Workers Compensation - Washington

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

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L&I Claim for Corona virus infection

Here in Washington State, we’re all talking about the Novel Coronavirus. Over the weekend, we experienced the first US deaths attributed to this virus.

 

L&I announcements regarding the Corona virus outbreak

The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) posts information on its website related to a variety of workplace safety topics, including biological hazards. I checked today and L&I has information and resources related to Coronavirus on its Safety & Health page.

 

L&I has posed the CDC guidance for businesses and employers to plan and respond to the virus. On top, L&I posted posters in Spanish and English on stopping the spread of germs. Furthermore, it has posted the CDC situation summary and resources, and it has posted OSHA help and resources.

 

Office workers following CDC recommendations

As an employer and a workers’ compensation attorney, I found these resources very helpful and I shared them with my staff. Because I work in an office setting, I believe it is relatively easy for me to employ the CDC recommended strategies. I can encourage sick employees to stay home and I can offer flexibility with sick time. Moreover, I can encourage healthy habits to help decrease the spread of germs.

 

However, I do believe there are very similar steps many of us can do to help. Simple actions such as washing our hands regularly and covering our mouths and noses when we cough or sneeze. Also, staying home when we’re feeling poorly is important. At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge there are many industries that can’t follow the CDC recommendations. For example, industries that employ vast numbers of workers that will continue to be impacted by the virus. Spearheading those efforts are our healthcare workers and first responders.

 

Healthcare employees and first responders are on the front line

As we’ve seen, hospitals employees, EMT personnel, firemen and other first responders were exposed to Coronavirus patients. In most cases, those workers and first responders have been quarantined. As the number of individuals that have contracted the virus increases, more healthcare workers will be impacted. While those of us in other industries can limit our exposure, healthcare workers and first responders are running head-first into this storm. It will impact their health, their livelihood, and their families.

 

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank our dedicated healthcare workers and first responders. For their dedication, and to the web-being of our society. It is at times like this that we realize what a valuable resource these workers are to our society, nation, and economy.

L&I claim for Asthma lung disease or respiratory disease

The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) has many responsibilities. They administer L&I claims, they provide work injury insurance, oversee safety and health at workplaces, as well as handle licensing and permits. Interestingly, L&I also has several other projects and initiatives, including ongoing research projects. A full list of the ongoing research projects can be found on the L&I website.

 

L&I research for work-related causes of Asthma and respiratory disease

In my experience, workers’ compensation claims involving Asthma or other respiratory disease or conditions are challenging. The reason they are challenging is that it can be very difficult to pinpoint a diagnosis. Furthermore, it is even more difficult to prove a causal connection between the diagnosis and the workplace exposure. Therefore, it’s pretty common for L&I to reject an Asthma claim or respiratory disease claim because the diagnosis is attributed to other environmental factors or genetics. Luckily, L&I’s Occupational Respiratory research helped identify workplace causes of Asthma.

 

Workplace conditions that contribute to Asthma

L&I has been surveilling workplace Asthma since 2001. The motivation behind the research is to identify workers at high risk for developing Asthma. On top, L&I is trying to increase preventative measures and public health education. This surveillance is overseen by L&I’s Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (also known as the SHARP Program). As part of this ongoing surveillance and research project, L&I mandates health care providers to report cases of work-related Asthma to SHARP. L&I is enforcing this rule under Washington State administrative code known as the Reportable Conditions Rule (WAC 246-101).

 

L&I Asthma research outcome

The important research that L&I is conducting revealed hundreds of workplace substances known to cause Asthma. Their research indicates that 16% of new Asthma diagnoses in adults is because of some sort of exposure to certain materials at work. For example, cedar and other wood dusts, isocyanates, epoxies or epoxy glue, cleaning materials, flour dust, and agricultural hop dust are some the most common workplace substances that cause asthma in Washington State.

