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Workers’ Rights Attorney to Address Conference on Workers’ Comp

This Thursday, May 4th, 2017, EE&A’s own, Ian Elfenbaum, will speak at a seminar on workers’ compensation sponsored by the orthopedics department at Rush University Medical Center.Ian Elfenbaum Chicago Attorney

Midwest Orthopedics at Rush is a leader in research and treatment of serious musculoskeletal injuries (not to mention serving as team physicians to the White Sox!)

Ian will be presenting the perspective of an advocate for injured workers in a presentation that centers on the seriously injured worker who cannot go back to his or her original job. Are workers expected to search for alternative employment, and what kinds of help are they entitled to? When is vocational retraining in order? When is an injured worker eligible for lifetime benefits for “permanent and total disability”?

This all-day conference will take place at the Hotel Indigo Naperville Riverwalk, 120 Water Street in Naperville. Click here for more information and to register.

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Time to Stop the “Race to the Bottom” in Workers’ Comp

Big-business interests in yet another state are pushing a law to “scale back” workers’ compensation benefits. The bill the Iowa legislature will vote on this week is a disaster for injured workers. It includes many of the same provisions Gov. Bruce Rauner wants to implement in Illinois – and has held our state budget hostage to – plus some that are even worse:

• Ending worker benefits at age 67
• “Reducing” benefits for injuries linked to a “pre-existing condition”
• Cutting employer fines for late payment still further
• Denying all benefits in case of a positive drug or alcohol test (even if the substance had nothing to do with the accident)

It’s no surprise that the state’s meatpacking industry is a big backer of this bill, which one state senator has called a “corporate and insurance industry wish list.” The industry maims and disables its line workers at record-breaking rates, while paying them wages that keep many families on the brink of poverty even without a serious injury. And oddly enough, the bill contains a special provision aimed at workers with shoulder injuries—one of the most common injuries in meatpacking plants.

It’s time to stop this race to the bottom in worker safety and economic protection. At EE&A, we stand with labor unions, public-health advocates and anyone else who is resisting these attempts to cripple—and ultimately destroy – workers compensation.

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Workers Comp 101: Are All Immigrants Covered in Illinois?

The short answer: YES!

That’s where things stood in 2016, and it’s still the law in 2017. Put simply, it’s the right thing to do. And it strengthens the rights of ALL workers – by making sure Illinois does not have any class of cheap, “disposable” workers who could not file a claim if they got hurt.

Every employer in Illinois is required to carry workers’ compensation insurance on every employee. That means citizens, lawful permanent residents, undocumented workers, and any other human being they hire. That insurance must cover medical care for work injuries, temporary disability pay and compensation for permanent injuries—for every employee. (There are a small number of exceptions for seasonal farm workers and part-time domestic servants.)

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (IWCC) does not ask any worker for his or her immigration papers. No insurance company can do this either.

Here at EE&A we are committed to defending the rights of all injured workers, no matter where they were born. We have attorneys fluent in Spanish and Polish. We work together with labor unions, community groups and attorneys in other fields to make sure you get the compensation you deserve. Give us a call at (312) 226-2650 to learn more about your rights on the job.

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Workers’ Comp 101: What You Post on Facebook Can Come Back to Bite You

We’ve seen it happen in workers’ compensation claims and union grievances: a whole case is lost because of a Facebook post. This week it happened in a federal criminal case. The court threw out the appeal of one David Lewisbey, who argued that a photo on his Facebook page showing him surrounded by guns should not have been admitted as evidence against him in a gun-running case.

It wasn’t hearsay, said the court, because he had posted it himself. He couldn’t deny that, because it was posted from his smartphone. And when put together with calls and texts from that same phone, it was clearly relevant to the charges against him (and his defense that gun-collecting was just his hobby).

The lesson? Almost anything you post on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram or other social media could be used against you in a legal case. Unlike a phone call or email, it’s not private—so it doesn’t take a warrant to get access. And in workers’ compensation cases, relaxed standards of evidence mean almost anything can be considered “relevant.” Like, say, a photo of you sipping champagne at a family wedding. Even if your injury doesn’t restrict you in the least from traveling or drinking, an insurance company lawyer might use this to argue that you seem to be having an awfully good time while off work.

