COVID-19 Update: How We Are Serving and Protecting Our Clients

A common theme of many states’ Workers’ Compensation laws is change.  It is very common for states to update their laws, policies, and regulations for Workers’ Compensation in order to better protect that state’s workers. Recently, two states have implemented new laws and regulations regarding Workers’ Compensation. New Jersey and California have made new additions to their laws.  The decision appears to be heavily influenced by the global pandemic, as thousands of employees may now be able to collect Workers’ Compensation benefits if they have tested positive for COVID-19.

New Jersey passed the new legislation on September 16, 2020. It will allow more residents to become eligible for Workers’ Compensation benefits. The law specifically denounces the ability of employers to contest that employees cannot provide sufficient evidence that they became infected with COVID-19 at work. The National Law Review elaborates more on this law on their website. The source states that the rule applies to any employee that is deemed essential during the pandemic, including public safety workers, first responders, medical and healthcare workers, social services, and emergency transportation employees. Also, the law establishes a “rebuttable presumption” that an essential employee retained COVID-19 in the workplace. This is because an employer is not able to prove that workers will not receive COVID-19 at work. Multiple states have also implemented a rebuttable presumption similar to New Jersey’s law.

On the day following New Jersey’s enactment, California’s Governor, Gavin Newsom, signed a similar piece of legislation into effect. On the contrary to New Jersey’s law, the rule for California defines and establishes five new and existing laws. The National Law Review explains the following statues on their website. The law specifically defined the term “injury” under Workers’ Compensation to include illnesses and deaths that may or have occurred from COVID-19. Also, it created a “disputable presumption” during a certain time frame for those essential employees seeking Workers’ Compensation, and workers at places where there have been confirmed cases of an outbreak that has caused illnesses or deaths from COVID-19. The law created a system of reporting requirements for employers to claims administrators, as well as civil penalties for employers who do not comply with reporting the requirements. In addition, it restated the Governor’s Executive Order on disputable presumption for all mandatory workers on the site for Workers’ Compensation of COVID-19 cases between March 19, 2020, and July 5, 2020.

On October 3, 2020, Pennsylvania established a new overtime rule that will allow more workers to be eligible for overtime wages. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s Secretary, Jerry Oleksiak, stated in a press release that “the modernized regulation will expand eligibility for overtime to 143,000 people and strengthen overtime protections for up to 251,000 or more. This final rule ensures that employees who work overtime are fairly and fully compensated for their labor in accordance with the original intent of the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act.”

Secretary Oleksiak also said that the new rule will be the first update to overtime regulations in over 40 years. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry has created a three-phase plan that will gradually increase the minimum salary for workers to receive overtime. As listed on the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s website, the first phase that was initiated on January 1, 2020 included workers who make $684 a week and $35,568 annually. October 3, 2021 will start the next phase consisting of people who make $780 a week and $40,560 a year. Finally, the last phase of people who make $875 weekly and $45,500 yearly will be eligible starting on October 3, 2022. Following the three stages, the Department plans to adjust the threshold every three years automatically.

There are other eligibility requirements that have not changed in order for people to receive overtime wages. Most hourly workers that work over 40 hours a week will be considered for overtime. In addition to employees that work more than 40 hours weekly, most workers who make less than the listed salary can also earn overtime payment. This requirement does not include the workers’ job duties. Finally, a majority of employees who are paid salary are eligible if they do not complete executive, administrative, or professional duties; the amount of money people make are not included in the requirement. However, there are other circumstances in which people are unable to receive overtime payments. For example, employees who are paid salary, make more than the listed annual salary, and preform executive, administrative, or professional duties will not be considered for overtime wages.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees have switched from working at their offices to their homes. People have been concerned about the future of their company, other workers, and their safety. For many decades, Workers’ Compensation has provided medical benefits and wage reimbursements for employees who were injured on the job. The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act extends their eligibility to people who were injured while working remotely at home.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 2.8 million non-fatal injuries and illnesses from the workplace in 2018. In fact, the National Safety Council states that an employee is injured on the job every 7 seconds. Based on the statistics, people can potentially continue to suffer injuries, despite working at home. As previously mentioned, any injury or illness that occurs as a result of work may be able to be compensated. However, it can be difficult for employees to provide sufficient evidence to confirm that they were injured on the job. It is even harder to provide credible evidence that an injury can be compensated while being away from the office.

