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    Thursday
    Jan172019

    Helping Employees Make Their Comeback After a Work-Related Injury or Illness

    The fallout from an extended injury or illness can devastate employees and their families financially, physically and mentally.  Trying to live on decreased income from a workers' compensation claim, coupled with family members having to take on additional responsibilities the disabled person cannot perform, can put a real strain on relationships.  As time passes, the additional problem of becoming increasingly isolated from their former life raises tension levels in an already highly charged situation.

    This scenario occurs more often than you might think. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2002, a total of 1.4 million injuries and illnesses in private industry required recuperation away from work beyond the day of the incident.  What's even more surprising about the Bureau's findings is that injuries and illnesses to workers aged 20 to 44 accounted for 64 percent of all injured workers.  Workers aged 65 and over accounted for only 1.7 percent of total injuries and illnesses.  The fact that the majority of workers on extended leave are workers who will need to return to work clarifies how important setting the stage for their comeback really is.

    Leslie Yerkes, an organizational behaviorist and president of Cleveland, Ohio-based Catalyst Consulting Group, Inc. notes, "Finding and keeping good people provides a competitive advantage for organizations.  So, keeping the bond strong when employees are on family leave, working virtually or out on workers' compensation is critical to not losing that employee to a competitor and to facilitate a rapid and smooth transition back into the workplace."  She recommends the following steps for maintain a strong connection and facilitating a smooth re-entry:

    ·  Clarify expectations with the employee early on as to what they can and want to do.  If job reassignment will be necessary upon their return, let them know that you are willing to explore possible options.  Get a feel for the kinds of jobs they might be interested in and realistically explore how and where they can fit in.

    ·  Assign a communication buddy to the individual who can commit to having a regular weekly update conversation with the absent employee.  Make sure that the employee has a means to receive critical information while absent from the organization.

    ·  Include the absent employee via phone teleconferencing in key events that will affect them directly.  This is critical when it comes to changes in company/departmental policies or revisions in work floor procedures.  You don't want an employee to return to work only to be reprimanded the first day back for violating a policy change that they were unaware of.  It increases the feeling that they have been left behind.  Those negative feelings might continue to grow until the employee feels compelled to find another job.

    ·  Encourage the work group to stay connected and communicate to the disabled employee that they care about their recovery.  It's like Hallmark always says, "When you care enough to send the very best."  Make sure an absent employee knows that they are truly missed by their co-workers. And most importantly, make sure the employee knows that their bosses are among those people!

    The lesson to be learned from all of this is simple.  Transitioning back into the workplace begins as soon as the employee starts their leave.  If you plan for their re-entry from the outset, it will be as seamless as it should be.

    Tuesday
    Jan152019

    Driver's Ed: For Your Teen or the Birds?

    For decades, parents have sent their teenagers to driver’s education classes. Whether their child was taught by the high school gym teacher or a true driving expert, parents took comfort knowing that their teen was learning the safest driving techniques. That is, until 30 years ago when a federal study showed that learning to drive from a professional had no effect on the number of teen car crashes and fatalities.

    More recent studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have revealed that driver training, whether taught in high school or at driving school, may not benefit teen drivers. As a result, word on the street is that driver’s education classes simply aren’t effective.

    Driver’s ed: Still worth your while?

    Despite the studies, anecdotal evidence still shows that it could be worth your time and money to send your teen off to driver’s ed. Why? First of all, teens have to learn how to drive from someone—and if you’re not up to the task, you may need to turn to a pro.

    Plus, teenagers may be more likely to listen to and absorb information from a driving instructor than their parents. After all, many teens simply “turn off” their own moms and dads. You know the old saying: In one ear and out the other.

    On top of that, if you have any bad driving habits of your own, whether it’s a lead foot or a tendency to get distracted from the road, your teen will pick up these behaviors if you teach them to drive. This is exactly why a driver’s ed class could still prove to be beneficial for your teen.