That’s why at EE&A we advise our clients to take a break from social media if at all possible. Give us a call at (312) 226-2650 to learn more about how to safeguard your rights.

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They Survived a Terrorist Attack and Now Have to Fight Workers’ Comp

A year after the Dec. 2, 2015 shooting in San Bernardino, California that left 14 people dead and 22 seriously injured, many of the victims are struggling to get the ongoing medical care they need to recover.

The biggest problem they face? California’s workers’ compensation system and the private insurance companies that run it.

I was shot by terrorists, and it feels like the people I worked with are victimizing me all over again,” says Valerie Kallis-Weber, who was hospitalized for three months after the workplace shooting. Since then she has had to fight the county’s comp insurers for everything from physical and occupational therapy to medications and a home health aide. Her coworker, Amanda Gaspard, is still waiting for workers’ comp to approve the reconstructive surgery she needs to repair her shattered right leg. Other survivors are struggling after having medications for depression, anxiety and PTSD cut off cold turkey.

Illinois workers take note: This is what Gov. Bruce Rauner has in mind for injured workers in our state. After a first round of workers’ comp “reform” in 2011, we are already saddled with private Utilization Review consultants hired by workers’ comp insurers to dispute care, much like the ones in California. But things could get even worse if Rauner’s “turnaround agenda” goes through.

In the meantime, EE&A stands ready to help if the medical care your doctor orders is denied by workers’ comp. Give us a call at (312) 226-2650.

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Unite-HERE Local 1 Fighting Against Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

“Hands Off, Pants On.” That’s a demand no labor union should even have to make. But we’re glad that Unite-HERE Local 1, Chicago’s union for hotel and hospitality employees, is making it – and serving notice that sexual harassment on the job will not be tolerated.

Women in the hotel and entertainment industries face epidemic rates of sexual harassment, primarily from male guests. In a new report titled Hands Off, Pants On (available for download here Unite-HERE surveyed their Chicago membership, and turned up some disturbing findings:

• 58% of women hotel employees reported being sexually harassed by customers at least once. This ranged from groping and fondling to sexually explicit comments, pressure for dates, and (yecch) hotel guests who answered the door naked. The rate was even higher for women casino employees.

• More than half these workers reported feeling unsafe on returning to the job – but only a third of them reported the incidents to their supervisors. The most likely reason is a do-nothing attitude by management: Only 19% of workers had received any guidance from their employer on how to deal with this all-too-common problem.

What does this have to do with workers comp? First, an incident of this type is an assault, pure and simple. And when it leads to physical injuries OR significant psychological shock and stress, you have a right to compensation and treatment. Call EE&A at (312) 226-2650 to discuss filing a workers’ compensation claim.

Better yet, we’d like to see this type of injury become history. The union has some commonsense proposals to keep workers safe. Like requiring hotels to ban guests who engage in this kind of abusive conduct. And supplying “panic buttons” to employees who must work alone in hotel rooms, allowing them to call for help, as some unionized hotels in New York City are already doing.

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Small Employers “Duped” by a Workers Comp Insurance Giant

When an insurance company’s policies are banned in three states due to its deceptive business practices, you know something isn’t right. When small businesses in a fourth state accuse them of operating a “reverse Ponzi scheme”, you might think we’re talking about small-time crooks on their way out of business – maybe even on their way to prison.

Well, think again. The insurance company in question, Berkshire Applied Underwriters, isn’t a fringe outfit – it’s a division of billionaire Warren Buffett’s massive Berkshire Hathaway Corp. And the stock-market bulletin The Street reassures us that Berkshire’s stock is still a “Buy” despite its little Workers Comp problem.

In June, California’s insurance commissioner found Berkshire had duped a small employer, Shasta Linen, while dodging required state review of its rates. Berkshire was forced to stop selling these policies in California. Regulators in Wisconsin and Vermont had already issued similar crackdowns.

