Ridge & Downes - Law Firm

  • Whistleblower Retaliation

    whistleblowerIn the continuing crusade of Designated Legal Counsel like Ridge & Downes to protect workers’ rights, today we address the “culture of retaliation” on the Railroad. The Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) protects workers who report workplace safety concerns and workplace injuries.

    In 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor ordered Union Pacific Railroad Co., headquartered in Omaha, to pay a total of $400,000 in punitive damages, $90,315 in compensatory damages, $34,900 in attorney fees and more than $90,000 in back wages to three employees.1 Investigations by OSHA determined that the company violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act by terminating two employees and suspending one in retaliation for reporting workplace safety concerns and a work-related injury.

    “Workers have the right to report work-related injuries and safety concerns without fear of retaliation,” said Assistant Secretary for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. “Union Pacific Railroad has created a climate of fear instead of a climate of safety. The company must take immediate steps to change this unacceptable pattern of retaliation.” Since 2001, the Omaha-based railway, which operates in 23 states, has faced more than 200 whistleblower complaints nationwide, the Labor Department said.2

    In addition to requiring payments be made to the affected employees, the department has ordered Union Pacific Railroad to provide training on whistleblower rights to its managers, supervisors and employees, and to notify employees of their rights to be able to file complaints without fear of retaliation under the FRSA.

    OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the FRSA and 20 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws. Under these laws enacted by Congress, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government.  

    Ridge & Downes represents the rights of workers who have had their whistleblower protection violated by railroads and other employers. Give us a call for a free legal consultation.

     



  • NCCI Recommends Premium Rate Reduction

    The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) has recommended an insurance rate reduction of 12.9% for Illinois employers. This recommendation reflects the massive reduction in costs of providing workers’ compensation coverage since the 2011 Amendments to the Workers’ Compensation Act. Now we will wait to see if insurance companies will follow the direction of the NCCI and pass these savings along to Illinois businesses or keep premiums artificially inflated.

    Reflecting on the NCCI’s recommendation and the 2011 Amendments to the Workers’ Compensation Act, Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea) stated “Democrats and Republicans want to see lower costs for employers and cuts to waste and fraud in the system. The recommendation of significant cost reductions for Illinois employers shows that the reforms put in place in 2011 are doing just that, while still protecting the health and security of workers injured on the job through no fault of their own.”

    The savings in workers’ compensation costs derive from an 30% cut in payment to medical providers for services rendered to injured workers, decreasing awards to injured workers that compensate them for their permanent disability, capping awards for work-related carpal tunnel syndrome and limiting the length of time a person may receive an award for wage differential benefits, among other limitations. These cuts have resulted in savings of well over 750 million dollars, yet the insurance carriers have pocketed these savings as profit instead of passing the savings along to businesses and consumers in the form of rate reductions.

    In 2015 House Democrats voted to pass HB 1287. This bill would direct a state commission to analyze workers’ compensation insurance rates and determine why the savings are not being passed on to employers. Inexplicably, this sensible legislation was opposed by the House Republicans and Gov. Rauner.

    In discussing this House Bill, Rep. Hoffman noted that the legislation “would make sure our reforms are benefiting employers, not enriching insurance companies.” He went on to say, “I hope that politicians who have championed cuts that would hurt middle class families will fight just as hard to ensure employers get the savings they are owed from big insurance companies.”

    We agree with Rep. Hoffman and applaud the work that he and his fellow Representatives are doing to protect workers’ rights while making sure that cost savings are passed along to Illinois businesses in the form of premium reductions. Is the Governor’s agenda to help Illinois’ businesses or just to limit benefits to injured workers and hurt middle class families?

    Source: State Rep. Jay Hoffman's Office





  • How are WC insurers spending their profits?

    Benefit payments are down, profits are up.

    Instead of passing these savings on to Illinois businesses, insurers are throwing parties complete with Hummer limos, go-go dancers, a live alligator and glowing aliens in spandex.  This is according to the next edition of the ProPublica/NPR investigation into the race to the bottom occurring nationwide.  ProPublica investigated the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference & Expo.  They reported that there are more than 150 such conferences a year, bringing together claims professionals (adjusters) and members of the cost containment cottage industries that serve them: companies that provide networks of doctors and companies that review medical bills, firms that provide expert medical opinions and firms that specialize in complex claims, defense lawyers, data processing firms, rehab facilities, surveillance companies, outside claims shops, occupational medicine clinics, pain management services, translators, schedulers, headhunters, labs that test injured workers’ urine for illegal drugs, labs that test urine to ensure workers are taking the prescribed drugs instead of selling them.  These groups have a lot to celebrate, many of them have seen their stock prices double in the last couple years.  But the growth of these cost containment firms has added another layer of cold bureaucracy and complication to an already complex system that the average worker finds himself lost in.

    Tell Governor Rauner that you know better.  The benefits provided to injured workers is not what needs reform.  Further reforms should focus on insurance industry and self-insureds’ transparency and oversight.  The Legislative Research Unit reports that workers’ compensation costs for State employees fell 8% between 2013 and 2014, however other self-insured employers, such as Caterpillar, have refused to disclose the savings they are experiencing from the 2011 Amendments.  There are two bills pending that would create a task force to study premium rates and self-insurance transparency: House Bill 1287 and Senate Bill 162.

    If you ever have any questions about the hard facts, give us a call at (312) 372-8282.  We are happy to answer any questions you have about personal injury or workers’ compensation.






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