The Ongoing Dilemma of Intermittent FMLA Leave

Intermittent FMLA leave is a giant thorn in the side of humanFMLA Leave resource professionals across the country. The struggle is that not all intermittent leave requests are equal. Here’s a look at some of the most common scenarios, and how to handle them. The FMLA allows employers some flexibility in granting different kinds of intermittent leave. Employees are entitled to take it for serious health conditions, either their own or those of immediate family members. The law also allows use of intermittent leave for child care after the birth or placement of an adopted child, but only if the employer agrees to it. It’s the company’s call. It’s not always simple, however. If the mother develops complications from childbirth, or the infant is born premature and suffers from health problems, the “serious health condition” qualifier would likely kick in. As always, it pays to know the medical details before making a decision.

 

Eligibility Is Not Automatic

Companies can successfully dispute employee claims to FMLA eligibility. Consider this real-life example: 

A female employee in Maine said she suffered from a chronic condition that made it difficult to make it to work on time. After she racked up a number of late arrivals – and refused an offer to work on another shift – she was fired. She sued, saying her tardiness should have been considered intermittent leave. Her medical condition caused her lateness, she claimed, so each instance should have counted as a block of FMLA leave. Problem was, she’d never been out of work for medical treatment, or on account of a flare-up of her condition. The only time it affected her was when it was time to go to work. 

The Court denied her claim for FMLA eligibility and indicated that intermittent leave is granted when an employee needs to miss work for a specific period of time, such as a doctor’s appointment or when a condition suddenly becomes incapacitating.  That wasn’t the case here, the judge said – and giving the employee FMLA protection would simply have given the woman a blanket excuse to break company rules.

Cite: Brown v. Eastern Maine Medical Center.

 

Designating Leave Retroactively

In order to maximize workers’ using up their allotted FMLA leave, employers can sometimes classify an absence retroactively. For example, an employee’s out on two weeks of vacation, but she spends the second week in a hospital recovering from pneumonia. Her employer doesn’t learn of the hospital stay until she returns to work. But she tells her supervisor about it, who then informs HR. Within two days, HR contacts the woman and says, “That week you were in the hospital should be covered by the FMLA. Here’s the paperwork.” The key here is that the company acted quickly – within two days of being notified of the qualifying leave. The tactic’s perfectly legal, and it could make a difference in the impact FMLA leave time could have on the firm’s overall operation. It’s also an excellent example of the key role managers play in helping companies deal with the negative effects of FMLA.

 

Using Employees’ Paid Time Off

Employers should never tell workers they can’t take FMLA leave until they’ve used up all their vacation, sick and other paid time off (PTO). Instead, companies can require employees to use their accrued PTO concurrently with their intermittent leave time. Employers can also count workers’ comp or short-term disability leave as part of their FMLA time – but in that case, employees can’t be asked to use their accrued PTO.

 

The Transfer Position

Companies can temporarily transfer an employee on intermittent leave, to minimize the effect of that person’s absence on the overall operation. The temporary position doesn’t need to be equivalent to the original job – but the pay and benefits must remain the same. And, of course, the employee must be given his old job – or its equivalent – when the intermittent leave period’s over.

There is one large restriction – the move can’t be made if the transfer “adversely affects” the individual. An example would be if if the new position would lengthen or increase the cost of the employee’s commute.  This would adversely affect the employee. Instead, such transfers need to be handled in such a way as to avoid looking like the employer is trying to discourage the employee from taking intermittent leave – or worse yet, is being punished for having done so.

 

Cooperation

Although FMLA is certainly an employee-friendly statute, employers do have some rights when it comes to scheduling intermittent leave. For instance, employees are required to consult with their employers about setting up medical treatments on a schedule that minimizes impact on operations. Of course, the arrangement has to be approved by the healthcare provider. But if an employee fails to consult with HR before scheduling treatment, the law allows employers to require the worker to go back to the provider and discuss alternate arrangements.

 

The Firing Question

Yes, companies can fire an employee who’s on intermittent FMLA leave. Despite the fears of many employers, FMLA doesn’t confer some kind of special dispensation for workers who exercise their leave rights. Obviously, workers can’t be fired for taking leave. But employers can layoff, discipline and terminate those employees who violate company policies or perform poorly. When an employee on FMLA leave is terminated, the Department of Labor decrees that the burdens on the employer to prove the worker would have been laid off, disciplined or terminated regardless of the leave request or usage.

 

Reductions in Force

When an employer has a valid reason for reducing its workforce, the company can lay off an employee on FMLA leave – as long as the firm can prove the person would have been let go regardless of the leave. However, again companies should be prepared not only to prove the business necessity of the move, but to show an objective, nondiscriminatory plan for choosing which employees would be laid off.

 

Misconduct or Poor Performance

Employees on FMLA leave – of any type – are just as responsible for following performance and behavior rules as those not on leave. However, companies that fire an employee out on FMLA will be under increased pressure to prove that the decision was based on factors other than the worker’s absence. As such, courts might well pose employers a key question: Why didn’t you fire this person before he/she took leave? This is not an easy answer to explain before a jury if liability is threatened at trial.  The good news is that a number of courts have upheld employers’ rights to fire employees on FMLA leave, even when the employee’s problems were first discovered when the employee went off the job. Nevertheless, companies should move cautiously if they are to terminate an employee currently out on leave due to misconduct or poor performance existing prior to the leave, but discovered after the leave begins.

 

Every case is different and requires different strategies and decisions because of the intricacies of the FMLA.  Hence, we highly recommend consulting in-house counsel, or one of our attorneys, to assist in making the appropriate decisions.

New Rule 11 – How’s It Going?

We’re now going on almost three months since the new Rule 11 took effect with the updated DIME fees and procedures.  Time flies, doesn’t it?   There has been some litigation that has ensued as a result of the recent changes, but overall the changes have been well received.  This is likely because most people prepared adequately for the changes that were taking effect well before the start of the New Year.

