Returning to Work and Accommodations

All employers work hard to make sure that their employees are as safe as possible at work.  Employers invest in the latest safety technology, form safety committees, and provide training all in an effort to reduce the chances an employee will sustain a work related injury.  Unfortunately, this cannot always be avoided.  If your employee is injured and files a claim for workers’ compensation, it is possible that he or she will have to take some time off work to recuperate.  When the employee returns to work, the employer needs to be aware of the responsibilities they have to the employee to potentially provide accommodations to the employee.

Employers in California have an “affirmative duty” to make “reasonable accommodations” for a known disability.  The employer’s duty to provide an accommodation is triggered when the employer has reliable reason to believe the employee has a disability.  The employer does not have to witness the disability personally and the employee has no obligation to specifically request an accommodation before the employer needs to take action.  The employer needs to accommodate the employer’s disability and work restrictions, but the employer is not required to take measures that would constitute an undue hardship.  The employer is also not required to make sure that the accommodations make it possible for the employee to immediately return to the same job or even a job with the same income.  The employer is not required to make a new job position just for the injured employee, but the employer does have to investigate all the available job openings that the employer could qualify for.  For example, if an employee sustains a back injury that makes it impossible for him to perform his usual duties as a jail warden, the employer is at liberty to offer the employee a desk job at a different facility that would accommodate the restrictions on the warden’s physical activity.  The employer has an obligation to engage in an interactive process with the injured employee to ascertain what sort of accommodation may be required.  The employer should look for alternate positions and continue the dialogue with the employee until he or she terminates the process.  The employer should document these exchanges to make sure that there is evidence of the efforts made to accommodate the employee in case the employee brings a suit against the employer for discrimination or retaliation.

Employers should be aware that they cannot treat non-industrial disability restrictions any differently than a disability or restriction a worker may have as a result of a work-related injury.  Employers must be consistent in how they handle all disability issues.

Workers’ compensation is a long process with a lot of requirements for all parties.  Contact us today for a consultation to talk about your business.

Workers’ Compensation and Retaliation

The workers’ compensation system is designed to allow for workers who sustain work related injuries in the course and scope of their employment to receive proper compensation for their injuries and medical expenses.  The amount of the compensation and how long the benefits will continue to be paid vary widely, depending on the nature and severity of the injury.  The workers’ compensation process can take months or even years.  Employers may be tempted to try to get rid of a troublesome, injured worker who has filed a workers’ compensation claim, but California law prohibits such actions.

California law provides that employers may not discharge or threatening to discharge an employee because an employee submits a workers’ compensation claim, files an application to have the California Division of Workers’ Compensation resolve a claim, states an intent to file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, obtains a disability rating from a physician, settles a workers’’ compensation claim, or successfully wins an award of workers’ compensation.  California courts have also found that “an employer may not discharge an employee because of the employee’s absence from his job as the consequence of an injury sustained in the course and scope of employment.” In other words, you cannot fire an injured employee simply because he or she must take time off work to get medical treatment for a work related injury.

California law also provides that employers may not penalize an injured employee for having a work-related injury or for making a workers’ compensation claim.  Under this provision, the employer is not allowed to taking any retaliatory action that is detrimental to the injured worker.  Of note, not all actions that could potentially adversely impact the worker are necessarily retaliatory.  For example, if an employer puts a policy in place that applies to all employees, stating that they are required to use sick leave for doctor visits, the injured employee would also have to abide by this rule.  Although the employee may be adversely impacted, if the worker is not being treated differently than other workers, the action will likely not be viewed as retaliatory.

We have extensive experience helping our clients understand their rights and responsibilities with regard to their employees.  Call us today for a consultation

Plan Ahead to Protect Your Workers From Injury

Business owners work hard to make sure the future of their business is stable and secure.  This work includes many aspects, such as investing in new technology, reinvesting in the local community, and making sure you have the best staff for your business.  One essential issue for any business owner is to plan ahead to protect employees from injury.

One important step is make sure that your employees and management staff are all properly educated on the most up to date safety protocols for your industry.  This usually includes not only providing up to date service manuals, but also ensuring there is in person, on the job training. Most people think this training is important only for workers who operate heavy machinery, but typical office workers can also benefit from this type of training, as even carpal tunnel syndrome can be a compensable injury through workers’ compensation.

Another essential step is to make sure to provide safety equipment.  Employers need to also make sure that the equipment is kept in good repair, and provide training to ensure the equipment is properly used.  Employers should strive to cultivate a working environment that encourages the proper use of all safety equipment.  Employers also need to create a schedule to make sure the equipment is up to government code and properly cleaned.

