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

O’Connor Law has been practicing in workers’ compensation since the founding of our firm in 1989. For more than three decades, our firm has earned a successful record of assisting clients in receiving their rightful benefits. If you are filing for workers’ compensation benefits or looking to hire an attorney, please contact O’Connor Law at 800-518-4LAW.

Advise Clients to Receive Medical Attention

When filing a claim, an official medical examination or documents will be required. If medical information is incorrect or insufficient, a person’s claim may be denied. Attorneys can also recommend clients to visit a local medical official for an evaluation of their injuries.

Throughout the past year and continuing into 2021, mailing services have been severely affected by the global pandemic. As a result, mail and packages have been delivered at a very slow pace. Notably, individuals who receive Workers’ Compensation have also been affected by the delay in deliveries. Many clients have reported not receiving their compensation checks or files on time, which can cause numerous complications with their health, expenses, or daily living.

Since the spring of 2020, online ordering has drastically increased as people began to purchase more items online than in stores. In compliance with the current health protocols, the United States Postal Service (USPS) decided to reduce the working hours for employees, as well as the number of employees that are working simultaneously. In addition, workers have also missed work if they were diagnosed or have been in contact with people with COVID-19. The CDC advises that people should stay home for 2 weeks following a diagnosis or direct contact with COVID-19. As a result, hundreds of thousands of USPS employees had to miss work. This combination resulted in a prolonged delivery time to receive items in the mail.

Many people who receive Workers’ Compensation rely on their payments in order to pay for their medical bills, prescriptions, and any additional expenses. People receiving Workers’ Compensation may also experience a delay in their medication delivery. If individuals have severe health issues, they rely on receiving their medication as prescribed by their doctor. There has also been reports of issues with receiving compensation payments. When their payments are weeks late, they may have difficulties paying for their expenses. A recipient who receives their Workers’ Compensation benefits later than expected can be eligible to receive alternative payment methods. Common alternatives can include mobile payments and direct deposits, which will be unaffected by the current mailing delays.

One of the busiest times of the year for manufacturers and warehouse workers is around the holidays. In addition to the pandemic, employees have been working around the clock to keep up with online shopping and shipment orders. This year, the United States Postal Service (USPS) estimates that there will be about 750 million packages that will be delivered for the holiday season. They also estimate that there is a 12 percent increase in shipping totals in 2020 compared to the 670 million packages that were delivered last year. As a result, warehouse and industry workers have been labeled as the “Backbone of Our Economy” this holiday season by Business Insider.

Since shopping online has drastically increased this year, the demand for warehouse workers has also increased. Business Insider states that more than 146,000 new warehouse and storage jobs have been created from April to October in the United States. Since then, the number of jobs available continue to increase. They also claim that this statistic drastically increased because of the plentiful amount of online shopping orders and to prepare for the incoming holiday season. Although, it is common for companies to hire seasonal workers for the holiday season, this year has provided a larger job increase compared to the past years. Major corporations, such as Walmart and Amazon, have followed this trend as well. Currently, Amazon has 1.2 million employees around the world. In addition, Walmart has more than 2.2 million employees worldwide, and 1.5 million workers in the United States.

In addition to working many hours, workers have also reported unsafe working conditions during the pandemic. Since the beginning of the year, the spread of COVID-19 has been a concern of many companies and workers. There have been reports in manufacturing and packaging plants of not maintaining safe conditions for workers, such as crowded shifts, increases in cases, and not adhering to health and safety requirements. Common Workers’ Compensation claims that can occur as a result of work may include machine accidents, overexertion, and strain and sprain injuries. Personal Injury cases can also develop at work. For example, if an employee slips and falls while working, they may be entitled to Personal Injury benefits. As a result, it is important to have a safe and controlled working environment to prevent injuries and illnesses.

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!

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