 

The litigation that has ensued has been primarily regarding the “regions” listed in the checklist contained on the Application for DIME and the body parts involved in the claim.   Since the “regions” have caused some confusion, the fees have also needed clarification.   Some of the litigation revolved around the specific body parts to a claim and Rule 11’s breakdown of cost.   The checklist looks as follows:

 

2019 DIME Application

 

Above each set of body parts, the boxes are listed as regions.  Pursuant to Rule 11, “less than three regions” is a fee of $1,000.   “Three or more regions” is a fee of $1,400.   It is recommended to double-check the Applications for DIME that are received to see if compliance with the Rule is met.   Any discrepancies and/or arguments concerning interpretation of the Rule can be handled by the Prehearing Administrative Law Judges.   The Judges have done an outstanding job of interpreting the Rule and correcting many issues for the DIME unit.  Also note, that some of the disputes have resulted in body parts that either were or were not related to the claim.   Such disputes have involved related body parts that should be part of the DIME, however claimants have tried to keep them out to lower the overall costs of the DIME.   Other disputes have arisen between the terms “and/or” as used in the Rule.  The arguments pertaining to the semantics have been resolved mostly using the word “or” to imply that either one or the other conditions must be met to trigger a particular fee.

 

 

In general, the DIME process seems to be running smoothly and interpretation of the new Rules seems to be pretty straightforward.   Like any Rule change, it will take some time to get used to and iron out the wrinkles.  It is important to double-check the new Rule and make sure compliance is met to avoid missing any particular arguments that will pose any sort of leverage in a claim.   Recall, that the new Rule only applies to Notices and Proposals filed on or after January 1, 2019.   Any Notice and Proposal filed before that date adheres to the old Rule 11.

 

If you have any questions regarding the changes to the Rules or the updated statutes, feel free to contact us.

 

Workplace Bullying

Does workers’ compensation insurance cover mental, and manifesting physical injuries Workplace Bullyingresulting from workplace bullying? A recent Forbes online article cited a survey concluding that 75% of the U.S. workforce reported having experienced workplace bullying.[1] Another study cited by the Workplace Bullying Institute suggested that absenteeism and lower production costs businesses $4 billion annually.[2] Regardless of the accuracy of the statistics, with the increased use of social media, workplace bullying can start inside of the workplace, or, start outside of the workplace and permeate into daily business operations.

One definition of workplace bullying advanced in Psychology Today was “workplace bullying refers to “situations where an employee repeatedly and over a prolonged time period is exposed to harassing behavior from one or more colleagues (including subordinates and leaders) and where the targeted person is unable to defend him-/herself against this systematic mistreatment.”[3] Researches have identified both internal and external causes of workplace bullying. As noted below, identifying the cause of workplace bullying is relevant to unwinding the legal liabilities associated with resulting injuries. Types of injuries associated with this behavior includes “physical and psychological symptoms, including headaches, chronic neck pain, fibromyalgia, type 2 diabetes, sleep problems, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress symptoms, suicidal ideation, and others.” [4]

The current statutory law in Colorado does not specifically address a company’s insurance liability for workplace bullying injuries. However, those injuries can be covered under the exclusive remedy of the Colorado’s Workers’ Compensation Act and the associated insurance policies. Bullying injuries may be treated as assaults for purposes of liability. Assaults that arise out of work are generally compensable injuries, while those that are purely personal are not.[5] Assaults caused by a natural force, or an event that any employee would be exposed to are also compensable assaults. Before addressing the nature of the injury, the business should investigate whether the bullying, for example verbal abuse or written harassments, arose out of a personal dispute between employees or whether the bullying occurred within the parameters of the employees’ business relations. Any investigation should be undertaken consistent with a business’ employment policies and procedures for interviewing witnesses, reviewing internal documents such as email, and confiscating company phones or computers as evidence.

When a business determines that a workplace bullying event has occurred, the business ought to determine whether an actual injury was caused by the perpetrator(s) conduct. The law is especially tricky when unpacking whether an injury occurred. While an employee may complain of stress or some other symptoms, especially to justify absenteeism, the claim may not always be a compensable injury. Section 8-43-301(2)(a), C.R.S., requires that an employee claiming a mental impairment provide a specific showing of a mental injury, including evidence supported by a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. Additionally, whether the bullying itself was a crime of violence will also factor into the amount of benefits that could be owed to a victim-employee. Navigating through the patchwork of questions to determine liability hinges on the ability of a comprehensive investigation of the claim at the outset to determine its validity.

As always, if you have any questions regarding workers’ compensation insurance and laws, please contact us.

 

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/christinecomaford/2016/08/27/the-enormous-toll-workplace-bullying-takes-on-your-bottom-line/#5f464c0b5595

[2] https://www.workplacebullying.org/tag/workers-comp/

[3]https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/finding-new-home/201809/workplace-bullying-causes-effects-and-prevention

[4] Id.

[5] Velasquez v. Industrial Commission, 41 Colo. App. 201,581 P.2d 748 (1978); In Re Questions Submitted by U.S. Court of Appeals, 759 P.2d 17, 23 (Colo. 1988).

The Legal Buzz – Lee & Brown Newsletter and Case Law Update January 2019

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Noteworthy Cases

Member Karen Gail Treece successfully defended two full contest claims. In Mommens v. Martin Marietta Materials, Inc., W.C. No. 5-070-386, Claimant alleged he was injured from hitting a bump on the road while driving a cement truck. Claimant testified he drove over a bump or transition in the road and flew up in his seat hitting the lumbar bar of the seat when he came down. Claimant was unable to identify the street location of the bump to his supervisors. Respondents’ accident reconstructionist expert credibly testified there was nothing wrong with the seat of the truck, the lumbar bar did not protrude, and the seat operated properly. The ALJ denied and dismissed the claim.
 

In Pickering v. Hercules Commercial, W.C. No. 5-049-650, Claimant alleged he was injured while tightening a bolt using an allen/hex wrench. Ms. Treece elicited credible witness testimony that Claimant complained of pain and was on light duty prior to the alleged date of injury. Respondents’ expert persuasively testified it was unlikely a person could exert sufficient force, using a ¼ inch hex wrench, to sustain a significant shoulder injury. The ALJ denied and dismissed Claimant’s request for benefits.

