The History of Workers’ Compensation Part II: The Rise of Workers’ Compensation Coverage

This second segment, of the three part series on the history of workers’ compensation law, briefly summarizes how the industrial revolution fueled the workers’ compensation system. The first resemblances of workers’ compensation insurance coverage primarily arose because of increased revolutionized industrial practices and socialist schisms in European political ideals. Around the 1860s, the industrial revolution was beginning to take hold in Europe; the American Industrial Revolution area would steam forward in the later part of the 1800s. Industrial imperial countries, specifically Germany, wrestled with growing the economics of their respective country while continuing to expand their empires. To achieve these goals, political leaders were required to balance the progressive social worker-centered ideals and traditional conservative business goals.

 

Observers credit Chancellor Otto von Bismarck of Germany as establishing Otto_von_Bismarckthe benchmark standards for workers’ rights in Germany in the early 1870s. Gregory Guyton explained that, although Bismarck was not a benevolent leader, the legislation passed under his tenure resulted from a compromise between traditional views on industry and the increasing pressures from the growing Marxist movement.  Bismarck spearheaded the Employer’s Liability Law of 1871 extending legal protection to workers in specific labor areas including mines and railroads. In 1884, Germany adopted the Workers’ Accident Insurance Act. It provided pensions to those unable to work because of non-occupational causes. The subsequent Public Aid Act provided disability benefits for workers unable to work as a result of an on-the-job injury.

 

By virtue of creating a monetary distribution system for injured workers, Otto von Bismarck’s movement also created immunity for employers from civil lawsuits. This was a divergent political and legal shift from the ideals of the popular socialist political camp. Hence, the early workers’ compensation laws contained the exclusivity of remedies similar to what can be found in today’s statutes. Alan Pierce, Workers’ Compensation in the United States: The First 100 Years (Lexis Nexis 2011).

 

As the industrial revolution grew in America in the 1880s, so did public awareness of the unsafe work conditions faced by the daily laborer. In 1906, a socialist political activist, Upton Sinclair, published the graphic novel expose’ The Jungle. The novel, which followed a family of immigrants working the Chicago slaughter houses and exposed the horrific working conditions, gained ubiquitous attention amongst progressives. In the wake of The Jungle, the U.S. Congress passed several federal laws aimed to protect the public working class and general consumers, including the Food and Drug Act of 1906.

 

Still, little was done in terms of workers’ compensation insurance coverage in America. Common law tort liability in civil courts was the only remedy available to a worker injured in the course of employment. The American legal system posed challenges to immigrant workers such as procedural and language barriers. An employer could still raise the defense of assumption of risk or contributory negligence as a bar to any momentary recovery an injured worker could be entitled to. In his article, Guyton points out that the federal Congress acted by passing laws such as the Employer’s Liability Act in 1906 and 1907. The Acts respectively mitigated the harsh contributory negligence laws.

 

Following this Congressional intervention into an otherwise laissez-faire American capitalism culture, several states including New York and Massachusetts attempted to pass state based workers’ compensation reform laws. These reformations ultimately failed. However, President, later Supreme Court Justice, Howard Taft acted upon entering office. Taft signed into law the Employer’s Liability Act of 1908. The purpose of the act was to protect railroad workers’ engaged in interstate commerce. Each state developed independent commissions on how to address the liability for an injury. Private agreements between employers and workers lead to contractual obligations for employers to pay medical expenses for on the job injuries while workers’ waived their right to sue in civil tort. It was in this climate that the workers’ compensation system based in state law arose in 1911, which will be the subject of the next article.

Overview of General Liability, Workers’ Compensation, and Employment Law ­Issues in K-12 Educational Institutions

This article, written by Of Counsel Frank Cavanaugh and Associate Jenna Zerylnick, examines tort liability, workers’ compensation, and employment law issues that pose unique challenges and create exposure to K-12 school districts. The article also provides examples and practice tips for attorneys practicing in these areas.

