Workers Compensation - Washington

Tara Reck, Managing L&I Attorney at Reck Law PLLC - Workers' Compensation Attorneys

Workers Compensation Attorney and L&I Lawyer

Thank you for visiting my blog. My name is Tara Reck and I am a managing attorney at Reck Law, PLLC. Our Workers’ Compensation and L&I attorneys are dedicated 100% to representing injured workers in Washington State. We have several offices in the Puget Sound area and we represent injured workers all over the state.

If you need help with your L&I claim, self-insured employer claim, or any other workers’ compensation or work injury claim, please give us a call to schedule a free consultation. We help with claim management, appeals and litigation with L&I and the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals, Washington State Superior Court, Court of Appeals, and Washington State Supreme Court, as needed.

   

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Reck Law, PLLC – Office Locations
Seattle & Bellevue

2731 77th Ave SE #203
Mercer Island, WA 98040

Map and directions

(206) 395-6141

Tacoma

2367 Tacoma Ave S #110
Tacoma, WA 98402

Map and directions

(253) 999-9828

Renton

707 S Grady Way #600 Suite R
Renton, WA 98057

Map and directions

(425) 800-8195
Port Orchard

219 Prospect St
Port Orchard, WA 98366

Map and directions

(360) 876-4123

L&I COVID-19 Respiratory Protection for Care Workers

On March 19, 2020, the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) put out a fact sheet regarding respiratory protection for care workers. These care workers and care givers have ongoing exposure to the Corona Virus COVID-19. Specifically, care takers at high risk include nursing home care givers, rest home employees, as well as long-term care facilities.

 

L&I fact sheet for COVID-19 protection

In the fact sheet, L&I encourages facilities to group together patients suffering from COVID-19. That way, they can limit the number of employees that may have exposure to the virus. According to L&I, workers who come within 6 feet of COVID-19 patients can be at a high risk for contracting the virus. As a result, L&I recommends that employers assess situations for proper use of surgical masks or N95 respirators.

 

Surgical masks are cloth masks that protect the people who wear them. They provide protection from large droplets and splatters from coughs, sneezes and breathing. They do not protect against fine droplets. N95 respirators are the minimum respirator preferred to protect workers from air contamination. However, L&I lists a number of other options that offer even greater protection. These options include N99-100, R95-100, P95-100, and other types of purifying respirators.

 

Work injury, occupational disease and N95 respirators

Employers might ask employees to voluntarily use N95 respirators even if they have low risk of exposure. In areas and facilities that require workers to use N95 respirators, employers must first have a written respiratory protection program and designate a program administrator. On top, they must provide appropriate respirators such as N95 respirators, powered air purifying respirators, or elastomeric respirators.

 

If you have to wear N95 respirator at work, know that your employer has to ensure you are medically cleared to use it. Your employer must also fit-test the equipment, and train you on proper use and maintenance. Workers who use N95 respirators and other tight-fitting respirators are to remain clean shave in areas where it contacts the face. This is to ensure an air-tight seal. Lastly, follow the requirements outlined in WAC 296-842. L&I acknowledges that you may need to reuse N95 respirators considering the shortage of protection equipment.

 

L&I trying to help healthcare workers with work illness

In the end, I’m glad that L&I is helping healthcare workers by creating fact sheets like this one. However, the fact sheet suggests that the use of N95 (or better) respirators is voluntary. Yet, it should be mandatory. Reading between the lines, it appears that workers coming within 6 feet of COVID-19 patients should be wearing N95 (or other) devices.

 

L&I is attempting to take steps in the right direction, but there is more work to do to prevent work illnesses and occupational disease. There is certainly a lot we need to learn about COVID-19. We also need to figure out how to effectively care for patients, and how to protect our valuable healthcare workers the best way possible.

Physical therapy in L&I claim: The new L&I progress report

Some changes are coming to physical therapy and occupational therapy under an L&I claim. The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) issued a news bulletin earlier this week. In the bulletin, L&I announced it’s debuting a new progress report for physical and occupational therapy. The progress report form can be found on the L&I website.

 

What is changing?

The form is intended for use by physical and occupational therapists for standard outpatient services. According to L&I, the purpose of the new progress form is to encourage implementation of “best practices”. In short, L&I is trying to standardize formatting, as well as facilitate better communications between treatment providers. Other benefits of the new form include improving patient engagement and tracking functional outcomes better than before.

 

Currently, the use of the new form is voluntary. However, L&I intends to make this form mandatory for everyone by the Summer of 2020. Therefore, it’s probably a good idea for providers to familiarize themselves with the form now.

 

Monitoring progress in physical and occupational therapy in your L&I claim

I’m always a little leery when L&I pushes “best practices”. That’s because I worry that it restricts the providers’ ability to implement their own experience and opinions. Yet, I am hopeful that this form will improve access to therapy services. In my experience, L&I often denies continued physical therapy and occupational therapy because it’s difficult to ascertain whether the injured worker is making positive functional progress.

 

I hope that standardizing progress reports will help improve that assessment. I’m also hopeful that L&I will be able to quickly approve additional therapy to maintain momentum and functional progress. However, as is the case with any change, only time will tell how this new form will impact work injury claimants’ ability to access physical and occupational therapy services.

L&I claim retraining and vocational services: The Office Careers saga continues

I previously posted about the investigative reporting by Susannah Frame at King 5 regarding the Office Careers retraining program. Yesterday, the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) publicly announced a moratorium on Office Careers retraining plans in L&I claims.

 

L&I retraining services put a hold on Office Careers

L&I published a news release and stated that: “Effective immediately, L&I is instituting a moratorium on approving any new retraining plans for Office Careers. This will remain in effect pending the results of our audit and/or the Workforce Board investigation. We will announce any changes to this process”.

 

In my experience, when L&I sends work injury claimants to ineffective retraining programs, it puts injured workers in a no-win situation. The person going through his or her L&I claim has to choose between:
(1) Participating in a program that’s not going to help their career;
(2) Reaching a workers’ compensation claim settlement for far less than appropriate; or
(3) Mounting an expensive legal battle to prove that L&I made a wrong decision.
Therefore, I’m thrilled that King 5 News brought this issue to light.

 

An opportunity for L&I vocational retraining

As a workers’ compensation attorney and L&I attorney representing people that were hurt at work, this chain of events gave me a lot to think about. My conclusion is that this is an opportunity for L&I to reform the culture surrounding vocational retraining in L&I claims. Currently, it appears that L&I places greater value on achieving determinations that injured workers are employable. Instead, I expect L&I to focus on having work injury claimants return to work successfully.

 

Someone saying that you’re employable is not the same as being employed. It’s also not the same as being able to maintain that employment successfully over time. If L&I wants to support a successful retraining program in L&I claims, then they must shift their culture.
They must place a greater value on retraining plans that actually make injured workers employable.

 

What’s a successful L&I claim outcome?

I’ve been thinking about this time and time again. I honestly don’t know how L&I defines a successful claim outcome. However, I suspect it includes a limited duration of disability and paying less money on an L&I claim. In my world, a successful outcome is one where an injured worker makes the best recovery possible. A successful outcome is one where a work injury client maintains a sense of financial security despite having sustained a life altering industrial injury or occupational disease.

 

L&I can do the right thing

An injured worker that’s abandoned, based upon an administrative decision that looks good on paper, is not a successful outcome. No matter how you look at it. I strongly encourage L&I to take this opportunity to do the right thing. Reform the culture. Celebrate truly successful claim outcomes. Stop incentivizing practices, behaviors, programs, policies, and a culture that does nothing but place injured workers in a no-win situation.

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