 

In Robinson v. United Parcel Service, Member Joseph W. Gren and Associate Daniel Mowrey successfully defended against Claimant’s allegation that a specific medical center was an authorized provider. Claimant contended that he was referred to the emergency room to rule out a medical emergency. Claimant declared that Respondents were liable for payment for all services at said facility. Respondents’ argued that the initial referral was for emergent care only. Once the emergent care was concluded, Claimant returned to his ATP for ongoing treatment. Respondents produced medical evidence from the ATP that no additional referral was made to the other facility. The ALJ opined that Claimant returned to treat at the other facility of his own accord. The ALJ concluded that, based on the objective medical evidence, Claimant failed to establish that the other facility was authorized as treating physicians. The ALJ ordered that the care received from the other facility, after the ER visit, was unauthorized.

 

Of Counsel Frank Cavanaugh and Associate Kristi Robarge successfully defeated a full contest claim in Putnam v. Whole Foods Market, Inc., W.C. 5-079-453. Claimant alleged an injury occurred while at work; however, there were conflicting reports of the injury. At first, Claimant simply reported that she began hurting while at work. She later reported that she bent over to pick something up and felt a pop in her low back. In addition to the inconsistent reports of injury, Claimant had a pre-existing condition which caused pain in multiple places. The ALJ found that Claimant did not suffer a compensable injury during the course and scope of her employment. The ALJ noted that “the mere fact a claimant experiences symptoms while performing work does not require the inference that there has been an aggravation or acceleration of a preexisting condition.”

 

Associate Angela Lavery successfully defended Claimant’s claim for specific medical benefits in Hayes v. Patterson UTI Drilling Co., W.C. 5-062-811. Claimant worked as a “roughneck” on an oil rig and argued that he suffered an injury to his upper extremity when he sustained an admitted injury. Claimant argued that he required shoulder surgery recommended by an ATP surgeon, which would include several procedures. Although the ALJ agreed that Claimant suffered a work-related injury, the ALJ determined that Claimant failed to establish that the recommendation for surgery was medically reasonable and necessary. The ALJ credited the testimony of Respondents’ medical expert, who opined that surgery was not reasonable or necessary based on Claimant’s current presentation of symptoms and the Medical Treatment Guidelines. Respondents’ medical expert credibly testified that other more conservative treatment modalities could be utilized based on Claimant’s reported symptoms and objective findings on exam. The ALJ agreed and determined that there was insufficient evidence to support that the surgery should be performed over other treatment options. The ALJ denied Claimant’s request for authorization of the surgery.

 
In Moore v. Lifeline Orlando VAC, (DaVita), I.C.A. No. 20152-740314, Associate Daniel Mowrey successfully defended against Claimant’s attempt to increase the Loss of Earning Capacity (LEC) and Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) Award before the Industrial Commission of Arizona. Respondents admitted for a monthly PPD award of $646.10. Claimant contended that she was entitled to a monthly award of $1,094.13. Claimant provided expert testimony from two physicians and a labor market expert. The ALJ was persuaded by the testimony of Respondents’ labor market expert who testified that while Claimant could not return to her pre-injury employment, her considerable history in leadership roles provided her extensive administrative experience. The ALJ credited Respondents’ labor market expert’s opinion that her prior leadership roles would qualify her for the higher wage range for administrative positions. The ALJ was not persuaded by Claimant’s testimony that she could not sit for longer than 15 minutes at a time. The ALJ concluded that, based on the objective medical evidence and the credible opinion of Respondents’ expert, Claimant failed to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that she was entitled to an increase in her LEC and PPD award. The ALJ ordered Claimant’s claim for an increase in benefits be denied and dismissed.
 

Helmet to Helmet

It’s hard to believe that the 2018 NFL football season is coming to an end soon with Super Bowl LIII. And for the 16th time in 18 years a quarterback named Brady, Manning, or Roethlisberger will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. This will be the 9th appearance for Patriot’s Quarterback Tom Brady while the Ram’s Quarterback Jared Goff makes his first appearance. The old vs. the new.

While we are indulging in hot wings, pizza, and libations at various Super Bowl parties, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that injuries to professional athletes fall under workers’ compensation insurance. Since these players are performing their job duties and, unlike amateur athletes, they are employees. Continue reading the article

 

Cases You Should Know

No Mulligans for Bad Faith: In Schultz v. GEICO Casualty Company (November 5, 2018) the Supreme Court of Colorado addressed a District Court Order that required the Plaintiff to undergo an IME in light of bad faith allegations brought by Plaintiff. Plaintiff was involved in a car accident in 2015 and subsequently had multiple knee surgeries. Without having Plaintiff undergo an IME, the insurer offered full policy limits but did not subsequently pay. When Plaintiff brought a bad faith allegation against the insurer for unreasonable delay/denial, the insurer then denied liability and secured an Order from the District Court requiring Plaintiff to undergo an IME to assess a causation dispute. Plaintiff alleged that the requirement that she undergo an IME was unreasonable because the insurer had previously agreed to pay out the policy without an examination, over a year prior. The Supreme Court reaffirmed the principle that an insurer’s decision to deny or delay benefits to the insured must be evaluated based on the information available to the insurer at the time the coverage decision is made, not post-coverage decision due to the discovery of later developments that may have impacted the insurer’s decision. Here, the insurer had initially decided to pay out the policy without an IME and presented no explanation as to how an IME performed one year later would have impacted the original decision. The Court found that the District Court had abused its discretion in compelling the examination.

 

Moral of the Story: Whether an insurer acted in bad faith or not, is decided when the unreasonable action is alleged to have occurred. It cannot be rectified by relying upon evidence subsequently obtained that did not exist, or was not available, at the time of the initial action.