In the case of Verizon Pennsylvania v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, an employee was injured while on the job at her home. As described in the case, an employee was working from home on the second level of her house. She received a phone call from her company, and she decided to go to her home office on the first level. However, she fell going down the stairs. Once she filed a Workers’ Compensation claim, her employer denied liability and claimed she was not working at the time. Eventually, a court responded that the injury would be compensated under the Workers’ Compensation Act. On the contrary, there can be other instances in which people are unable to be compensated for their injuries. In order to receive Workers’ Compensation, a person must be an employee, and their company must have Workers’ Compensation Insurance. The qualifying person must also have an injury or illness that occurred as a result of their work. The injury must also comply with the state’s regulations for reporting a case and Workers’ Compensation claim.

An organization to protect safe and healthy working conditions for employees in the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has failed its mission in a meat packaging plant in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Three workers have filed a lawsuit in a federal court against the agency claiming that they have caused the plant to become dangerous and potentially fatal to all the employees.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is an agency of the United States Department of Labor. The organization was created under the Occupational Safety and Health Act by President Richard M. Nixon in 1970. The primary goal of OSHA is to protect employees by observing and verifying that working conditions are updated and safe to work in. However, the government foundation was unsuccessful at ensuring secure environments at a meat packaging franchise. Maid-Rite Specialty Foods is a frozen food manufacturer that produces meat products, such as chicken, pork, turkey, beef, and veal. Recently, their plant in Scranton has experienced an influx of attention, due to its questionable practices.

In July, three meatpacking workers decided to file a lawsuit against OSHA for unsafe working conditions after they failed to respond to the incident previously. The employees stated that the company has produced an “imminent danger” throughout the plant by inadequately implementing codes and procedures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Originally filed in May, the suit states that Maid-Rite did not supply workers with appropriate equipment and failed to implement social distancing guidelines during the pandemic. In response, Maid-Rite reported to OSHA that they were not able to maintain a 6 feet distance between workers on the production lines, but they have provided workers with masks, given them staggered breaks, and performed deep cleanings of the plant. As a result, OSHA closed the case. Since then, one person who spoke out against the manufacturer claims that they did not separate unhealthy workers in the plant, and people failed to tell the company that they were sick. In addition, the employee claimed that Maid-Rite provided workers with an incentive to work by providing bonuses to people who did not miss a day of work. According to public health officials, this decision encourages people to work when they are potentially sick. All the evidence described has led workers to go to a federal court in order to receive changes in their current working conditions.

Despite thriving online sales, Amazon.com Inc. has not had a smooth adjustment to COVID-19 and its effects. As its employees struggle to remain healthy and safe, Amazon has been criticized by multiple organizations.  A great example of this points to a local warehouse, as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has begun conducting an investigation into the handling of workers’ conditions at an Amazon, Inc. facility near Hazleton, Pennsylvania.

The Hazleton warehouse, which is often referred to as AVP1, has made national news for its willingness to raise concerns with working conditions.  The primary complaint coming out of the facility is a lack of preparedness to handle the virus. The grievances included workers’ access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), an inability to maintain social distancing guidelines, access to hand sanitizer, along with other disinfectants, and a lack of time allotted to be able to wash their hands.  Amazon, Inc. has strict production quotas, which have been lifted since news of the allegations surfaced.  In the first week of April, fear of infection grew so large, that employees were instructed not to touch shipments to or from AVP1 for 24 hours.

AVP1 is one of 10 such facilities like it in the United States, and one of many Amazon, Inc. facilities dealing with outbreaks of confirmed COVID-19 cases.  In Staten Island, NY, workers made national headlines by staging multiple protests in the last 30 days.  Amazon, Inc. has disputed many claims made by its employees, and has fired one of the employees that orchestrated the Staten Island protest that sparked a work stoppage.

