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Philadelphia Worker's Compensation Law Blog

Court: Pleading the Fifth is not enough to cut off workers' comp

An injured immigrant worker who refused to say whether he is authorized to live and work in the U.S. will continue to receive workers’ compensation benefits even though he invoked the Fifth Amendment when asked about his immigration status. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled recently that the workers’ refusal to discuss whether he was legally able to work in the U.S. was not enough evidence for his benefits to be cut off.

The case involves a man who is originally from Ecuador but who moved to the U.S. more than 10 years ago. In 2008, he was picking mushrooms at a Pennsylvania farm when he suffered a herniated disk in his back. A doctor ordered him not to lift more than 15 pounds as a result, and his job at the mushroom farm ended because there was no work of that nature available.

Study: Lack of trust leads to poorer workers' comp outcomes

Workers should be able to trust their employers while they recover from work-related injuries and illnesses. After all, workers' compensation is a right, and it's illegal in many states for an employer to retaliate or fire a worker for reporting a workplace injury and filing a workers' compensation claim. Yet firing - and the fear of it - persists.

A recently released study found that fear of retaliation isn't just uncomfortable for injured workers. It can actually lead to poorer outcomes for workers' compensation claims, meaning that workers who feared for their jobs had more problems returning to work than other workers did. 

Sugar plant accident that killed temp worker could have been avoided

Temp jobs are a permanent part of the new normal in the U.S. economy. An increasing number of workers in Pennsylvania and other states are temporary workers, and with the increase has come new concerns about worker safety. A Pennsylvania accident recently highlighted in an article by the journalism group ProPublica shows some of the dangers these workers face.

The accident happened at a sugar plant in Fairless Hills, a community about 25 miles northeast of Philadelphia. A 50-year-old temporary worker and coworkers spent the morning bagging sugar from a large hopper. Sugar clumps clogged the hopper, which forced workers to climb inside and use shovels to help sugar flow from the hole at the bottom of the hopper.

Presumptive workers' compensation benefits are rising in the U.S.

Firefighters, police and other public workers face hazards every day on the job - but not all of them are immediately apparent. For example, firefighters have increased cancer rates, and first responders must deal with the emotional trauma of the serious situations they live through. The nature of these injuries and illnesses can create challenging workers' compensation related claims, but in recent years legislators have moved to make it easier for these workers to obtain benefits.

One way legislators tackle this problem is by creating presumptions in workers' compensation statutes. Ordinarily, workers must prove that their injury is work related, but in some cases legislators have created presumptions that certain injuries or illnesses are work related, forcing the employer to prove that the injury or illness is not.

(Not So) Normal Working Conditions

There are certain lines of work where you might expect to have a gun pointed at you, for example, law enforcement. But if you work in a retail job, chances are you aren't expecting to be robbed at gunpoint in the normal course of a workday. If that were the case, you might not even apply in the first place.

When is an injury in the course and scope of employment?

Often, disputes in workers’ compensation claims involves medical questions, such as whether carpal tunnel syndrome is job related or whether a heart attack stems from work. In other cases, the issue is not the injury at all. Instead, it involves whether the injury happened during the course and scope of employment.

In Pennsylvania, the Workers’ Compensation Act requires employers to pay for injuries that workers suffer in the course of employment, which means they are furthering the business or affairs of the employer at the time of the injury. The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has held that workers are eligible for compensation for injuries suffered on the employers’ premises during work hours as long as they did not abandon their employment or do something foreign to the employment. Given this broad standard, how do cases involving the course and scope of employment arise?

Rounding Out National Safety Month: Summer Safety Tips

As we round out June's National Safety Month and head into the holiday weekend we thought it was good time to take a minute to review some summer safety tips. While most of these are common sense, it never hurts to have a reminder so that safety is at the top of the mind when we start celebrating.

Working Safely in Hot Weather

As summer gears up, so do the dangers of working outside during hot weather. Knowing how to work safely in hot weather can help prevent heat stress injuries and heat stroke, the most serious heat-related disorder, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH). Heat stroke occurs when the body can no longer control its temperature. When this occurs, body temperature can rise to 106° F or higher within 10-15 minutes, NIOSH warns. If emergency treatment is not provided, heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability.

Symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • An extremely high body temperature (higher than 103° F)
  • Red, hot and dry skin with no visible sweating
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness and/or nausea
  • Unconsciousness

To help beat the heat, the Pennsylvania Department of Health recommends:

  • Drink two to four cups of water every hour
  • Avoid drinks with caffeine, alcohol or large amounts of sugar
  • Limit outdoor work to mornings and evenings and rest often in a shaded area
  • Wear light-colored and loose-fitting clothing, a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater

If heat stroke is suspected, the department advises calling for emergency medical help, moving the victim to a shady area and placing him or her in a tub of cool water or cool shower, or spraying the victim with a garden hose. Do not give the victim any fluids to drink.

To combat the dangers of working in extreme heat, NIOSH advises:

  • Schedule repair jobs in hot regions for cooler months
  • Acclimate workers to hot environments by exposing them for progressively longer periods
  • Use relief workers or assign extra workers for physically demanding outdoor jobs
  • Schedule rest periods in cool, shaded areas with access to water
  • Provide heat stress training

Two workers, including a temp worker, killed at Amazon facilities

Amazon, the Internet retailer known for bringing Americans goods as varied as books, lawn care supplies and infant accessories, is under scrutiny following two deaths at fulfillment centers, including one in Pennsylvania. One of the deaths raises questions about temporary worker safety in the U.S.

The most recent death happened in Carlisle, Pa., on June 1. According to news reports, a 52-year-old woman suffered fatal traumatic injuries after crashing a pallet truck into some shelves at the facility. Federal regulators are investigating. Days after the fatal accident, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced citations issued as the result of a fatal accident at another Amazon fulfillment center seven months earlier.

Don't Be Afraid to Speak Up: The Law is on Your Side

You wouldn't want to work in conditions that could injure, sicken or kill you. That's why the law has put in place protections to ensure your safety. Importantly, the law also protects your right to report such hazards-without losing your job or being punished for speaking up.