can be ordered to pay for a future course of instruction, along with the corresponding vocational retraining benefits/expenses, for either a DVR-sponsored or private rehabilitation counselor program.

Another pro-worker provision of the 2016 law is that injured workers are now allowed to work up to 24 hours per week while undergoing vocational retraining without those earned wages reducing their weekly worker’s compensation maintenance benefits (the 2/3 wages). Previous law required the reduction in work comp benefits for this part-time—thereby creating a disincentive to work. The new law (effective March 2, 2016) acknowledges the practical reality for a worker returning to school. The injured worker now can engage in part-time school and part-time work, maintaining the worker’s connection to the labor market.

Vocational retraining benefits can be difficult for an injured worker to pursue, but the new 2016 law makes it easier.

Disclosure Bias In Workers’ Compensation

Dr. Sunita Sah

I read most things through the narrow prism of a lawyer representing injured workers and a Law Professor teaching Workers’ Compensation. I read with fascination Dr. Sunita Sah’s (M.D., MBA, Ph.D., Cornell University Professor) recent article in the New York Times (07/10/16) on “Disclosure Bias,” one of her research interests. Her theory: Although bias disclosure is supposed to act as a warning (to consumers, advisees, clients), it often has the opposite effect, making advisees more likely to follow biased advice.  For example, doctors view their own specialties as delivering more effective treatment than others to recommend treatment options. (chiropractors use hands, surgeons like scalpels, physiatrists prefer needles).

Dr. Sah’s research found that even (and especially) when the doctor discloses her bias, patients are more likely to follow the advice since the disclosure “creates increased pressure to follow the advisor’s recommendation.”  This increased pressure runs the gamut from recommendations on prostate cancer treatment to financial conflict.

In the workers’ compensation world, even though I disclose my lawyer’s preference when I advise clients on  things like choice of venue (Milwaukee or Madison), type of claim (occupational or traumatic), kind of treatment (surgery or pain clinic), or even case tactics (settle or go to trial), Dr. Sah’s research cautions against the unintended consequences of disclosure bias.  Since clients do not want to signal distrust to their advisor, or indicate I may be biased, the disclosure itself may become a burden on clients.  (One more thing to worry about. . . )

Countertop Workers Face Silicosis Risk from Engineered Stone Countertops

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

Engineered stone countertops, a popular fixture in today’s homes, pose a health risk to workers who cut and finish them. The danger stems from the material the countertops are made from, processed quartz, which contains silica levels up to 90 percent. Silica is linked to a debilitating and potentially deadly lung disease known as silicosis, as well as lung cancer and kidney disease.

While the countertops do not pose a risk to consumers in their homes, they do pose a risk to the workers who cut and finish them before they are installed. When the countertops are cut, silica particles are released into the air, which when breathed in by the workers can start processes leading to silicosis. Manufacturers of the engineered stone countertops assert that worker hazards can be reduced through the use of protective respirators and equipment designed to trap silica dust. Despite this assertion, many safety precautions taken by employers are often inadequate.

The first documented case of silicosis among countertop workers in the United States was reported two years ago. In countries such as Israel and Spain, where engineered stone products gained their popularity, many more countertop workers have been diagnosed with silicosis and have had to undergo lung transplants. The danger of silicosis in the construction industry led OSHA to recently issue new rules requiring construction workers’ silica exposure to be reduced by 80 percent beginning on June 23, 2017.

CNBC: If you’re sitting at your desk, GET UP NOW!

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

Causey Law Firm has taken small steps to implement ergonomic planning in our office.  We have one Varidesk sit/stand desktop conversion in use, like the one shown in the video, as well as a fully convertible sit/stand desk and adjustable-height rolling cart in our file room.  Several people use a FitBit or similar device to encourage and track movement throughout the day. It’s not easy to integrate motion into a desk job, but it can really help!  Take a look at this great piece from CNBC for inspiration:

If you’re reading this article at your desk and you’re sitting, get up. It is one of the best things you can do for your health. If you don’t want to stand, then do something active while you’re sitting. Millions of workers are choosing to do both, thanks to a slew of new office products that are gaining traction — and dollars — fast.

“This is no longer just a one off, it’s a product category,” said Thompson Research Group’s Kathryn Thompson, an analyst who covers the office furniture industry. “Fitness equipment is a critical part of the new office, and it’s really a critical part of the office of the future.”

The “healthy office segment” is the fastest growing sub-sector of the $10 billion office furniture industry, and Thompson estimates it could grow to one-third of the industry in the next three to five years. Workers and employers alike are demanding it. 

“Good health makes good economic sense,” Thompson said.

Attention to workplace fitness really ramped up in just the last few years, after the Mayo Clinic published a study on the detrimental effects of sitting for long periods of time. Mayo’s Dr. James Levine is credited with coining the term “sitting is the new smoking.” He is also inventor of a treadmill desk.

Read the rest of the article here…