Wolf, Baldwin & Associates, P.C.

Philadelphia Family Law and Workers' Compensation Law Blog

Helpful safety tips for working outside this winter

We are now in the heart of winter with short daylight hours and sub-freezing temperatures as well as freezing rain and snow. This is not big news to people here in Pennsylvania who drive to and from work on our dark slippery roads. However, the winter months also present serious challenges for workplace safety to those working outside or even just parking in a lot and coming in to work.

Many who are native to the area or previously lived in cold weather climates have a certain amount of intuitive knowledge about staying warm, but others may not or perhaps have simply never worked outside in the cold before. According to the CDC's website, injuries come in the form of hypothermia, frostbite, trench foot or chilblains (a painful itching or swelling of skin). Moreover, it is a fact that physical labor takes a greater toll on the body in cold weather conditions, so employers and workers should plan accordingly.

Unfortunately, slipping and falling on ice and snow is also all too common.  Workers can suffer serious injuries to their feet, ankles, knees, hips, and backs, and even head injuries and concussions, during winter weather.

Physical therapy-first is a growing part of workers' treatment

Workers' compensation claims and occupational injury rates have declined in recent years. According to a recent recent report by MedRisk, which located in King of Prussia, there has been a 13 percent increase in physical therapy or occupational therapy despite an 18 percent decrease in occupational injuries and a 19 percent decrease in claims frequency.

This shift in care is in response to the rising opioid crisis as well as innovative new research that supports a physical therapy-first approach. It is also cited as a method for reducing so-called "downstream" costs. A provider of physical medicine to workers' compensation patients, the company's statistics support this type of treatment for injured workers, pointing out that it has seen improvement after treatment in as little as three days.

The government shutdown will affect workers' comp

The federal government shutdown that began at midnight on December 22 is only a partial one, but it will directly and indirectly affect many of the services the government provides. The good news is that Pennsylvania state workers' compensation claims will not generally be affected.  Those whose Federal workers' compensation claims are approved will continue to receive their benefits, but those whose applications need to be processed will likely have a long wait.

It should be noted that there were two shutdowns previously in 2018, but these were brief and did not impact services in a meaningful way. The last major federal shutdown was for two weeks in 2013.

4 important designations in your estate plan

Planning your estate comes with a lot of decisions. The good news is that you can change your plan over time if there are things that come up that make you rethink some of the decisions you made previously. There are some exceptions to this, such as irrevocable trusts, so make sure you know which ones you can change when you are developing your estate plan.

There are some factors that might impact your decisions. You should take the time to understand exactly what options you have for each facet of the estate plan.

  • Executor and trustee: The executor is over your entire estate. The trustee is only over a trust. You should ensure that the individuals you choose are mentally and physically able to handle their duties. One important point is that they have fiduciary duties, so they must be able to make decisions about assets or money. They have to be able to keep the beneficiaries in mind when they do these.
  • Powers of attorney: You will give someone powers of attorney over your finances and someone these powers over your health care. They have to be able to make decisions for you when you aren't able to do so on your own. They can't focus on anything other than what is best for you and what your wishes are.
  • Guardians: If you have minor children, you will set a guardian for them as part of the estate plan. This person has to be in a position to raise your children. They should be willing to do this. Ideally, you will choose someone who has ideals and values that are similar to your own so they can raise the children with these in mind.
  • Heirs and beneficiaries: Most people focus on immediate family members as their heirs and beneficiaries. Make sure that you do take care of these individuals, but you might decide that you want to help others. For example, you may want to leave something to a favorite and trusted charity. You can do all this through your estate plan.

What is a light duty job?

An injured worker receiving workers' compensation will sometimes return to work for light duty if there is a role he or she can perform. Generally speaking, the injured worker must get approval from a doctor before going back to work, assuming the light duty role fits within his or her medical restrictions. If the doctor approves the return to work, the worker will have to show up or risk having workers' compensation benefits suspended or modified.

The options vary within different industries, but the light duty job being offered by the employer may be completely different from an employee's usual work, or it can be the same job with certain physical accommodations. It might be a different shift. If the light duty pays less than the worker's normal job, workers' compensation should pay 2/3 of the difference between the pre-injury wages and the current lesser wages.