 

Fines Dispensed, Dispensary Incensed: In MMJ 95, LLC (no board number issued)(October 15, 2018), ICAO upheld a Director’s Order imposing a $39,950.00 fine upon Respondent-employer for failing to maintain mandatory workers’ compensation insurance coverage. Section 8-44-101, C.R.S. of the Workers’ Compensaion Act requires that all employers secure workers’ compensation insurance coverage for all employees. Uninsured employers are subject to a fine of up to $250.00 per day under Section 8-43-409(1)(b), C.R.S. In this case, MMJ 95 did not maintain its own workers’ compensation coverage. The sole registered agent of MMJ 95 was also the registered agent of another company, AJC Industries, LLC, which did maintain workers’ compensation coverage. Both businesses operated under the same trade name. The Director found that, contrary to the testimony of the employer, MMJ 95 did have “employees” for purposes of the Act and therefore had to maintain its own insurance for those employees. The Director found that the registered agent of Repondent-employer did not file LLC member rejection of coverage for workers’ compensation insurance for MMJ 95 and was therefore himself considered an “employee” of the company. The Director further found that persons working at MMJ 95 were employees, despite testimony from the registered agent that these persons were employed by AJC and therefore covered by its insurance. The Director found that, even though AJC and MMJ 95 operated under the same tradename, they were separate business entities because they had been filed as such with the Secretary of State. Respondent-employer did not properly raise contentions of error in response to the Director’s Order and ICAO upheld the Director’s findings and ultimate fine.

 

Moral of the Story: Every employer registered with the Secretary of State must maintain its own workers’ compensation insurance coverage for all employees. Members of Limited Liability Companies may be considered employees of the company for purposes of workers’ compensation, even though they are not paid as employees of the company.

 

A Final Admission Isn’t Always the End: In The Matter of the Claim of Carold Peoples v. State of Colo. Dep’t of Trans., W.C. No. 4-819-262 (October 24, 2018), ICAO affirmed the ALJ’s Order requiring Claimant to repay an overpayment and allowing Respondent to recoup the overpayment by offsetting disfigurement benefits. Claimant had been awarded SSDI and Respondent did not take an offset against temporary disability, even though they had known of the award since 2012. Respondent instead noted an ongoing overpayment on the GAL. Respondent filed a FAL in 2013, within a year of the SSDI award, but did not apply for a hearing. Claimant argued that overpayment was barred by the statute of limitations on the premise that Respondent did not “attempt to recover” the overpayment within one year of when they became aware of the overpayment, under Section 8-42-113.5(1)(b.5)(I), C.R.S. ICAO agreed with the ALJ that asserting a right to recoup overpayment on the FAL was sufficient for Respondent to preserve their right and defeat the statute of limitations. Filing a FAL asserting an overpayment against future benefits is sufficient as an “attempt to recover” an overpayment for purposes of the statute. Claimant argued that Respondent was prohibited from offsetting the overpayment against future benefits owed. The Panel held that “the Respondent may offset their liability for the disfigurement award . . . against the existing overpayment.”

 

Moral of the story: Respondents must attempt to recover any overpayment within a year of becoming aware of its existence, and a FAL noting the overpayment is sufficient to preserve the right to pursue the overpayment in the future. Respondents may also recover overpayment from future benefits, including disfigurement owed.

Helmet to Helmet

It’s hard to believe that the 2018 NFL football season is coming to an end soon with Super Bowl LIII. And for the 16th time in 18 years a quarterback named Brady, Manning, or Roethlisberger will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. This will be the 9th appearance for Patriot’s Quarterback Tom Brady while the Ram’s Quarterback Jared Goff makes his first appearance. The old vs. the new.

While we are indulging in hot wings, pizza, and libations at various Super Bowl parties, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that injuries to professional athletes fall under workers’ compensation insurance. Since these players are performing their job duties and, unlike amateur athletes, they are employees.

Professional football requires two types of insurance: general liability and workers’ compensation since it is mandatory under state laws. Given the lucrative contracts these athletes sign, the Collective Bargaining Agreements often require wage continuation agreements so that these athletes continue to make the same salary if they are injured and off work. Can you imagine an athlete who makes $30 million a year being capped at the state workers’ compensation rate while recovering from an injury? Hence why wage continuation agreements are standard across the league.

With that said, one of the biggest threats to the NFL is the evaporating insurance market. According to multiple sources from the NFL, there is only one carrier willing to provide workers’ compensation coverage for NFL teams because of all the concussion litigation that began in 2011. At that time, at least a dozen carriers occupied the insurance market for pro football. Now, there is one.  Dr. Julian Bales, Medical Director and member of the NFL’s head, neck, and spine committee told ESPN “insurance coverage is arguably the biggest threat to the sport.”[1]

A study done by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s sports concussion program found approximately 300,000 football-related concussions occur each year in youth, high school, college, and professional. And the biggest injury or disease that is making headlines in the NFL is traumatic brain injuries and chronic traumatic encephalopathy or “C.T.E.” The problem with this disease is the unknown “trigger” on how and when the disease starts. The disease is diagnosed after death and the symptoms of depression and delusional behavior may lay dormant for years, or even decades, before they surface. It’s concerning for carriers to know they could be on the hook years down the road given the unknown.

Similar to asbestos claims in workers’ compensation, a carrier can be at risk for a claimant who works one day and is subsequently diagnosed with lung cancer, players in California could file claims, even if they played only one game, to allege their brain disorders were caused by the sport. This cost carriers and the leagues hundreds of millions of dollars which fortunately was curtailed by new legislation in 2013. Still, carriers are cautious to cover the NFL without an exclusion for head trauma.

For many years carriers insured the NFL without restrictions for traumatic brain injuries. Now many of these companies are in a six-year lawsuit with the NFL over who will pay legal fees and claims associated with the 2013 settlement of the $1 billion-dollar class action lawsuit. Hence, these carriers are at higher risk to insure the NFL.

California has one of the most liberal workers’ compensation laws in the Union. Recently, former players who decades ago reached injury settlements with NFL teams and carriers have filed new claims alleging their settlements did not cover traumatic brain injuries. In 2015, a workers’ compensation court found that a former player’s 1989 settlement for cumulative industrial injury “does not extend to the then-unknown cumulative injury to the brain.” Similar to a worker who claims their shoulder pain is due to years of lifting heavy equipment, a former football player can argue their continued migraine headaches are a result of them playing professional football. Chances are several brain disorders like dementia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s could be blamed on football. Doctors may ask, “how long did you play football and how many head injuries did you have?” and cite that as the cause for a claimant’s brain disorder when a claim against the NFL is filed. Fortunately, claimants must still meet their burden and prove that pro football alone, and not youth or college football, was the “cause” of their injury or diseases.