Public schools play an important role in our society as education providers and serve a parens patriae1 function. They also offer a valuable social opportunity for children and are a significant part of most communities as employers. According to the Colorado Department of Education, there are 178 independent K-12 school districts in Colorado. These districts vary in size and, as a whole, are among the largest employers in Colorado, employing a variety of employees in many jobs. K-12 schools are public entities and therefore are subject to various federal, state, and local regulations. K-12 school districts face tort, workers’ compensation, and employment liability unique to their role in our state.

This article discusses a great breadth of topics, providing a highlight of key issues that create liability exposure unique to K-12 school districts.

Click to read the entire article that was published in the October 2015 issue of The Colorado Lawyer: Education Law_Colorado Lawyer 10-15

 

The Ongoing Dilemma of Intermittent FMLA Leave

Intermittent FMLA leave is a giant thorn in the side of human resource professionals Familyacross 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 bogus 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 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 DOL decrees that the burden’s 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, companies again 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.

History of Workers’ Compensation Law: Part 1, Ancient Beginnings

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The modern day workers’ compensation system has a long, and often dark, history. The concept of an individual’s right to recover monetary compensation for sustaining an injury caused by another is one of the oldest legal concepts in recorded human history. One observer has pointed out that “the history of workers’ compensation begins shortly after the advent of written history itself.” Gregory Guyton, “A Brief History of Workers’ Compensation,” Iowa Orthop. J, 1999, 19: 106-110. Guyton argues that, regardless of how professionals involved in the system “lament the difficulty” of its administration, understanding the history of the workers’ compensation system lends valuable perspective to its critical importance in the work place. This three part series, Ancient Beginnings, Industrial Revolution, and Modern America, will deliver the basic historical framework underpinning the workers’ compensation profession.

The first historical recording of law requiring payment of monetary compensation for bodily injury dates back to the Code of Ur-Nammu, which is the oldest surviving set of written laws. The Code of Ur-Nammu, which is written on stone tablets and currently on exhibit inHammurabi_Code Istanbul, originated in Mesopotamia sometime between 2100-2050 B.C, while under the reign of King Namma of Ur. The overarching goal of the code was to establish “equity in the land.” In doing so, King Ur dictated laws such as “if a man knocks out the eye of another man, he shall weigh out ½ of mina in silver” or 30 silver shekels. The code itself implies that the payment of compensatory awards applied to all aspects of daily life. The code also reflects the ubiquitous use of labor slaves, as it only provided for and only awarded monetary compensation awards to the slave owner, rather than the laborer, if the slave in the case sustained the injury.

The Code of Hammurabi, famously known for the harsh eye-for-an-eye decree, adopted the compensation-for-disability concept when instituted sometime between 1795-1750 B.C. Neither the codes of Kings Ur or Hammurabi appear to give an employer special exempt privileges. According to the Code of Hammurabi, if a man committed an unintentional assault or bodily harm against another free man, he need only be charged the value of doctor’s fees as a penalty. Rev. Claude Johns, “Babylonian Law”, 11th Ed. of Encyclopedia Britannic, (1910-1911). There were harsh penalties for careless and neglectful behavior on the part of those providing public services. For example, if an unskilled surgeon caused loss of life or limb, the surgeon’s hands were cut off. Scholars point out that the code also contained instances when compensation could be awarded based upon a schedule if the underlining injury was a result of neglect conduct. One can use their own imagination to lament on how this code was applied to individuals who engaged in careless actions that caused harm to their employees. The monetary compensation and respective legal codes only applied to free citizens. One explanation for the lack of specific work-place laws certainly is that the workers’ in the high intensity jobs, such as construction, were not entitled to legal protections due to their social position as property slaves.