    Find the right program

    Of course, driver’s ed classes are not all created equal. That’s why driving experts urge parents to take a closer look at a driver’s education program before enrolling their teen in the course.

    But what exactly are you looking for? For starters, the program should focus on much more than simply how to pass the driver’s test. After all, you can pass the driver’s exam and get your license but still be an unsafe driver on the road. Experts say a good driving course should teach teens about risk reduction, including hazard recognition, vehicle handling, space management and speed management.

    You get what you pay for

    While a public school driver’s ed class may be affordable and convenient, not all of these classes are as effective as private driving school courses. Many public school districts have been forced to cut driver's ed programs due to budget constraints. If your teen’s public school offers a course, be sure to scrutinize the program closely before enrolling your teen. You might discover it’s worth it to pay a little more for a privately-taught course.

    Most private driver’s education courses charge between $250 and $350. If you pay much less than that, your teen probably won’t get the proper driving and safety techniques.

    But how can you be sure you’re getting your money’s worth? Experts say you should look for a program that offers the following:

    • At least 36 hours of class lasting 9 weeks or longer
    • A minimum of six hours of on-the-road training, spread out over several days
    • A written curriculum or study plan the instructor is willing to share with you (When you look at the study plan, make sure it isn’t just focused on passing the driver’s test, but also about basic skills, defensive driving, safety, etc.)
    • An open door policy that allows parents to make suggestions and ask questions
    • Plenty of extra advice for parents trying to reinforce good driving skills

    You may also want to look for a course that incorporates digital teaching methods, such as computer games. After all, this generation of teens is extremely technical—there’s tons of evidence that shows today’s teenagers learn more from “interactive teaching” than a chalkboard and textbook.

    Ask for recommendations

    You may also want to ask parents of teenagers who are already driving where they sent their children for driver’s education. Your colleagues, friends and neighbors may be able to recommend a great course—or at least steer you away from a bad one.

    Stay involved

    Even if you decide to send your teen to a driver’s ed course, it’s important to stay involved with your son or daughter’s driving education. Ride with your teen as often as possible, on weekends, after school, etc. This will allow you to monitor their progress and ensure they are learning safe and effective driving skills.

    Thursday
    Jan102019

    Employers Potentially Liable for Accidents Caused by Employees Using Cell Phones

    Cell phones now allow employees to conduct business from nearly any conceivable location, but when that location is a vehicle moving at 60 miles per hour, a dangerous situation can occur for which employers are liable. 

    Cell phone distraction causes 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries every year in the United States according to a study in the Journal of Human Factors, a scientific, peer-reviewed publication.  Employers across nearly every industry are now highly exposed to this potentially costly liability. 

    Huge settlements, including those in the multi-million dollar range, have been awarded to individuals who have been injured in accidents caused by drivers conducting business on their cell phones. An employer can potentially be liable even for accidents that occur during personal phone calls if a company provides a cell phone to its employees or if a cell phone is necessary or encouraged as part of their job.

    State governments throughout the country are acknowledging this danger and are reacting with new legislation.  Some states prohibit talking on a cell phone while driving unless a "hands-free" device is used.  Other jurisdictions are prohibiting all cell phone use while operating a moving vehicle for certain classes of drivers, such as young drivers and bus drivers. 

    In order to help protect the safety of employees and others on the road, and also to help mitigate a company's exposure, employers are strongly urged to develop cell phone usage policies and conduct employee cell phone safety training programs. 

    Being very cautious, some companies are now strictly prohibiting the use of cell phones for business purposes while driving or requiring a "hands-free" phone.  Employers should know, however, that research including a 1997 study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that the likelihood of having an automobile accident increases four-fold when talking on a cell phone regardless of whether it is a "hands-free" phone. 

    Other specific safety guidelines that can be incorporated into a cell phone usage policy include:  dialing only while the car is stopped; not making calls while in traffic or inclement weather; not having stressful conversations while driving; and use of speed dialing when possible.  A strong policy should list the disciplinary consequences of not following the cell phone usage guidelines. 