Workers’ compensation attorneys in California are handling numerous settled cases in which former NFL players have filed new claims for head trauma. The new claims will only increase costs for litigation and further deter carriers on what they will and will not cover. Fortunately, monetary costs for workers’ compensation claims are capped which will help put a cork in the damn but if the floodgate of old settled claims are allowed to be reopened, the market for coverage will continue to be washed away down the river…

As always, if you have any questions regarding workers’ compensation insurance and laws, please contact us.

 

[1] http://www.espn.com/espn/story/_/id/25776964/insurance-market-football-evaporating-causing-major-threat-nfl-pop-warner-colleges-espn

Rules Are Meant to be Broken – or At Least Updated. 2019 Rule Updates

2019 brings changes to two Rules that affect Colorado Workers’ Compensation. Rule 11 and Rule 16 have both been revised and the changes go into effect January 1, 2019. The changes to Rule 11and the DIME process are extensive. Below is a brief summary of the changes.

 

Rule 16 is undergoing a few changes.  The rule has been reordered.  Most of the changes are not substantive.  It is strongly recommended that the new rule be referenced in dealing with any prior authorization or billing issue for specifics.  The more substantive changes are highlighted below; however, the specifics of the rule should be reviewed in each situation.

  • ‘Payer’ definition is the same, but the definition now states that use of third parties to pay bills does not relieve the carrier or self-insured employer of obligations under the rules.
  • Recognized healthcare providers previously under 16-5 is now under 16-3.
  • Required use of the medical treatment guidelines, previously under 16-3 is now under 16-4
  • Notification requirements previously under 16-9 is now under 16-5.
  • Prior authorization previously under 16-10 is now under 16-6
  • Contest of prior authorization previously under 16-11 is now under 16-7.

* In conjunction with 16-11 in the new rule governing payment of medical benefits, contest for payment of prior authorization for non-medical reasons now contains examples of non-medical reasons including: no claim has been filed, compensability is not been established, the provider is not authorized, insurance coverage is at issue, typographic, gender or date errors on the bill, failure to submit medical documentation and unrecognized CPT codes.

  • Required use of the medical fee schedule previously under 16-4 is now under 16-8 and specifically sets forth the payment for build services without an established value under the medical fee schedule require prior authorization.
  • Required billing forms and accompanying documentation previously under 16-7 is now under 16-9 and has been added to somewhat.
  • Required medical documentation previously under 16-8 is now under 16-10 and sets forth in greater detail specifically what Form 164 should look like from the doctor’s office.
  • Payment of medical benefits previously under 16-12 is now under16-11.
  • Dispute resolution process previously under 16-13 is now under 16-12.
  • On-site review of hospital or other medical charges previously under 16-14 is folded into 16-10 regarding required medical record documentation.

 

Rule 11 changes are more substantial. Of Counsel, Brad Hansen, wrote an article about the updates last month and you can read it as well: Because It Goes to 11 – Rule 11 changes for 2019. 

 

The following is a brief summary of the Rule 11 changes:

Why?

  • No real change for years.
  • Doctors’ reluctance to continue to do DIMEs due to reimbursement and increased complexity.

 

Effective Date

  • January 1, 2019
  • DOWC says there is some leeway for the first month.

 

Overview of changes

  • Cost
  • Forms
  • Time-frames
  • Logistics

 

Cost

  • 3 tiers based on DOI, and number of body parts
  • $1,000 = DOI < 2 years and < 3 regions marked on the application
  • $1,400 = DOI > 2 years but < 5 years and 3 – 4 body regions marked
  • $2,000 = DOI > 5 years and ≥ 5 or more body regions marked

 

Forms

  • FAL – includes objection to the FAL, notice proposal and application for DIME
  • Request for Appointment to the DIME
  • Notice and Proposal and Application for DIME
  • DIME Examiner Summary Sheet
  • Notice of DIME Negotiations
  • Follow-up DIME
  • DIME Physician Summary Disclosure Form
  • Notice of Reschedule or Termination of DIME
  • Notice of Agreement to Limit the Scope of the DIME
  • DIME Report Template

 

Time-frames – font color corresponds to responsible party. Key to color below list.

  • FAL = 30 Days After Receipt of MMI (calendar 30 days after report for safety)
  • Notice and Proposal and Application for DIME = 30 Days After Filing of FAL
  • Claimant Files for Indigency = 15 Days After Filing the Notice and Proposal and Application for DIME
  • Attempt to Negotiate DIME = 30 Days After Notice and Proposal and Application (Notice of Negotiation Form to be filed within 30 Days)
  • DOWC Issues Panel = 5 days
  • Summary Disclosure Request = 5 Business Days
  • Requesting Party Strike If No Disclosure Request = 5 Business Days
  • Non-Requesting Party Strike = 5 Business Days
  • DOWC Send DIME Confirmation = 5 Business Days
  • Pay For and Schedule DIME = 14 Days
  • Schedule DIME = Between 35 – 75 Days After DIME Confirmation
  • Complete Copy of Medical Records to Claimant = 14 Days from DIME Confirmation
  • Claimant submits additional Medical Records to Carrier = 10 Days After Medical Packet From Carrier
  • Completed Packet Provided to DIME = 14 Days Before Exam
  • Claimant Notifies Carrier of Need for Interpreter = 14 Days Before Examination
    • Carrier is Responsible for Paying for the Interpreter
  • After DIME = 20 Days After Examination a Report is Generated

Key = Respondent duty       = Claimant duty     = Either Party’s duty

 

Logistics

  • New Rule applies to any Notice and Proposal with a certificate of service after 1/1/19
  • Applies to any follow-up DIME after 1/1/19
  • Applies to 24-month DIMEs

 

Questions

  • Body Parts?
    • The checklist proports to control body parts considered
    • PALJs likely to address
    • DIMEs still not confined to specific body parts
  • DIME Cancellation
    • Very tight cancellation time-frames with fixed penalties

 

The above summaries of Rule 11 and 16 are not intended to be used as legal advice. They are an outline of the changes to those Rules effective January 1, 2019. Please contact us for case specific legal recommendations.

BECAUSE IT GOES TO 11

It is hard to believe that the holiday season is here and, with that, 2019 will soon be upon us. 2019 Rule 11 revisionsWith the New Year, several changes and updates to the Workers’ Compensation Rules of Procedure will take place. One rule that will have significant changes and impact on the system is Rule 11, which pertains to the DIME process.

