Sunday, September 28, 2008

California Fines Auto Body Shops Without Workers’ Comp Insurance

The California Labor and Workforce Development Agency is cracking down on employers that violate the state’s labor laws. Recently, investigators from the Economic Employment Enforcement Coalition issued 41 citations for labor violations – with fines totaling more than $226,000 – in a recent sweep of 28 San Diego auto body businesses.

The enforcement actions, conducted on April 9 and 10 in conjunction with Bureau of Automotive Repair authorities, uncovered serious violations, including:

  • Employment of a minor under the age of 18 without proper permits and certification at one shop;
  • Failure to pay overtime at four shops;
  • Failure to pay minimum wage at two shops;
  • Failure to keep records and post labor notices as mandated by law at 16 shops;
  • Failure to maintain workers’ compensation insurance at 18 shops.

As in most states, California employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance to cover employees who are injured on the job. But as this sweep proves, many employers do not have workers’ compensation insurance. They’re often not found out until a worker is hurt and applies for benefits or through enforcement actions such as this one.

Failure to carry workers’ compensation insurance is fraud, plain and simple. This is a form of workers’ compensation fraud – not having the appropriate coverage – is more common than you might think. In fact, it’s much more prevalent than fraud among employees. And the consequences of such actions can be detrimental to injured workers, who are counting on workers’ comp benefits to pay their medical bills and reimburse them for lost wages.

"These shops failed to carry workers’ compensation insurance, and that’s a violation we take very seriously," EEEC Director David Dorame said in a statement. "In these cases, we issue work stop orders and send employees home until the business proves an active policy is in place to cover workers. By targeting enforcement against illegal operators, we help level the playing field for law abiding businesses."

A complete list of the violations and the businesses cited is available from the California Department of Industrial Relations via email at Communications@dir.ca.gov.

The Economic Employment Enforcement Coalition is a creation of the Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger administration in California. The multi-agency task force is charged with enforcing California’s labor laws. It also holds workshops statewide to educate business owners and workers about those laws and regulations.

According to the EEEC: “Businesses engaged in the underground economy deprive the state and legitimate businesses of millions of dollars each year, and in many cases, pass the cost on to the consumer. “

The EEEC uses unannounced enforcement sweeps, as with the automotive businesses, to catch companies that aren’t following the rules when it comes to the state’s labor laws and treatment of employees. The agency has some particular types of companies and industries in its sights because they’re most likely to flout the laws. These include garment, agriculture, construction, pallet, auto body, car wash and restaurant businesses.

According to the EEEC, “These industries have been identified as having a high incidence of workplace violations and a lack of regulatory compliance.” Rule-breaking may include failing to pay appropriate employment taxes, avoiding labor and licensing laws, ignoring workplace safety and health regulations and failing to carry workers’ compensation insurance for employees.

Employees are encouraged to report these violations directly to the Economic Employment Enforcement Coalition.

Employees with work-related questions or complaints can call the toll-free California Workers’ Information Hotline at 1-866-924-9757, available in English and Spanish.

Friday, September 26, 2008

What is OSHA?

OSHA Overview

There are a multitude of federal agencies that are involved in many facets of overseeing federal rules and regulations. Yet, despite the prevalence of these agencies many people in the United States are completely unaware these agencies exist. Also, they may be unaware of what function these agencies serve. Even relatively mundane agencies such as OSHA exist relatively under the radar of the population. This is somewhat unfortunate considering that OSHA greatly aids in making sure workplace rules and regulations are met.

OSHA stands for the Occupational and Safety Health Administration. As the name would imply, this is an office that oversees workplace rule enforcement. The primary purpose is to maintain the safety of working in a particular environment. This is a serious matter. If a workplace proves to be unsafe it may become a life threatening environment for the employees. Sadly, many employers simply do not care about the health and welfare of people who work for them. This is where OSHA comes into play.

Some employers simply will not comply with safety rules and regulations unless they are compelled to do so. Usually, such compelling involves the threat of sanctions against the employer. This is where OSHA steps in as it has jurisdiction over enforcing a number of workplace related rules. As a result, many workplaces are much safer.

But, what can a person do if they have a grievance and are unsure of how to approach OSHA? One method would be to consult with legal counsel. An experienced Pennsylvania workplace attorney can greatly aid in making sure grievances are addressed.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Latinos Face Greater Workplace Dangers

Latino workers are much more likely to die or be hurt on the job than any other racial or ethnic group. And the number of workplace injuries and workplace deaths among Latinos is climbing every year, according to a new report from the AFL-CIO, entitled Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect:

In 2006, fatal injuries among Latino workers increased by seven percent over 2005, with 990 fatalities among this group of workers, the highest number ever reported.