Now a New York bicycle messenger firm, Breakaway Courier, has accused Berkshire of making insured businesses cover each others’ losses in what the courier called a “reverse Ponzi scheme.” According to Breakaway’s complaint:

[C]ompanies are led to believe their premiums are being paid into “protected cells” and will eventually be returned to them. Instead, Berkshire Hathaway illegally siphons off premiums, leaving employers and injured workers without the funds that New York State requires to be available to cover losses.

Berkshire is still selling workers’ comp insurance in Illinois, among other states. Our Governor, Bruce Rauner, and major corporations in the Illinois Chamber of Commerce never tire of complaining that benefits for injured workers are a drag on the state’s economy. Perhaps they ought to take a look at the insurance companies instead.

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Update: Trump Taj Mahal Closing Amid Strike

Dubbed as the “eighth wonder of the world” by former owner, Donald Trump, the Trump Taj Mahal Casino is officially set to close its doors after Labor Day. The casino, owned by Carl Icahn and managed by Tropicana Entertainment, has been under the radar for the massive UniteHere workers’ strike that began on July 1, 2016.

The Taj failed to reach a compromise during negotiations with Union Leaders throughout the strike. Now, the workers who were fighting for equal health care, benefits, and pay similar to that of other casinos owned by Tropicana, can’t help but wonder if the closing was done completely out of spite. Reps from the management company state that “Currently, the Taj is losing multimillions a month, and now with this strike, we see no path for profitability.” However, UniteHere officials state that the extra benefits their workers were seeking would only have cost a few million dollars.

Losses from the closure will include nearly 3,000 jobs at the Taj, adding to the already 8,000 positions that have been eliminated in the Atlantic City area due to multiple other casino closures in the last three years. Not only are laborers hurting from this blow, but the city itself is nearing the verge of bankruptcy due to decreased economic movement and tax revenue.

Elfenbaum, Evers & Amarilio is saddened by this oppression of union efforts and rights to protest, and we are hopeful that the displaced workers are able to find new employment.

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Drastic Increases to Employer Penalty Fees by OSHA

As of August 1, 2016, OSHA’s maximum penalty fees for employers who violate code will be increasing by 78%. The penalty increases may even affect inspections that date back to November of 2015 if the violation citations are issued after August 1, 2016.

The top penalty for serious violations will change from $7,000 to $12,471. The maximum penalty for willful or repeat violations will rise from $70,000 to $124,709. Employers can also expect more frequent visits from OSHA inspectors, especially if they’re in industries that were typically less-frequently targeted than others. Other policies being implemented onto employers by OSHA include: electronic recordkeeping of employee illnesses or injuries, necessity to report a single employee hospitalization, and a Whistleblowers Severe Violators Protection Program which places “bad” employers in a program where their other locations and practices are maintained under close watch.

Most notably for employees, OSHA’s Electronic Recordkeeping Rule, effective August 1, 2016 as well, will outlaw the following employer practices because they may discourage employees from reporting on-the-job injuries.
• Maintaining incentive programs which reward employees for experiencing no recordable workplace injuries and illnesses; and
• Maintaining rules requiring disciplining employees who do not immediately report workplace injuries; and
• Automatically conducting post-accident drug testing of injured employees.

Here at EE&A we care about employee safety and workers’ rights.

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Corporate Math: How Many Workers is One CEO Worth?

About 1,000, according to pharmaceutical conglomerate McKesson Corp., that is.

In March, McKesson announced it would be dismissing 1,600 U.S. workers in a decision expected to cost the company nearly $300 million, mostly consisting of severance payments. Who is one person they will be keeping around? CEO John Hammergren, a man with a salary of over $130 million and a projected 5-year compensation of $280 million. If he were to be terminated, Hammergren’s single severance package would total to $187 million, valuing his departure to that of about 1,000 employee jobs

The CEO’s severance includes a $114 million pension, life security, cash bonuses, life-long financial counseling, and more. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the union to which McKesson employees are member to, is far from pleased by this “golden-parachute ratio,” as coined by Bloomberg.

In fact, Ken Hall, general secretary-treasurer of Teamsters has gone as far as to comment that this ratio is “yet further evidence that McKesson is being run first and foremost for Hammergren, with shareholders, employees and customers left far behind.” The emotional and financial impact of 1,000 workers and their families losing income sources cannot be solely reduced to a dollar value.

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