The DIME program has seen little change since its inception in 1991, yet it is an essential piece of the Colorado Workers’ Compensation system. There have been attempts throughout the years to change the procedures from both respondent’s and claimant’s bars but to no avail. After three years of collaboration and tedious consideration, the Division of Workers’ Compensation has finally adopted a new rule that will address key challenges of each stakeholder. This is due in part to weekly staff meetings with representatives from both sides of the bar commenting on the changes and individual meetings with each side of the bar. There were over 50 revisions to Rule 11 and a Public Rule Hearing held for additional comment.

 

Effective January 1, 2019, these revisions and changes to Rule 11 will take place. Several key changes to the Rule:

     

    • There will now be a three-tiered payment system based on the date of injury to the filing of the DIME application and the number of body regions indicated on the DIME application;
    •  
    • The DIME physician must receive the fee prior to the requesting party scheduling the DIME appointment;
    •  
    • The Notice and Proposal and DIME Application are now combined as one document;
    •  
    • The time-frame to schedule a DIME appointment is extended to no earlier than 45 days or later than 75 days after the requesting party receives the notice of the DIME Physician Confirmation; and
    •  
    • Parties will now be responsible for agreeing on a singular medical records packet to send to the DIME physician.

     

 

The Division Rule will go into place January 1st, but the Division has indicated there will be some leniency the first month to sort out compliance issues. By February the Division will be enforcing the new process. Any Notice and Proposal with a certificate of mailing dated on or after January 1, 2019 is subject to the new Rule 11 provisions.

 

One provision of the Rule that will be advantageous for respondents is the requirement that once a Notice and Proposal is filed, claimant must simultaneously file a DIME application. With the current Rule 11 provision, claimant could file a Notice and Proposal to perfect their jurisdictional requirement to object to the Final Admission of Liability but could wait on filing for a DIME. Sometimes it would be months, or even close to a year, before a DIME application was filed and physician selected. Hopefully, the new Rule 11 revisions will bring a speedier DIME process and claim resolution/closure.

 

One negative effect of the new Rule is that parties are now to agree on one set of medical records to be sent to the DIME physician. This could create more litigation as claimants may not want to provide certain records, but respondents may feel they should be included in the medical packet. A standoff could require pre-hearings to adjudicate the matter. This is likely why the Division extended the time requirement to 45 – 75 days so that parties have time to reach an agreement on the medical records submitted and additional time to set the DIME appointment.

 

With these changes to Rule 11, there will be a lot of questions that need to be addressed. The attorneys at Lee & Brown, LLC are here to answer any questions you may have regarding the new changes to Rule 11 and will be conducting training seminars “on our DIME” early next year to go over all these changes. Below are some helpful links from the Division of Workers’ Compensation which provides general DIME information and new timelines to consider.

 

https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/DIME_Presentation_2019.pdf

 

https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/Important_DIME_Timelines_2019.pdf

 

https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/General_DIME_Fee_Information.pdf

 

 

Recovery of Overpayments in Workers’ Compensation Claims

The issue of overpayments has drawn much attention in recent years.   Several claimsOverpayment in WC Claims have gone up to the appellate courts regarding the jurisdiction and ability of the Division and an ALJ to order repayment of workers’ compensation benefits that were previously paid.  As you may imagine, repayment of several thousand dollars by a claimant is usually very difficult, if not impossible.  Employers and carriers usually protect themselves and recoup overpayment from future benefits owed.  Several cases have emerged, (as well as arguments from claimants), that recovery of over-payments is impermissible, unconstitutional, and burdensome.

 

The parties must always take into consideration that the workers’ compensation system is a gamble at every stage.   The parties often encounter substantial risk throughout the claim that could tip the scales in favor of one party or the other.  The Division IME is one such process.  Another example is a merits hearing and the ultimate determination of the ALJ.  Claimants risk that benefits paid earlier in the claim will suddenly become an overpayment based on the opinions of either a physician or a Judge, or both.

 

Pursuant to section 8-40-201(15.5), C.R.S., an overpayment is defined as: “money received by a claimant that exceeds the amount that should have been paid, or which the claimant was not entitled to receive, or which results in duplicate benefits because of offsets that reduce disability or death benefits payable under said articles. For an overpayment to result, it is not necessary that the overpayment exist at the time the claimant received disability or death benefits under said articles.”

 

Recovery of overpayments is permitted within the Act.  Many examples exist in which a claimant may have been paid money that they were not owed.  Most of the time, Respondents recoup an overpayment from PPD or future indemnity.  However, in a situation in which there are no future benefits owed, the Act allows for garnishment of the claimant’s assets upon filing of a final order with the district court.  Section 8-43-306(1), C.R.S. states, “A certified copy of any final order of the director or an administrative law judge ordering the payment of  any penalty  or  repayment  of  overpayments  pursuant  to  articles 40 to 47 of this title may be filed with the clerk of the district  court  of  any  county  in  this  state  at  any  time  after  the  period  of  time  provided  by  articles  40  to  47  of  this  title  for  appeal  or  seeking  review  of  the  order  has  passed  without  appeal or review being sought or, if appeal or review is sought, after  the  order  has  been  finally  affirmed  and  all  appellate  remedies and all opportunities for review have been exhausted. The party filing the order shall at the same time file a certificate to  the  effect  that the  time  for  appeal  or  review  has  passed without appeal or review being undertaken or that the order has been  finally  affirmed  with  all  appellate  remedies  and  all  opportunities for review having been exhausted. The clerk of the  district  court  shall  record  the  order  and  the  filing  party’s  certificate in the judgment book of said court and entry thereof made in the judgment docket, and it shall thenceforth have all the effect of a judgment of the district court, and execution may issue thereon out of said court as in other cases. Any such order may be filed by and in the name of the director or by and in the name of the party in the worker’s compensation action who was injured by the violation of any provision of articles 40 to 47 of this title  or  who  was  found  to  be  entitled  to  repayment  of  overpayments under said articles.”

