A number of workplace-related items are making waves this week. The indication from the White House that President Biden will nominate Doug Parker as the Assistant Secretary of Labor to lead the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is just the tip of the iceberg.
Doug Parker is currently chief of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), the largest of 22 state agencies that oversee private-industry worker safety and health. In his current role, Mr. Parker worked with California Labor Secretary Julie Su, President Biden’s nominee for Deputy Director of the U.S. Department of Labor. The new post would present Parker with many of the same challenges he faced in California, only on a much larger scale. Most prominent among those is to protect workers from COVID-19 infection, where an OSHA emergency rulemaking remains in flux. Parker oversaw the drafting and adoption of Cal/OSHA’s emergency COVID-19 standard, which has withstood court challenges from a number of California industry groups.
HEART OF THE OCEAN
And speaking of U.S. Department of Labor news, the DOL issued the guidance to employees and guidance to employers and insurance carriers on how to handle claims under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act due to COVID-19 illnesses. In the new guidance, the DOL includes a Q&A section with links to resources and forms for reporting an employee who has contracted COVID-19, along with recommendations on how to handle or prevent the spread of the disease in these maritime environments.
ONE TRUE TIME
From the North Atlantic to the Pacific Northwest, Governor Jay Inslee (D-WA) signed into law a measure that will allow injured workers in Washington State the option of receiving lump-sum workers’ compensation settlements. The measure, which passed the state house and senate unanimously, will reverse a provision from a decade ago that directed first-time injured workers to settle their claims through structured payments. The new measure now affords injured workers the choice between lump sum and structured settlements.
OPEN THE DOOR
In other workers’ compensation news, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R-AZ) signed into law a workers’ compensation measure that will allow workers to receive pharmaceuticals from mail-order pharmacies, so long as, the referring medical provider does not receive a rebate, refund, commission, or other compensation for the referral. Also under the new measure, Arizona will permit private self-insured employers to direct medical, surgical, or hospital care. Lastly, the new law allows health care providers and pharmacies to enter into a separate contract that governs workers’ compensation fees. The legislation takes effect immediately.
TO SHOW YOU
The Missouri Senate approved legislation to create a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP). The measure now goes to the Missouri House of Representatives, where it has previously won approval. The bill mimics a compromise measure drafted last year. The 2020 proposal did not advance because of a legislative slowdown during the pandemic. Missouri is the only state in the U.S. without a statewide drug monitoring program, although in 2017, St. Louis County created its own program that has expanded to other counties.
THE CANADIAN HEADLINER
Lawmakers in Alberta, Canada amended the practices of the Workers' Compensation Board (WCB) leading to the elimination of employers’ legal obligation to rehire and accommodate an injured worker in the province. Under the Ensuring Safety and Cutting Red Tape Act, employers no longer have to pay for extended health-care benefits to injured workers, which is expected to drive demand for private insurance to cover “non-WCB” conditions. The bill will also redistribute and rebate surplus monies from WCB investments to employers. Lastly, the bill removes the “benefit-of-the-doubt” provisions in the Act that favored workers in the event of an even dispute before a WCB medical panel. And we go on.
Several lawmakers in New Jersey, citing a sharp increase of constituent pleas for help with unemployment benefits, introduced legislation that would require the state’s Department of Labor to assign adjusters to legislative offices to help serve the public frustrated by the claims process. The New Jersey Department of Labor has paid more than $25 billion in benefits since last March. The neighboring New York State Department of Labor will immediately hire hundreds of employees to help process unemployment claims. The NY DOL says these jobs will require remote claims administration, but employees will occasionally report into state DOL offices in Albany.
Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry will launch a new unemployment compensation adjudication system on June 8. The new system replaces a 40-year-old mainframe legacy system and is expected to expedite and simplify claim filing. In a press release, acting Secretary Jennifer Berrier says the new system will be “easy to use and streamline the unemployment claim filing process for workers, employers, staff, and third-party administrators.” The Department notes that transitioning data from one system to the other will shut down the unemployment compensation system for two weeks and will temporarily disable claim filing for Pennsylvanians who are seeking Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits.
Making Our Way Around the Country
RAILROAD LIABILITY CLAIMS
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is seeking public comments on a proposed information collection request (ICR) related to law enforcement data used to establish the causes of railroad trespassing. According to the FRA, trespasser fatalities on railroad rights-of-way and other railroad property are the leading cause of death attributable to railroad operations in the United States. The FRA seeks to target audiences with appropriate education and enforcement campaigns aimed at reducing trespasser injuries and fatalities. The deadline for comments is May 14.
The West Virginia Legislature passed legislation to amend evidentiary rules concerning the use, or nonuse, of seat belts in civil actions. Under the new law, evidence that the claimant driver was not wearing a seat belt in a collision may be admissible in court. This evidence would be used to show that his or her failure to wear a seat belt exacerbated or contributed to the claimant driver’s damages. The bill also extends to passengers claiming damages from a collision. Trucking industry representatives hailed the legislation as a step in curbing lawsuit abuse. Of note, the bill does not apply in product defect claims against vehicle manufacturers, or manufacturers of any component incorporated into the vehicle.
THE SUPREME COURT
President Joe Biden signed an executive order empaneling a commission to potentially change the composition of the United States Supreme Court and federal judiciary. The President first suggested this commission during the 2020 campaign and following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which pundits assert enabled a 6-3 majority of justices nominated by Republican presidents. The White House expects the commission will complete its work within 180 days of its first public meeting.
MY HEART WILL GO ON
Back to our main story this week, April 14th marks the solemn day in 1912 that Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Titanic struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage to New York from Southampton, England, causing the ship to sink, killing more than 1,500 passengers and personnel. One of the most famous tragedies in modern history, Titanic forever changed maritime safety standards. Until next Wednesday, stay well, stay safe, and stay connected.