 

If you are an adult with a new diagnosis of Asthma, you should consider whether your work environment may have caused the disease. If you suspect your work conditions or exposure to materials and substances contributed to it, then you should speak with your medical provider. In turn, your doctor can tell you if a causal connection exists, and if they need to submit a report to SHARP. Then, your medical provider can tell you if you should file an occupational disease workers’ compensation claim.

Office Careers retraining program in L&I claims is under investigation

Last night, there was a news broadcast on King 5 News regarding a vocational retraining program called Office Careers. This program has been approved by the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) for a while. Since then, the local workers’ compensation community has been a buzz.

 

The Office Careers news report

According to the investigation, L&I paid millions of dollars over time to this unaccredited retraining facility without any proof of success. As a workers’ compensation attorney representing work injury claimants in Washington State, I am thrilled to see that this issue is finally exposed. In my experience, Office Careers is the “go-to” program that vocational counselors select to retrain some of the most disabled and challenging injured workers.

 

Why do vocational counselors like Office Careers?

As I see it, Office Career has become the default vocational retraining program. In my opinion, it’s because they claim to provide job retraining after a work injury that anyone can pass. However, it’s because they provide injured workers with the bare minimum marketable skills (at best). As a result, the people retrained after a work injury might be able to obtain basic minimum wage office assistant type work.

 

At first glance, the program seems ideal for injured workers living in more remote areas. That’s because Office Careers offers an entirely online retraining program. This eliminates the challenges and hassle of finding an onsite retraining program within a reasonable distance of the injured worker’s home.

 

Personal experience with the Office Careers retraining program

My client, who wishes to remain anonymous, was watching the news report the other day and gave me permission to share the following information. L&I said that this client is capable of retraining at Office Careers back in October 2018, through her L&I claim. I submitted a dispute to L&I arguing that my client lacked the aptitudes to succeed in the program. Moreover, I explained that the injured worker was being set up for defeat and failure. Here, my rational was that this work injury client has already undergone aptitude testing and received very low scores.

 

In this case, it was pretty obvious that the injured worker would need additional time and assistance to complete a GED before moving on to the program with Office Careers. Despite my arguments, L&I approved the retraining plan. My client started a GED program at a local institution but struggled to pass the testing to obtain the GED certificate. The vocational counselor wasn’t happy with the lack of progress from the local GED program. Because of this, the vocational counselor pushed for a plan modification that would involve the GED course and a general clerical course though Office Careers.

 

From in-class GED program to Office Careers

In the plan modification report, the vocational counselor stated that: “Office Careers provides the GED training and has Spanish and English-speaking instructors to assist [the work injury claimant] in passing the test”. Despite my client’s lack of success in a local in-class GED program, L&I approved the modification. Under the plan modification, Office Careers would collect over $17,000 in tuition. The injured worker started the program at Office Careers in September 2019.

 

Within the first three weeks Office Careers wrote a progress report indicating that “it might not be feasible in the timeframe of this program to prepare [the injured worker adequately] to succeed at GED” due to the worker’s low scores. It was known that the injured worker had learning disabilities. It was evident that my work injury client had only a 6th grade educational level prior to starting retraining. In a progress report from December 2019, Office Careers stated that it is “hoped that a person starting GED training (or equivalent) starts the process with at least an 8th grade understanding as a starting point”. The injured worker continued to struggle with the retraining program even though they put forth their best efforts to succeed.

 

What’s next in this L&I claim?

Ironically, today my office received a vocational closing report indicating that this work injury claimant cannot benefit from the retraining program. Consequently, they are discontinuing my client’s vocational retraining services. We knew that this determination was coming. However, it doesn’t lessen the devastating impact on this injured worker.

 

This process has been exhausting and demoralizing. It has done nothing to benefit an injured worker trying desperately to recover from a devastating industrial injury. We applaud the sharp investigative reporters at King 5 News for bringing this issue to light. And, we pray that this news will create a wave that will change the attitude towards retraining services that genuinely benefit injured workers.

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