 

It is quite difficult for a claimant attorney to explain to their client that money that was previously received by a claimant, now had to be paid back to the carrier.  For example, when a Division IME physician backdates the date of MMI, and TTD that was paid during the prior MMI period, now becomes an overpayment; a claimant is often left with the burden of understanding how a physician can retroactively find that MMI happened earlier in time.  Another example is recovery of benefits against SSDI that is being collected.  Claimant sometimes believe that they are entitled to SSDI and TTD/TPD concurrently without an offset.

 

Many arguments have been made to the appellate courts unsuccessfully regarding collection of an overpayment.  One such argument involves “monies due and owed at the time of payment.”  Any money paid to the claimant at the time it was owed should not be an “overpayment” pursuant to the Act.  This argument was addressed by the Court of Appeals and they declined to follow it indicating that the Act allows for repayment of monies in situations in which the money was never due in the first place.  It wouldn’t be surprising for this line of thinking to be quickly eroded by a legislative change in which an overpayment is defied expressly in the statute by other means in which the facts of a case would not change the overall intentions of the way it was written.

 

For now, Respondents have one-year from the date the overpayment exists or accrued to claim it.  If it is not claimed, it is considered waived.  If an overpayment of indemnity exists on a file, it is best to claim it right away and strategize with counsel how best to recoup the overpayment.  Sometimes, remedies can be worked out with the claimant to make both parties happy and ensure that there is not prejudice to either side.  It can certainly prevent an Order being granted which puts the claimant is a difficult position of having to make a repayment of monies, when in all likelihood the money is either gone and/or has a very little chance of being seen again.

 

If you have any questions regarding an overpayment, recoupment, or strategy regarding benefits on a claim; please contact us.

 

 

#MeToo and EPLI Policies

In response to the #MeToo movement, companies have begun taking an increased role to prevent and police sexual harassment in the workplace. Protecting employees from any form of sexual misconduct or harassment should undoubtedly be the primary goal of these efforts. However, any proactive measures cannot guarantee that no incidents will occur, and companies’ future interests will be at risk.  Consequently, counsel and risk managers should look to employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) which can provide coverage and pay for the defense of such claims. EPLI policies provide coverage for many types of the claims employees make against their employers that are not covered by workers compensation policies, including sexual harassment.

 

What is an EPLI Policy?

EPLI policies are generally sold on a claims-made basis, which means claims made against your company during the policy period are covered. There are some wrinkles to consider, however, if one is buying such a policy for the first time, or perhaps changing carriers for better terms or coverage. Most claims-made EPLI policies have a retroactive date, which provides that claims made during the policy period based on acts that took place before the “retro date” are not covered. When buying coverage new, negotiate for the earliest retro date you can get, taking into consideration relevant statutes of limitation. When switching carriers, one option sometimes available is to purchase “tail coverage” under the expiring policy that extends it to cover claims in the future, as long as the underlying acts took place before the policy expired. This can allow the new policy to have a retro date simultaneous with the policy inception. Also, consider giving notice under the expiring policy for potential claims that have not yet been made. Some policies require this. Others permit it at the policyholder’s discretion. Be careful when answering any questions on a policy application regarding known or potential claims, as this can be a minefield.

 

Coverage Basics

EPLI policies usually cover claims for discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, religion, sex (including pregnancy), age, or disability, including related claims for harassment. Policies commonly exclude claims arising under workers’ compensation laws and policies, and claims under federal labor laws unrelated to discrimination or harassment, such as union-related laws, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, the Fair Labor and Standards Act, the Employment Retirement Income Security Act and COBRA. Policies are not uniform, so read them carefully. Moreover, even if a policy excludes one of the above types of claims, it might be possible to have it added by endorsement.

 

One issue is the extent to which many of the claims purportedly covered under EPLI policies are insurable. Based on public policy, states often place limits on the extent to which intentional acts may be insured, and claims of discrimination or harassment can often include allegations of knowing and intentional acts. Thus, a company should consider carefully when purchasing an EPLI policy which state’s law likely will apply and whether that state has spoken on the public policy.

 

Definition of a “Claim”

A policyholder usually will receive notice of an employment claim in one of four ways:

  • Oral complaint from an employee.
  • Written notice from a claimant.
  • Written notice from an agency such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
  • Receipt of a lawsuit.

Whether any or all of the above will trigger coverage under a particular policy will depend upon the policy’s “claim” definition. This definition can affect when notice is due, when defense costs are covered, and other secondary but important matters.

Ideally, the definition will include provisions that the demand can be for relief other than monetary damages, including “reinstatement, reemployment or re-engagement.” Such a change does more than effect a change in when coverage is triggered — it can create a much broader substantive coverage grant.

 

Defense Costs and Related Issues

EPLI policies commonly require the insurance company to pay the costs of defending claims. Disputes may arise over whether the insurance company is required to advance defense costs, or reimburse the policyholder after a claim is resolved. Another common issue concerns the allocation of defense costs among covered and uncovered claims. Whether the insurance company may pay only costs associated with covered claims may depend upon the wording of the policy as well as the applicable state law

 

Fraudulent or Malicious Acts Exclusions

Most EPLI policies contain an exclusion for deliberate and seriously wrongful acts. The following example states that the insurance company will not be liable for any claim:

arising out of, based upon, or attributable to the committing in fact of any criminal or deliberate fraudulent act.

This exclusion seeks to preclude coverage for fraudulent and criminal acts, and omits an important protection for policyholders. Because so many claims contain such allegations, it is now common for these exclusions to contain an exception that provides that the exclusion applies only “if a judgment or other final adjudication adverse to the Insured establishes such a deliberately fraudulent act or omission.” This clause ensures that a policyholder who faces allegations of fraud will have its defense costs paid, and will only lose coverage if the fraud is proved. Another important exception provides that the criminal or fraudulent act of one policyholder will not be imputed to other policyholders.

 

Conclusion

Although there are many hurdles and prerequisites to securing insurance coverage for sexual harassment, employment discrimination, and other employee claims, a company’s insurance policies are a critical source for financial support against such claims. Should your company be faced with a claim related to its employment practices, immediately notify, in writing, all insurance companies that may possibly provide coverage for that claim. Forward all relevant information regarding the claim to the insurance company. And if the insurance company denies the claim, do not take no for an answer.