During this time of crisis, it’s extremely important to understand that COVID-19, if contracted during your course of work, qualifies as a Workers’ Compensation illness.  In other words, if you end up getting the disease, because of a coworker, client, or anyone else you come in contact with during the course of your work day, you may be eligible to receive Workers’ Compensation benefits because of it.  As the information regarding the disease, and how it relates to Workers’ Compensation benefits grows, the demand will too.

Workers’ Compensation is one of our state’s greatest achievements.  It allows injured workers to receive benefits despite missing time from work.  However, in order to receive these benefits, the cause of your missed time must be work-related. This is the biggest challenge in proving any occupational illness as a workers’ compensation injury, because it can be difficult to prove that you got the virus at work and not from someone outside of work. If you were directly exposed at work to someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and you have bene effectively socially isolating yourself outside of work, you may have a good case.

Why is it important that you are aware of these protections?  As the disease spreads, the likelihood of getting it increases.  If you are considered essential, you will be forced to leave isolation and put yourself at risk for the greater good of our country.  We are so thankful for your sacrifices and continued dedication, but also recognize the risks that come with it.  With growing cases will come growing demand for Workers’ Compensation benefits due to increased exposure.  If you experience COVID-19 symptoms we recommend you immediately contact a medical professional.  If you are forced to miss time from work because of these symptoms, or any other injury/illness, you should immediately contact a Workers’ Compensation attorney.

Another Day Another Dollar

Picture this; you’ve recently gotten a new job at a local fast food restaurant, you wake up and get ready to go to work, and you get there, clock in for your shift, and get to work like you’ve done every other day. Except today isn’t like every other day… 

BOOM!

In the United States, there are men and women who work hard every day to support themselves and their families. These men and women work long hours under dangerous working conditions in order to make a decent living. When people are working under unsafe working conditions, they are at risk of being severely injured or even killed. Every year, workers are killed on the job while working under harsh conditions. Many people are losing friends and loved ones due to unsafe working environments. Losing a loved one can cause tremendous hardship to many families, especially if that loved one is the family financial provider.

In August of 2018, two construction workers were killed while working on the job in Orlando, Florida. The incident happened at the site of the planned JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort, a $282 million project with 516 rooms from Marriott International that has been under construction. These two workers fell to their deaths after the scaffolding, which they were standing on, collapsed. A few other workers almost died when scaffolding collapsed but they were fortunate to be saved by the assistance of their co-workers. According to the investigation, “it is not clear why the scaffolding gave away.” These workers were clearly working under very unsafe working conditions.

The two workers who were killed this incident died with no fault of their own. The two men who were killed could have been husbands or fathers who were trying to make money to support their families. No wife or child should have to be told that their loved has been killed in a work accident such as this.

Here in Pennsylvania we have had some of the heaviest rains in recent memory. Flooding and damage due to these rains have been widespread across the state and it seems to be getting worse and worse as the late summer progresses. Most people do not consider heavy rains to be much of a health concern, but flooding can lead to a variety of injuries for people at work.

Washed out or flooded roads can easily cause car accidents for people whose jobs involve driving. Car accidents during work can lead to a workers’ compensation claim when the worker is injured in a car accident during their normal job duties.

Floodwaters will often be mixed with hazardous materials such as sewage, farm waste, chemical waste, and others. These have a potential to cause negative health effects for those who come in contact with the water. Any employee who is charged with the task of cleaning up flood damage should make sure they have their shots up to date, especially their tetanus shot.

Falls from an elevated position continue to the leading cause of death for construction employees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 37% (370 out of 991) of construction fatalities recorded in 2016 were caused by a fall. The overarching goal of the National Safety Stand-Down campaign is to raise fall hazard awareness across the country in an effort to eliminate fall fatalities and injuries.

Even though falls are the leading cause of construction fatalities, those falls are preventable.  The use of hazard elimination, proper planning, training, and use of proper fall protection equipment can decrease and even eliminate these alarming statistics.

The term “safety stand-down” is used to describe an event when normal work is paused and so the entire work site can focus on a specific work safety issue.

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