    Additional measures include equipping company-owned cell phones with a sticker warning of the dangers of driving while talking on a cell phone.  Employers can also add language to their cell phone bill reimbursement forms requiring employees to certify that they did not break company policy in using their cell phone. 

    While there is no guaranteed release from this new area of liability, companies with strong cell phone policies and training programs do put themselves in a much better legal position.  To maximize their protection companies need to strictly enforce cell phone policies and maintain current documentation.   Such documentation should include written acknowledgement of each employee's receipt of the policy and training, and also records of any violations and disciplinary action.

    Tuesday
    Jan082019

    Hand Over the Keys! Having the "Big Talk" with a Senior Driver

    Even though we know we’ll probably have to face it eventually, it’s a discussion all adults dread: the “Big Talk” about driving with a senior parent or grandparent. No one looks forward to telling their parent or grandparent it’s time to hang up the keys. However, when you notice your aging mom has dropped her driving speeds to 30 mph below the speed limit or you discover that your dear old dad no longer acknowledges stop lights, it’s time to have the talk.

    If you have an aging family member who shouldn’t be behind the wheel, here are a few tips for broaching this delicate topic with them:

    Know the warning signs

    If you don’t spend a lot of time with your senior parent or grandparent, you may be uncertain about whether or not it’s time for them to stop driving. However, there are a few warning signs you should keep an eye out for that will help you make the decision.

    For example, every time you visit, you may notice new dents and scratches on their car, their garage door or their mailbox. They may tell you about multiple near-accidents (although some will claim it wasn’t their fault) or they might continually receive traffic tickets or warnings. They may complain that they often miss street turns or can’t see traffic signs at the side of the road. These are all signs that it’s time to have the “Big Talk” with your senior parent.

    Don’t hesitate

    It’s natural to be anxious about telling your mom or dad they need to stop driving. Your parents have been telling you what to do for your entire life. So, it’s awkward when the tables turn and you suddenly have to tell the people who raised you what’s best for them.

    However, look at it this way: your parent will be better off getting this advice from you and the rest of your family than receiving an order from the state motor vehicle department. As family members and people who love and know them, you and your relatives are the best candidates for telling your parent it’s time to give up driving.

    Broach the topic delicately

    Once you’ve determined the time has come for the driving discussion, try to get the all of the adults in your family involved. Work together to come up with the best approach for telling the senior driver it’s time to hang up the keys.

    When you have the discussion with your parent or grandparent, try to keep the conversation adult-like. Do not treat the senior like a child—talk to them as you would about any other adult matter. Instead of being accusatory and saying things like “You did this” and “You’re not doing that,” try to use “I” to describe how you perceive the situation. For example, you may say, “I think you’re having a hard time seeing the road,” or “I worry about you having a terrible accident.”

    If your parent resists, point out that they have a responsibility to others, as well. You may want to talk about how horrible they would feel if they killed or injured an innocent person because of a driving mistake. Typically, this is enough to convince a person that they shouldn’t be on the road.

    However, if your parent simply refuses to give up driving and they haven’t had any accidents, you may have to give in and allow him to keep driving for another year. As they are still sharp of mind, they may still be able to manage a car.

    On the other hand, if your parent has the beginnings of dementia, they should absolutely not be behind the wheel. If your loved one is suffering from the onset of dementia, you may have to sell the car and tell them it just isn’t available anymore or disable the car and tell them it no longer runs. This may seem cruel, but remember—it’s for the safety of your loved one and other drivers.

    Be sensitive

    Although you may tempted to firmly tell your parent, “Hand over the keys!” this is probably not the best way to approach the matter. Try to understand that this is going to be a tough transition for you loved one. After all, how will mom make it to her beauty parlor appointments or to church? How will dad get to the doctor or his poker parties? Try to see things from their perspective, and be sensitive to their feelings.