The total number of fatal workplace injuries in the United States was 5,840, an increase from the year before. On average, 16 workers were fatally injured and another 11,200 workers were injured or made ill each day in 2006. These statistics do not include deaths from occupational diseases, which claim the lives of an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 more workers each year.

The fatality rate among Hispanic workers in 2006 was 25 percent higher than the fatal injury rate for all U.S. workers. Since 1992, when data was first collected in the BLS Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, the number of fatalities among Latino workers has increased by 86 percent, from 533 fatal injuries in 1992 to 990 deaths in 2006. Among foreign-born workers, job fatalities have increased by 63 percent, from 635 to 1,035 deaths.

“It’s clear that the workplace safety net has more holes than fabric, and it is costing too many American workers their lives,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “Our nation’s workplaces have gotten more dangerous, not safer, under President Bush. Congress and the next President must take real action by strengthening the OSHA Act with tougher civil and criminal penalties, addressing increasing risks for Hispanic and immigrant workers, increasing funding for OSHA, and fully implementing the provisions of the MINER Act.”

The construction sector had the largest number of fatal work injuries (1,239, up from 1,192 in 2005), followed by transportation and warehousing (860), and agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting (655). In the construction sector, there was a gap between Hispanic and non-Hispanic workers. In 2005, the death rate for Hispanic construction workers was 12.4/100,000 full time workers compared to 10.5/100,000 non-Hispanic construction workers.

The report also examined OSHA staffing levels, finding that to inspect each workplace once, it would take federal OSHA 133 years with its current number of inspectors. The current level of federal and state OSHA inspectors provides one inspector for every 63,913 workers. This compares to a benchmark of one labor inspector for every 10,000 workers recommended by the International Labor Organization for industrialized countries.

The Death on the Job report [was released to coincide with] Workers Memorial Day, which commemorates workers who were killed or injured in the past year. Community and union members around the world will gather at hundreds of events to remember local workers and draw attention to the problem of unaddressed workplace hazards.

The full Death on the Job Report is available online from the AFL-CIO
Other reports on this topic are also available, including the AFL-CIO report Immigrant Workers at Risk: The Urgent Need for Improved Workplace Safety and Health Policies and Programs (2005).

Go to: http://www.aflcio.org/issues/safety/upload/immigrant_risk.pdf for the report in English, or http://www.aflcio.org/issues/safety/upload/immigrant_risk_spanish.pdf for the report in Spanish.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

New Hampshire to crack down on wrongly classified independent contractors

Calling employees independent contractors is one way companies avoid buying workers’ compensation insurance and paying benefits for injured workers. Often, companies are misclassifying employees to cut their costs. Not only is this patently unfair to injured workers, who deserve protections under the law, but it could also be considered fraudulent.

New Hampshire has launched an investigation into this commonplace practice after receiving a rash of complaints about employees misclassified as independent contractors, particularly in construction businesses. The New Hampshire Labor Commission, the New Hampshire Department of Revenue and the state attorney general’s office are involved in the investigation. New Hampshire, as do other states, has a 12-point checklist that is used to determine whether a person is an employee or an independent contractor.

Some key distinctions between employees and independent contractors:

  • Independent contractors can come and go as they please, while employees have regular work hours
  • Independent contractors are generally paid more than employees

Though independent contractors make more per hour than employees doing the same job, businesses have a financial incentive to hire contractors. They don’t have to pay these people benefits or carry workers’ compensation insurance to protect them in case of an on-the-job injury.

According to John Jackson, business representative for New Hampshire’s Carpenters Local 118, a construction company can save up to 30 percent of its labor costs by illegally classifying employees as independent contractors – enough to give it the edge over honest companies in bidding wars.

The case of Celso Mena is just one example of what happens when a so-called independent contractor is injured on the job. Mena fell six feet from scaffolding and nearly severed his foot. Mena was hired as an independent contractor by a drywall subcontractor and even purchased an insurance policy that allowed him to work on the construction site as an independent contractor. But that insurance policy excluded Mena from making a claim as the owner of his own construction business.

  • But the labor board ruled that by law Mena should never have been classified an independent contractor because he had a supervisor on site and was required to report to the job at a certain time every day – both characteristics of an employee.
  • Mena had surgery after the accident to reconstruct the bone in his foot, but hasn’t been able to walk without crutches since. Mena’s total compensation has yet to be calculated, but he will continue to receive 60 percent of his wages as long as he remains on disability.