Next, employers need to make sure to maintain the proper staffing level.  Workers who are pulling long hours and working a lot of overtime may be exhausted, which can easily lead to work place injuries.  Maintaining the proper level of staff means that the employees are less tired, better able to focus, and less apt to be injured due to fatigue.

Employers should consider developing a safety plan and creating a safety committee.  Safety plans provide concrete guidelines that every employee may study about how to conduct typical tasks.  While this may seem like micromanaging, it can actually result in heightened awareness of potential risks from mundane tasks.  Safety committees can also help reduce injuries by assisting in the development and implementation of these safety plans.  Employers should also encourage an environment wherein employees are comfortable reporting potential health hazards.

If you have questions about workers’ compensation and how to help protect your workers. Call us today.  We can talk with you about your business and how to make sure you are protected.

PTSD and Workers’ Compensation

The way our society is acknowledging and addressing mental health issues has drastically changed over the past few decades.  Disorders that were previously downplayed or even outright rejected are now receiving the attending they require, helping many people address their problems and get better.  In some situations, the mental health issues may actually stem from the employee’s job.  Some jobs are high intensity and dangerous, exposing the employees to risk and trauma on a daily basis.  The unfortunately result is that many employees will then develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Although most people associate PTSD with military service, thousands of civilians suffer from PTSD that they developed through their employment.

In California, PTSD can be covered by workers’ compensation.  The claim can be a standalone claim for only PTSD, or it could be in conjunction with another work related physical or mental injury.  In addition to military members, those who are typically at high risk of developing PTSD as a work related injury would be those who are exposed to dangerous or tragic work environments, such as firefighters, police officers, social workers, or EMTs.  They can develop PTSD after a singular incident, or as the result of repeated exposure to stressful and traumatic situations.

Like any other workplace injury, a claim for workers’ compensation based on PTSD will start when the employee files a claim with the employer. There are strict deadlines as to when an employee can file for benefits after becoming aware of the injury.  In this case, the timeline would likely start from when the employee receives a diagnosis of PTSD from a medical professional or counselor.

California Labor Code 3208.3 provides that if an employee’s injury is a result of being “a victim of a violent act or from direct exposure to a significant violent act, the employee shall be required to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that actual events of employment were a substantial cause (35-40 percent) of the injury.”  It is important to note that a medical diagnosis will be required to satisfy the section of the labor code.  The definition of key terms such as “victim,” “direct exposure,” and “significant violent act” is the subject of extensive litigation, and can be a nuanced argument for an attorney to make.

If you have questions about the workers’ compensation system, let us answer them. Contact us for a consultation to talk about your business.

Employee or Independent Contractor

As a business owner, there are many decisions you must face.  You have to decide the type of business you want to run, where to establish your business, and what type of legal business structure will best suit your needs.  Another important decision is who you will hire to be your employees, and in many cases, if your business’s needs will be better served using independent contractors instead of hiring workers as employees.  As a business owner, it is essential that you understand whether your worker is an employee or an independent contractor. There are many reasons for this, but one of the most important is that employers are obligated by California law to carry workers’ compensation insurance for all employees, but not for independent contractors.  Unscrupulous employers may attempt to classify workers as independent contractors in an attempt to get out of paying these insurance premiums.

Employers need to first understand that the way they classify a worker is not dispositive as to whether the worker is an employee or an independent contractor.  If the issue ends up before a judge, there a variety of factors that will be considered, and how the employer classifies the worker is just one issue.

In general, an independent contractor is a worker who is hired by a business because the business does not usually engage in the type of business that the independent contractor performs.   Usually an independent contractor will have the privilege of setting his or her own hours and dictating how the work will be done.  The independent contractor usually also sets his or her own fees, brings his or her own tools, and may have multiple other clients in addition to the employer in question.

By contrast, an employer typically has much more control over an employee.  An employee will have specific hours that he or she is scheduled to work and the employer will have control over how the employee performs his or her work.  The employer will often supervise work directly and provide training for the position in question.

In April 2018, the California Supreme Court established a new three prong test to determine if a worker is an independent contractor.  If a business wants to prove a worker is an independent contractor, it must prove:

  1. The worker is free from the control of the company in connection with how he or she performs work, both in reality and in terms of the contract
  2. The worker performs work that is outside the scope of the usual business of the employer
  3. The worker is usually engaged in an independent trade or business.

It is essential that you properly classify your workers.  Call us today to talk about workers’ compensation and your business.