    Many seniors fall into a deep depression after they stop driving because they feel a loss of freedom and control over their lives. This is why it’s so important to come up with alternatives to driving. As you discuss the change with your parent, discuss possible solutions for how they will get around. Maybe you, your siblings and other relatives could take turns driving them to their appointments and functions. Alternatively, you could purchase a mass transit pass for them so they can take the bus or the subway. You may also consider hiring a home-care agency that will transport your parent from point A to point B.

    Whatever you do, don’t just firmly lay down the law with your parent and banish him or her to their house forever. Put yourself in their shoes, be delicate and offer clear solutions.

    Thursday
    Jan032019

    Workers' Comp Alone May Not Fully Protect Your Business from Workplace Liability

    Workers' compensation is designed as a trade off between the interests of employers and injured employees.  In most circumstances, employers receive immunity from lawsuits by workers who are injured on the job or the survivors of those who are killed in work related events.  In return, injured workers are not forced into an unpredictable system of lawsuits with long waiting periods for damages and no guarantee of compensation.  They receive medical expenses and compensation for lost wages, or when work-related injuries or disease lead to death.  Benefits are guaranteed to the worker's survivors.

    For the most part, the system works just as it was designed. There are a few exceptions, however, when courts allow workers who have on-the-job injuries or occupational disease, or their survivors, to pierce the employer's immunity and file a personal injury lawsuit.  As workers' compensation is a matter of state law, the rules as to when courts permit these lawsuits will vary somewhat from state to state.  Most importantly, they will be based on the unique facts of each case.  Nevertheless, there are general circumstances that make courts more likely to find in favor of an injured worker, or his or her survivors.

    The key issue the courts usually consider is whether the employer intentionally created a situation that would be, in the words of one court, "substantially certain" to lead to a worker's injury or death.  On this basis, an Oregon court held that an employer could lose its workers' comp immunity by ordering an employee to perform a task that the employer knows is unreasonably dangerous, such as doing work without safety equipment, and thus is substantially certain to cause injury.

    If evidence exists verifying the employer knew it was substantially certain employees could be seriously injured or killed, and then deliberately concealed the information from them, the courts are even more likely to permit an injured employee to sue.  This is what happened with companies that manufactured or installed asbestos.  Ordinarily, workers' compensation would have been the employees' exclusive remedy for lung disease and cancer caused by working with asbestos.  But in some instances, workers were able to show that the employers had known about the diseases and nevertheless told them there was little risk or need for safety precautions.

    In another example, a Florida employer occasionally and deliberately shut off a workplace ventilation system and misrepresented the potential harm of toxic fumes and the need for safety equipment.  The court ruled that due to the employer's deliberate misrepresentation, injured employees were not limited to workers' compensation as their exclusive remedy, but could also sue.  Similarly, a New Jersey court held that an employer lost the exclusive remedy protection of workers' comp when it removed the warning labels and safety devices from machinery. 

    Liability for concealment of risks can even be based on an employee's inability to read or understand warning labels or safety instructions, according to a South Dakota court.  The court's ruling held that if the employer does not clearly explain the hazards and safety precautions so that the employees understand them, it might lose workers' comp immunity. 

    In certain cases, the employer can protect itself if it can show the worker fully understood the risks and decided to do the job anyway.  In one case, a widow sued the employer after her spouse fell to his death on a construction job, arguing that the numerous citations the employer had received for failure to provide guard rails showed that the employer should be liable for her husband's death.  But a Florida appeals court rejected her claim, finding that the danger of working on an elevated construction site without a guardrail was, or should have been, obvious to an employee.  Therefore, the deceased had chosen to accept the risk and the widow's exclusive remedy was workers' compensation benefits.

    However, not all risks are obvious, and where they are not, courts are likely to find that the employer has a better understanding of the risks than the employee.  

    There is one other situation that almost always exposes the employer to potential lawsuits by injured employees:  failure to maintain workers' compensation insurance.  If the employer doesn't have insurance, injured workers or the survivors of those who die from job-related injuries have no barrier to filing a lawsuit, which can be a very costly proposition.

    We can help you identify and manage potential risks, which may not be covered by your workers' comp policy.  Give us a call today for more information.


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