PTA employee claims boss's treatment led to heart attack

A 30-year-veteran of the Pennsylvania Transit Authority (PTA) is taking his employer to federal court for alleged abuse by a boss. According to reports, the $150,000 lawsuit claims that a worker's boss created a stressful work environment where he was continually bullied, which ultimately led to a heart attack in 2017. The man, who is of Indian descent, also claims that his boss discriminated against him because of his race.

The employee joined the PTA's Business Division in May of 2016 as a disadvantaged business enterprise manager. He reported to the disadvantaged business enterprise director. The suit claims that the director's aggressive style included loud outbursts. For example, when the employee suggested hiring a data analyst, the boss's alleged response was to scream at the employee so aggressively that the employee feared that he would be physically attacked.

Making the holiday party safe for all

One longstanding tradition for many businesses is the holiday party. Some are large events involving staff and clients. Others are smaller staff-only affairs that are more like a cocktail party. Whatever the format, an unfortunate part of the tradition may be binge drinking by staff and management, which can lead to awkward moments or more serious legal issues.

The rise of the #MeToo movement has forced some employers to revise their guidelines governing appropriate behavior in the workplace. These updates should also carry over to the holiday party, which is a work-sanctioned event in which employers should be concerned about intoxicated employees injuring themselves, fellow workers or others; they might wonder if the party is worth that risk. Discontinuing the party may lead to fall in morale, particularly during what may be a busy time of year. Holding the party as a "dry" event is an option, but some may feel that this implies that they cannot be trusted to behave when alcohol is served. Many smart employers are already aware of these safety concerns and liability issues and are reevaluating their options.

Lax restaurant safety protocol can lead to worker injuries

Restaurant workers do very challenging work that can come with serious risks. For many of these workers, making minimum wage or just above is the norm. Even when they are working at a low-cost chain restaurant, all restaurant workers deserve to have a safe environment.

There are four types of injuries that are most common in this industry. All employers should ensure that they have put safeguards in place to help keep workers from suffering any of the following:

  • Musculoskeletal injuries: Sprains and strains are common due to overexertion, slips or trips, overreaching or moving in an unnatural way. Often, these require you to rest the affected area, which can be hard at work.
  • Lacerations: Glass, knives and kitchen equipment can lead to cuts or punctures. Minor injuries should be disinfected and covered. More serious injuries might require you to go to the hospital to get stitches and antibiotics. There is a risk of infection if the object you were cut by came into contact with things like raw meat or if it was a dirty dish.
  • Eye injuries: Chemicals that splash around and other liquids that are common in this industry can hit the eye. If you are working with something that might splatter, wearing safety goggles is a good idea. Some eye injuries will require you to flush the eye out, and you might need to see an eye doctor.
  • Burns: There are many things that can burn restaurant workers, including stoves, fryers and hot liquids. Around 12,000 cases of burns in the restaurant industry are reported annually, but this is likely on the lower end since minor injuries may not be reported. Some minor burns can be treated on-site but more serious ones require emergency medical care.

Insurers' rewards for tracking health goals comes with strings

It is much easier for others to track what we do and say in the digital age. Whether it is a GPS route to Bucks County or a parent monitoring her child's social media accounts, technology records it. Insurance carriers and employers are getting into the act by offering up to a $2,000 discount in healthcare premiums to employees who wear fitness tracking devices like Fitbit to document achieving certain health goals by measuring heart rate, sleep habits and blood pressure. Common goals include 10,000 steps a day.

The idea of encouraging exercise through a discount would seem to be a good use for this type of technology. Millions agree and embrace the concept, but others are not so sure. According to a recent story by NPR, critics question how documenting health goals lessens the chances of health care spending and fear that the data can be subverted to other purposes.

All accidents should be reported to your employer

Workers who suffer injuries while they are working should be able to turn to workers' compensation for benefits. This is a special insurance that employers are required by law to purchase to protect themselves from having to pay out-of-pocket when a worker is hurt at work. The benefit to workers is that the insurance will cover their medical bills related to the incident. The workers' comp insurance will also provide income benefits for missed wages if the wage loss is related to the work injury.

We understand that you might not have an idea about what the system might be able to do for you. Trying to determine how this insurance can help you can be maddening because of the complex laws and policies surrounding it. Even lawyers who don't practice in the workers' compensation field are wise not to dabble in this area of law. Our lawyers provide personal service to help you find out what benefits you should receive. We can help you from the initial filing through the final outcome of the case.

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