First Steps After your Worker is Injured

It is essential for employers to take all reasonable steps to reduce the risk for injury to their employees.  Keeping your employees safe is not only the right thing to do, it will keep your business running smoothly and make sure your business does not run afoul of state and federal safety regulations.  Almost all employers with very few exceptions are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance.  Although employers have taken the precautions to prevent injuries and purchased insurance in case these measures fail, injuries will inevitably happen eventually.  It is important for business owners to know the first steps to take after a worker is injured.

A workers’ compensation claim starts when an employee notifies the employer of a work-related injury.  The employer is then required to provide the employee with a Workers’ Compensation Form, also known as DWC-1.  The employee will need to fill out the form and return it to the employer.  An employee providing verbal notice is not sufficient to trigger the employer’s obligation to start paying benefits.

After the employer receives the completed claim form from the employee, the employer has fourteen days to accept, reject, or delay a decision concerning the claim.  If the employer delays a decision, it has ninety days to make a final determination.  During those ninety days, the employer must provide up to ten thousand dollars of medical care for the employee.  However, the employer does not have to pay temporary benefits during this time.

The injured employee will need to be assessed by a medical professional.  The employer has the right to select the first doctor.  However, the employee does not have to keep seeing that physician.  The employer is obligated to provide the employee with notification of the Medical Provider Network, which is a list of medical providers that the employee may choose from.  If the employer does not have a MPN, the employee can switch medical providers after thirty days, and can choose any doctor who accepts workers’ compensation insurance.

It is essential that the employer notify his or her workers’ compensation insurance provider as soon as the injury occurs.  If the employer does not have insurance, the employer needs to seek assistance from an experienced attorney, as there can be severe penalties for failure to carry the required insurance.

We have extensive experience with all types of workers’ compensation litigation.  Call us today for an appointment so we can discuss your business and what we can do to help you at the beginning of a workers’ compensation case.

Car Accidents and Workers’ Compensation

The borderline between work and leisure has eroded significantly for many people in recent years.  Laptop computers, tablets, smartphones, and other devices have made it simple to stay connected and do work from many different locations.  It is not uncommon for people to leave the office, drive home, boot up their home computer and continue to work.  Blurring the line between work and home can sometimes create confusion regarding workers’ compensation and when an employee is eligible for benefits.  To be eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits, an employee must demonstrate that the injury is work related, meaning it is connected to a job-related purpose.  If an employee is injured while at the place of business, the injury is typically (although not always) considered work-related.  However, if the employee is injured while driving, it is possible that the employee may still be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.  Commuting to and from work is not typically considered part of employment, even if the employee intends to work more once arriving home.  It is important for an employer to understand when the business may be liable for workers’ compensation benefits when the employee was driving.

Like other injuries, to demonstrate that the injury sustained while driving is covered under workers’ compensation, the driving must be work-related.  The inquiry will focus on whether the reason for the driving is related to the employee’s job duties.  For example, if the employee decides to drive to the local store to buy a snack and gets in an accident, that will likely not be covered under workers’ compensation. However, if the same employee was going to the store to purchase items at the direction of his or her boss to use at the business, then the injury would be covered under workers’ compensation, even if the employee happened to pick up the snack while at the store.  In essence, the inquiry is whether the purpose for the driving was for the business, and done in the course and scope of the employee’s job.

Employers should also note that the workers’ compensation benefits the employee will not be reduced even if the car accident was the employee’s fault.  This is because unlike the system underpinning auto insurance, workers’ compensation is a no fault system.

An important exception to the typical rule that injuries sustained while commuting are not covered by workers’ compensation is if, for example, the employee is driving to a distant work-site that is not the typical office or work space for that employee.

We have experience assisting our clients understand whether their employee’s injuries are work related.  Call us today and let us help you with your business.

Torts and Workers’ Compensation

California’s workers’ compensation system is designed to protect both the employee and the employer.  The employee is protected because the law provides that if he or she sustains a work-related injury in the course and scope of employment, he or she will be entitled to receive compensation for a variety of things, ranging from medical expenses to biweekly payments for permanent disability.  The employer is protected because there is a system in place to reduce incidences of fraud, ensure that the expectation for reasonable accommodations is clear, and it clear that not all workers are actually covered under workers’ compensation.  The workers’ compensation system is a “no fault” system, which means that the employee is not required to show the employer was at fault for the injury.  California labor code 3600 also provides that the exclusive remedy for an employee injured and seeking compensation is to purse a workers’ compensation case.  In other words, the employee cannot generally sue the employer for negligence or other civil torts.  All of the essential conditions contained in labor code 3600 must be met in order for the rule to apply.

