Month: October 2016

Workers’ Benefits in Jeopardy in Kansas and Missouri

The Labor Department is investigating the new state laws, policies and procedures that have resulted in decreasing benefits to injured workers and complicating the process for applying for those benefits. According to an October 15, 2016 article in The Labor Beacon, “The Labor Department is looking strongly at the possibility of establishing standards that would increase federal oversight if a state’s program failed to meet those standards.”

Boyd Kenter Thomas & Parrish partner and Workers’ Compensation attorney, John B. Boyd, made the following statement, “States continue to race to the bottom with wholesale curtailment of access to adequate medical care and wage loss for work related injuries. That’s been the case in Kansas and Missouri, with a change in focus from adequacy to protect working families to that of lowering and shifting employer cost. This has fostered an environment of failure to provide adequate coverage for serious injury. It has placed at risk our neighbors injured at work as well as their families, and shifted those costs to our communities. The principle that the costs of injury are to be included in the price of the product made or service provided has been lost, with those costs now shouldered by our families and communities. Until the national scrutiny resulting in reasonable minimums amongst the states occurs, the downward spiral will shamefully continue as will taxpayer subsidy of the results of job injuries.”

Of course there is opposition to the oversight by employers, business groups and insurance companies who feel that it is unnecessary for the government to intercede, most likely decreasing their profit margins.

Excerpts from The Labor Beacon, October 15, 2016, Volume 23, Number 18

Evergreen Provisions Collective Bargaining Agreements

What is an “Evergreen Clause”?

An Evergreen provision is used in various contracts, including CBAs, which provides for automatic renewal of the length of the agreement after a predetermined period, unless notice for termination is given. In practical terms, it extends the rights, responsibilities, and remedies under the CBA while the parties are negotiating for a new contract.

Please click the following link to read the full document evergreenclientmemo

Brianne Thomas Selected as Best of the Bar Honoree

Our partner and friend, Brianne Thomas has been recognized in the Kansas City Business Journal as a 2016 Best of the Bar Honoree. According to the Business Journal, 198 lawyers were selected by their peers as the top attorneys in private practice in Kansas City. Congratulations to Brianne!

Practice areas: Personal injury, workers’ compensation

Law school: University of Missouri-Kansas City, 2006

States licensed: Missouri, Kansas

Brianne’s Comment: I chose to become a lawyer because I wanted to try jury trials. Jury trials and trial lawyers fascinated me when I was young. I am lucky I get to try cases every once in a while. Over the years, my love for the practice of law has evolved. The profession as a whole is admirable and inspiring. I get to help people every day, and I know so many dedicated attorneys who sacrifice for their clients and take on causes just to make a positive change in the world. I’m honored to call myself a lawyer.

http://www.bizjournals.com/kansascity/news/2016/10/14/best-of-the-bar-brianne-thomas.html

Regarding Federal Involvement in State Workers’ Comp Laws from National Public Radio (NPR)

October 5, 20166:01 AM ET

INSULT TO INJURY: AMERICA’S VANISHING WORKER PROTECTIONS

A “race to the bottom” in state workers’ compensation laws has the Labor Department calling for “exploration” of federal oversight and federal minimum benefits.

“Working people are at great risk of falling into poverty,” the agency says in a new report on changes in state workers’ comp laws. Those changes have resulted in “the failure of state workers’ compensation systems to provide [injured workers] with adequate benefits.”

In the last decade, the report notes, states across the country have enacted new laws, policies and procedures “which have limited benefits, reduced the likelihood of successful application for workers’ compensation benefits, and/or discouraged injured workers from applying for benefits.”

The report was prompted by a letter last fall from 10 prominent Democratic lawmakers, who urged Labor Department action to protect injured workers in the wake of a ProPublica/NPR series on changes in workers’ comp laws in 33 states.

The ProPublica/NPR stories featured injured workers who lost their homes, were denied surgeries or were even denied prosthetic devices recommended by their doctors.

“The current situation warrants a significant change in approach in order to address the inadequacies of the system,” the report says.

That’s where federal intervention comes in. The Labor Department calls for “exploration” of “the establishment of standards that would trigger increased federal oversight if workers’ compensation programs fail to meet those standards.”

The agency also suggests a fresh look at reestablishing a1972 Nixon administration commission that recommended minimum benefits and urged Congress to act if states failed to comply.

“In this critical area of the social safety net, the federal government has basically abdicated any responsibility,” says Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.

Without minimum federal standards for workers’ comp benefits, Perez adds, the current system “is really putting workers who are hurt on the job on a pathway to poverty.”

Prior to the report’s release, employers, insurance companies and others involved in workers’ comp programs expressed alarm at the possibility of federal intervention.

“There has never been federal ‘oversight of state workers’ compensation programs’,” says a statement posted on the website of a group called Strategic Services on Unemployment and Workers’ Compensation, which says it represents the workers’ comp interests of the business community.

“Federal requirements imposed on a national basis would be inconsistent with the state workers’ compensation system, which has been in place for more than 100 years without federal oversight,” the group wrote.

Federal minimum benefits could ensure that injured workers across the country would not receive lesser benefits for often shorter periods of time simply because they lived in a state where lawmakers dramatically cut workers’ comp costs for employers.

“This is a system with no federal minimum standards and absolutely no federal oversight,” says Deborah Berkowitz, a senior fellow at the National Employment Law Project. “Clearly, more federal oversight is necessary to assure that that this system works for those most in need of assistance.”

No direct administrative or legislative action is proposed in the report, but Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, says he’s “drafting legislation to address many of the troubling findings laid out in this report and will be working with my colleagues to advance it in the next Congress.”

Brown echoes Perez, saying injuries on the job shouldn’t force workers into poverty.

“But without a basic standard for workers’ compensation programs, that’s exactly what’s happening in too many states across the country,” Brown adds.

Another incentive for federal involvement, the report notes, is a shift of billions of dollars in workplace injury costs to taxpayers when state workers’ comp benefits fall short and workers are forced to turn to Medicare and Social Security for treatment and lost wages.

The report lays the groundwork for federal intervention by providing an extensive section detailing the government’s role in promoting national benefits standards in both Republican and Democratic administrations dating back to 1939.

But many in the workers’ comp world consider workplace injury policy and regulation a states’ right and any prospect of a controlling federal role will likely face stiff resistance.

Updated at 1:16 p.m. with comment from the American Insurance Association:

The American Insurance Association (AIA), an industry trade group says they oppose any federal intervention in state workers’ compensation.

“AIA appreciates the need to periodically review the state workers’ compensation system,” says AIA Vice President Bruce Wood. “However, changes and improvements to the workers’ comp system should be debated at the state level where whatever policy balance results, can be more readily fine-tuned as circumstances require.”

The group says the state-based system is more sensitive to changes in individual state economies.

 

Boyd Kenter Thomas & Parrish Partners Selected To Super Lawyers for Ten Years

John B. Boyd, Jerry Kenter and Mark Parrish are recognized for having been selected as Super Lawyers for ten years. Super Lawyers is a highly regarded rating service that endorses attorneys with extraordinary achievement and dedication. The selection process is conducted by an independent, attorney-led research team and is a compilation of peer recognition, nominations and evaluations, as well as career accomplishments. The Super Lawyers recognition will be featured in fall editions of Super Lawyers Magazine and KC Magazine. Congratulations!