Contemporary observers are part to turn of the century Greek, Roman, Arabic, and Chinese legal codes as the next step in the evolution of workers’ compensation law. Gregory Guyton notes that the ancient legal systems provided for compensation schedules for the loss of a specific body part based upon the schedule on compensation for the injury itself. The compensation given to an individual for loss of a body part was only based upon the scheduled award. The value of an impairment disability did not exist in antiquity. See Geerts, Achille, et. al., Compensation for Bodily Harm: A Comparative Study, (1977). For example, in Ancient Rome, the civil liability for causing physical impairment to another citizen was contained in the civil law delict codes. Whether one was held liable for damages, based upon the schedule, depended on the degree of fault of the offending party. The Roman delict provided the early foundations for negligence based personal injury compensation systems. By all accounts, these legal systems did not include remuneration for physical impairments (disability affecting an individual’s ability to perform a task or job), but only provided compensation for an actual injury.

Payment for an actual impairment, equivalent to modern impairment benefits, subtly arose in the pre-Renaissance feudal system. The payment of quasi-impairment compensation occurred when landlords would provide impaired feudal serfs compensation for disabling physical conditions. See Gayton, Supra. One not need think too hard on whether a serf was providing services to a lord at the time of the injury. The arbitrary award to a loyal serf stemmed from the feudal lords’ culturally imposed sense of honor and benevolent obligation to care for his servants. There is no definitive evidence to suggest that the royal elites in the time of Kings Ur or Hammurabi engaged in similar practices.

The Middle Ages and pre-industrial Renaissance Europe gave way to the birth of the English common law system. The slow reduction of enslaved and indentured laborers correlated to an increased number of persons (protected under the laws) entering into more labor-intensive jobs. The law needed to respond in turn. Guyton notes that early English Common law established three principles known as the “unholy trinity of defenses” to determine whether work place injury was compensable. First, the contributory negligent principle held that if a worker was in “anyway” responsible for an injury, the employer was not liable. Second, the “fellow servant” rule exempted an employer from liability when the workers’ injury arose out of the negligent conduct of a co-worker. Third, the “assumption of risk” rule permitted employers to enter into contracts with workers whereby the worker would waive the right to sue the employer for damages. Since employers would often enter into these agreements with workers when a job required exceptionally dangerous work, the waiver agreements became known as “death contracts.”

Hundreds of years later, the modern American workers’ compensation system eviscerated the three early English compensability laws. The lessons gleaned from antiquity reflect the slow growth of the compensation for injury system, which was born out of necessity to address growing disputes amongst those protected under the respective legal system. The next edition of Cup O’ Joe will discuss Part II, how the industrial revolution shaped the modern workers’ compensation system.

Colorado Supreme Court Tackles Medical Marijuana

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The Colorado Supreme Court, one-week ago, issued a highly anticipated decision implicating employment law related decisions as they pertain to employees using lawful medical marijuana for activities outside the course and scope of employment. In the decision of Coats v. Dish Network, the Colorado Supreme Court, for the first time, provided its position on whether employers could make adverse employment actions against its employees who are lawfully using medicinal marijuana away from work. The Court held that even though medical marijuana is “lawful” activity in Colorado, such activity is not “lawful” under the federal law. As a result, employees may not assert protections under the Colorado Lawful Activities Statute.

In Coats, the Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Dish Network for discharging him for his use of medical marijuana, green-cross-thmbR medical marijuana to treat painful muscle spasms caused by his quadriplegia.   Between 2007 and 2009, the Plaintiff worked for Dish Network as a telephone customer service representative. In May 2010, the Plaintiff tested positive for tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”) during a random employee drug test. The Plaintiff informed Dish Network that he was a registered medical marijuana patient. Dish Network terminated the Plaintiff for testing positive for THC as a violation of the company’s drug policy.

The Plaintiff alleged a wrongful termination claim against Dish Network, pursuant to C.R.S. 24-34-402.5, which generally prohibits employers from discharging an employee based on his or her engagement in “lawful activities” off the premises of the employer, during nonworking hours. The case was dismissed by the trial court finding that, while medicinal marijuana was legal under state law, it was still illegal under federal law and thus, not a lawful activity. The Colorado Supreme Court has affirmed this decision and agrees with this conclusion.