Like so many other areas of law, however, there are exceptions to the exclusive remedy rule.  One exception is called “dual capacity.”  This exception acknowledges that an employee may have multiple different duties toward the employer.  If the injury arises out of an incident that was independent of the employment relationship, the employee may sue the employer.  Another exception is fraudulent concealment.  This will apply where the employer fraudulently conceals the worker’s injury and its connection to the employment, and the concealment exacerbates the injury.  This exception is typically seen in cases involving exposure to toxic chemicals, mold, or asbestos.  A third exception is employer assault or ratification.  This exception provides that although an employer is not typically responsible for injuries sustained when one employee assaults another, the injured employee may bring a civil suit if the employer took affirmative steps by either ratifying the conduct of the assaulting employee or by assaulting the employee. The next exception is for power press machines.  These machines are any material forming machine which uses a die to press, impact, punch, stamp, or extrude material.  A power press does not include the machines that simply cut material with a blade.  If an employer removes the guard on the press or fails to maintain the guard, an injured employee may sue the employer.  Finally, an employee may bring a civil suit against the employer when the employer has failed to obtain and maintain workers’ compensation insurance in accordance with California law.  This type of suit could allow for an injured employee to obtain workers’ compensation benefits while also recovering for negligence.

We have extensive experience with the workers’ compensation system and all types of associated litigation.  Contact us today for a consultation.

Safety Committees

Employers work tirelessly to make sure their business is using the most beneficial business tactics and practices.  Employers know that this includes not only making sure marketing, manufacturing, and customer satisfaction is properly attended to, but also the safety of the employees.  If an employee sustains a work-related injury, he or she can file for benefits through the workers’ compensation system.  This is a no-fault system, meaning neither the employee nor the employer will be required to demonstrate who was at fault for the accident.  Although the workers’ compensation is a system that benefits both employee and employer, the optimal situation is actually to reduce the chance of employee injury as much as possible.  Forming a safety committee at your business can be one way to help reduce the incidences of workplace injuries.

A safety committee is a group of comprised of employees, typically from across different departments, and will include members of the workforce and members of management.  Properly executed and overseen, a safety committee can be one of the most effective ways to help cut down on workplace injuries at your business.  A safety committee will serve many purposes.  One purpose will be to make sure that employees are more away of the proper safety procedures in place.  The safety committee can organize more frequent safety briefings and help amend corporate safety handbooks.  The safety committee can also serve as a place where other employees can bring safety concerns to the attention of management.  Safety committees can help facilitate communication to ensure management is aware of the nature and frequency of certain risks or violations happening in the workplace.  The safety committee can also help construct an action plan to improve workplace safety, as well as develop goals and incentive programs to encourage employees to work more safely.

There are particular traits of employees you may want to focus on when deciding who would be best suited to serve on a safety committee.  You want to look for employees who are respected by their co-workers, as these types of employees are more likely to get results.  Committee members need to be familiar with the processes of their departments, as well as receptive to new ideas as to how to improve conditions.

If you have questions about how your business can protect itself from workers’ compensation claims, call us today.  We can talk about your business and what can be done to protect its future.

Fraud Red Flags

Workers’ compensation is an important system which was put in place to protect workers from unscrupulous employers who would prefer to put the well-being of their business over the well-being of their employees.  The workers’ compensation system provides protections to an injured employee to make sure that he or she receives compensation for work-related injuries.  The system also provides protections to employers by helping create checks and standards for injuries and compensation limits.  California has also established special state task forces to help deal with the problem of workers’ compensation fraud.  Although the majority of workers’ compensation claims are valid, employers should keep a look out for some red flags for workers’ compensation fraud.

One red flag is a delay in reporting the incident.  For most employees, an injury severe enough to require medical attention is not an incident to be taken lightly.  Most employees who have actually sustained a work-related injury will immediately report being hurt.  An employee who waits days or even weeks to report the injury could be committing fraud.

Another common red flag is when the employee is inconsistent or vague about the details of the incident.  Employers should look for employees who frequently change the version of events or cannot remember important details, such as the date or location of the incident.

The lack of witnesses or the type of witnesses also can be a marker for fraud.  An employee whose job responsibilities typically include working together with others or in front of large groups, but who sustains an injury while he or she just happened to be alone is a red flag.  Moreover, if the only witnesses available are the close friends or family members of the injured, it may be important to investigate further.

Where you have a difficult time following up with the employee while he or she is supposed to be at home recuperating, this can also be a red flag.  In this situation, employers should watch for situations in which repeated phone calls or attempt to contact the employee during normal business hours are unsuccessful.  Family members who answer the phone may seem noncommittal about the injured employee’s whereabouts, or always claim the employee is sleeping.

Workers’ compensation fraud can have a serious impact on your business.  Call us today to talk about how we can help protect your business.

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