 

DIMEs ARE NOT WORTH A DIME and/or ICAO’S DESCENT (VIA DISSENT) INTO MADNESS

BACKGROUND

On February 26, 2018 Industrial Claim Appeals Office (ICAO) issued an opinion captioned Yeutter v. CBW Automation, Inc. Dimes not worth a Dimeand Pinnacol Assurance, W.C. No. 4-895-940. The decision sparked great interest in the workers’ compensation community and was a primary topic of discussion at the recent Spring Update CLE as well as the latest Case Law Update. The decision raises questions over how causation over different components of an injury can/should be litigated during the progression of a claim.

 

FACTS

Claimant worked as an engineer performing robotic programming tasks. He was hurt on August 24, 2012 when he was struck in the face by a carbon fiber pole. His injuries included a skull fracture, nerve damage, a broken arm, broken orbital skull sockets and a torn rotator cuff. In November 2013 Claimant began complaining to his treaters that he was experiencing fatigue and sleep disturbance. Claimant underwent a sleep study showing that he had narcolepsy. Claimant was prescribed Adderall, which he began taking in larger and larger doses to stay employed. Claimant had to reduce his Adderall use, but was unable to perform his job and ultimately stopped working in February 2015.
Claimant was placed at MMI effective August 26, 2015. Claimant was diagnosed as suffering from a traumatic brain injury that induced narcolepsy. Claimant received 67% whole person rating. Respondents requested a DIME. The DIME deferred to the treating doctor over whether Claimant’s injuries included post-traumatic narcolepsy and gave Claimant a 39% whole person rating. Respondents filed a FAL on March 2, 2016 based on the DIME.

 

Claimant claimed permanent total disability (PTD). The employer’s long-term disability program generated expert reports that concluded Claimant was not so disabled from his injury as to be unable to work. Respondents also obtained evaluations from various experts that concluded Claimant’s condition should not keep him from work. These evaluations included a neuropsychological evaluation the concluded it was not possible to state that the traumatic brain injury caused narcolepsy. The ALJ ultimately determined that medical evidence was too speculative for a causal connection to be established between Claimant’s injury and the narcolepsy.

 

RULING

The ALJ found that, even assuming Claimant’s employability was limited by narcolepsy, he remained employable. The ALJ determined that Claimant failed to prove entitlement to maintenance medical benefits, citing to an IME doctor’s opinion the Claimant’s need for narcolepsy medication was not related to the injury.

 

HOLDING

Claimant appealed arguing, in part, that the DIME’s findings were binding on the parties. The ICAO affirmed the ALJ, basically citing to the ALJ’s ability to resolve evidence and upholding an ALJs factual findings, so long as they are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Addressing Claimant’s argument over the binding effect of the DIME opinion regarding causation of the narcolepsy, the ICAO cited to the clear and convincing evidence burden given to the DIME over MMI and impairment, but that the DIME’s opinions on other issues are just another medical opinion. About half of the majority ICAO’s opinion is directed at arguments raised in a dissent.

 

THE DISSENT

The dissent disagrees with the decision in that it allows the ALJ to conclude Claimant’s narcolepsy is not a part of the original injury. The dissent disagrees with this because it allows the Respondents to simultaneously stipulate that the narcolepsy was part of the work injury for permanent disability purposes while contending that it is not part of the work injury for maintenance medical benefits and PTD benefits. The dissent relies heavily on Leprino Foods, Co. v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office, 134 P.3d 475 (Colo. App. 2005). In that case, Claimant had an elbow injury with a possible shoulder component. A DIME took place and found Claimant was not at MMI due to the shoulder. Respondents did not challenge the DIME and it was determined that Claimant’s entitlement to TTD received a clear and convincing evidence burden based on the DIME’s determination Claimant was not at MMI due to his shoulder. The dissent basically takes the position that it is unfair for Respondents to accept Claimant’s narcolepsy as a source of impairment producing an admission of liability in accordance with the DIME, but allow Respondents to challenge this condition as not work-related in a PTD and maintenance medical hearing.

 

IMPLICATIONS

Use of Yeutter: The Yeutter case is likely being appealed further. The case raises several issues. First, the case currently exists just as an ICAO decision, so it does not have precedential value in front of ALJs. In the event that the Court of Appeals thinks a decision it comes to in Yeutter clarifies how a DIME’s opinion can be applied, it may be selected for publication, which would provide for precedential value. A rare dissent at ICAO may lead to a published decision from the Colorado Court of Appeals.

DIMEs: DIMEs only receive a clear and convincing evidence burden over the numbers, meaning MMI and impairment. The issues of MMI and impairment are tied directly to Claimant’s physical condition, including whatever body parts may have been injured. In this case it appears undisputed that Claimant had narcolepsy and that the narcolepsy was disabling. Further, the DIME deferred to the treating physician over whether narcolepsy was related to the work injury. The treating physician’s opinion was that the narcolepsy was work injury related. A primary dispute at the PTD hearing was whether Claimant’s narcolepsy was related to the injury. It should be noted that the ALJ insulated his opinion, at least as to PTD, by finding that, even if narcolepsy was related to the work injury and disabling, Claimant was still able to earn wages. Regardless, the issue remains over how to untangle the DIME numbers from the physical condition of Claimant and what untangling these things means in a claim.

Incentives: Respondents may have different incentives to contest a body part as not related to the work injury through the progression of the claim. For instance, respondents may elect to pay medical benefits for conditions that may not be part of the work injury. It simply may not be worth challenging treatment for a condition when balancing that issue against the cost of care. In Yeutter, Respondents accepted an impairment rating in the context of a clear and convincing evidence burden over that number. The incentive to challenge the narcolepsy was significantly higher in the context of a PTD, thus the challenge to the narcolepsy.

 

BOTTOM LINE

If further appealed, the Yeutter case may flesh-out some logical inconsistencies. There is a fundamental fairness in not having Claimant go into every hearing prepared to litigate compensability of body parts that have previously been accepted as a part of the work injury in terms of treatment and even impairment. Further, Respondents should make a decision whether or not to challenge a body part as related to the work injury at some determinable point in a claim, knowing that determination will become a part of the claim moving forward. A DIME opinion over relatedness of a body part, whether a component of MMI or impairment, may be that determinable point for that decision. In the alternative, this could be the subject of a legislative fix.