Accordingly, the take away for Colorado employers is simple. Colorado employers may continue to enforce their drug policies against their employees who use medicinal marijuana and any adverse employment actions taken against them will not violate Colorado’s Lawful Activities Statute. It should be noted that this decision specifically did not address use of recreational marijuana, which Colorado has also made lawful. Nevertheless, it would be anticipated that the Court would treat recreational use no differently.  In other words, because both medical and recreational uses are still illegal under federal law, such activities still will not be “lawful” to support a claim under the Lawful Activities Statute.

For those interested in reading the opinion, please click the link below:

https://www.courts.state.co.us/userfiles/file/Court_Probation/Supreme_Court/Opinions/2013/13SC394.pdf

Researching Narcotic Prescription Information In Colorado

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A ubiquitous problem in workers’ compensation patient care, as well as in the general clinical healthcare setting, is an individual patient’s use, and potential abuse, of controlled prescription narcotics.  The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) is the State of Colorado’s secure, central electronic informational data base that records and tracks each pharmacist’s dispensement of controlled narcotics. In an effort to curb narcotic prescription abuse, as well as to improve overall clinical care, the state of Colorado recently revised its PDMP guidelines with the goal of promoting more accessibility to the PDMP’s recording and research functions.

Currently, medical professionals use the PDMP to track a particular patient’s use, prescription quantity, frequency of prescriptions, and procurement of controlled substances. The PDMP is frequently used in the workers compensation system to reference whether an injured worker is obtaining narcotics prescriptions from more than one physician, or whether an injured worker has a history of narcotic dependency. The PDMP is considered a medical record, and protections of HIPPA apply to PDMP information. This information can be used to evaluate a specific course of treatment unique to the injured workers’ clinical history; however, a long-standing issue has been the quality and quantity of the information available to physicians.

Prior to October, 2014, PDMP users were only permitted to upload data twice every month. As of October 15, 2014, the revised PDMP regulations, Rx_keyadministered by the Division of Professions and Occupations, require that all in-state and non-resident pharmacies registered by the state’s Pharmacy Board submit controlled substance dispensing data to the PDMP on a daily basis. Most of these changes are contained in House Bill 14-1283. Any pharmacist or physician possessing a Drug Enforcement Agency registered narcotics prescriber permit is required to register with PDMP and follow rules and regulations of the State Board Pharmacy. The new regulations also contain tools to help ease the burden of having to enter massive amounts of patient data in real time. As of January 2015, each prescriber and pharmacist registered as a user with the PDMP may delegate access to the PDMP to three agents by way of creating sub-accounts with the PDMP under the corresponding prescriber or pharmacist’s account.

Granting broader access to the PDMP is an important step for purposes of controlling and containing medical costs in workers’ compensation. Based upon the new revisions to the PDMP guidelines, a workers’ compensation authorized provider may delegate authority to access the PDMP database to three designees acting for the provider. Large and small facilities treating patients will now be able to utilize nurses, or other health care professionals who did not previously have access to the PDMP, as delegated agents authorized to research an injured workers’ narcotic prescription history. The regulatory changes will give busy pharmacists the opportunity to input data on a daily basis. Physicians practicing in workers’ compensation can then obtain real time data about an injured worker’s prescription history by using their staff to obtain and process the clinical information.

Under the applicable rules, physicians performing independent medical examinations may not access the PDMP for information on an injured worker. However, it is recommended that, after obtaining a HIPPA compliant release, the authorized physician be asked to check the PDMP to evaluate an injured worker’s narcotic prescription and compliance history. It is also recommended that insurance representatives adjusting a workers’ compensation claim make repeated requests for PDMP information throughout any claim when narcotic prescription management is an issue. More information about Colorado’s PDMP can be found at

http://www.hidesigns.com/copdmp.