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Teen Workplace Safety

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Archive: Sep 2015

Teen Workplace Safety

When summer begins, many teens and college students look for part-time work. They may settle on jobs like landscaping, construction, and maintenance, which can have high rates of injury. Even jobs in places like coffee shops and movie theaters can lead to burn injuries. Unfortunately, many teens entering the work force are unaware of their rights as employees and any possible hazards they might encounter. So what are a teenager’s rights in summer or other part-time work? Are they entitled to worker’s compensation?

Rethinking Worker’s Compensation

There was a recent case in Georgia where a minor was working in a fast food kitchen. He fell and slipped, and his hand ended up in a vat of boiling grease. Was this young worker offered special protections? The answer is yes; teens are entitled to special worker’s compensation protections, especially if they are under the age of 18.

Every state requires special considerations for worker’s compensation. In fact, most states provide over and beyond what worker’s compensation provides for adults. Either way, worker’s compensation for teens hinges on three basic criteria.

1. Future Earning Capacity

This element comes into play when a teen has suffered a partial permanent disability or full permanent disability on the job. California is one of 23 states that considers future earning capacity, though the amount of consideration varies quite a bit. It is important to note that even a small loss of income per year can add up, especially when you figure that a teen has a 40 to 50 year career ahead of him or her.

2. Illegal Employment

Statutes for worker’s compensation have no pity on employers with minors working for them illegally. Examples of illegal employment include working without a permit, employing a teen who is too young (generally under the age of 15), or a teen working in excess of state labor statutes. For example, if you have a teenager working in your kitchen and he or she burns a hand baking bread, you are employing a teen illegally; 14 and 15-year-olds are not allowed bake or cook over an open flame under California law.

States tend to be merciless on employers who break the law and award the injured teen benefits in excess of what is due to adults. In California, teens are awarded worker’s compensation that is greater than adult’s benefits by 50%.

3. Special Benefit Provisions

Most states have extra provisions to protect a teen, particularly from complex laws they are not yet able to understand. In California, a parent or guardian must settle for partial or full disability claims. Also, claims involving teens must be settled directly with the state worker’s compensation board in California. This is to keep minors from being exploited.

Keeping Teens Safe

The best course of action is to keep teens safe enough from ever needing to seek worker’s compensation. State and Federal agencies work hard to keep teenagers safe on the job. Here are some resources to go over with your teen before starting work:

  • OSHA’s Young Workers. This website is a great resource that offers tools by industry. It offers guidance for teens working in restaurants (including what they can and cannot serve, like alcohol) and agriculture (teens may not operate heavy machinery), as well as how-to videos for construction and landscaping.
  • California DIR Young Worker’s Program. This page set up by California’s Department of Industrial Relations is a useful tool for both parents and employers. It offers information on California’s labor code, as well as fact sheets for teens.

If you have any questions, or if your teen has been involved in a workplace accident and you need guidance, contact us immediately.

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Are Ride-Sharing Drivers Entitled to Workers’ Compensation?

Ride-Sharing companies like Uber and Lyft are changing the way people commute. With cheaper prices than taxi services and payment that is controlled directly through a service’s app, acquiring a ride has never been easier. However, since drivers are regular citizen workers, this raises some interesting questions about their rights especially when it comes to sustaining an injury on the job.

A History of Injury

Last January, an Uber driver was working in Los Angeles on his typical late-night weekend shift when he dropped his SUV full of unruly passengers off at their apartment around 2:30 a.m.. They refused to leave his car, however, and a fight ensued leading to the driver breaking his jaw and putting him in the hospital for a week.

Unfortunately, the driver is not the only person to have been injured on his ride sharing job. In a separate incident, an off-duty Boston cop yelled racial slurs at his Uber driver before assaulting him and stealing his car. A Lyft passenger punched his driver in the nose last May, and in another instance in LA, a driver was stabbed in the face and neck. In all of these cases, the injured parties were left without work and did not receive a dime from a worker’s compensation program. Why is this the case?

Independent Contractor vs. Employee

Ride-sharers, like Lyft and Uber drivers, are not technically considered employees. They are hired as independent contractors, and as such, they are not entitled to benefits the way employees are. Being an employee offers certain protections, like overtime, paid sick days, health insurance, and workers’ compensation. Being an independent contractor offers certain other freedoms – namely, setting work hours and picking clients. However, these individuals are not entitled to the protections regular employees enjoy.

In the Uber case, the driver is stuck with mountains of medical debt, as he does not have any health insurance. He also has to cope with lost wages, as Uber is his only source of income. In a situation as dire as this, what are his options?

Demanding Better Care

Predicaments like this have become the basis of lawsuits against Uber and Lyft to change worker classification from independent contractor to employee. Labor activists say that companies like Uber and Lyft are taking advantage of their workers by exercising considerable control over their workplace relationship (typical of an employee), while paying them freelance wages with little job certainty.

As of September 2, 2015, judges in California have deemed the lawsuit against Uber a class action suit, meaning it will affect all drivers who contacted Uber directly with their concerns. While these cases will only affect Uber drivers in California, they will likely set precedent for other jurisdictions in the future. If Uber drivers win the suit, the company will be forced to handle taxes like Social Security, as well as pay for benefits like health insurance and reimburse for expenses like gasoline and car maintenance. While Uber maintains that a full-time driver can net up to $90,000 a year, others believe the estimate is way off and that full-time drivers make closer to $39,000.

“A lot of their success is built on the backs of the drivers,” said Shannon Liss-Riordan, the driver’s representation in the Uber case. “And a lot of the money that they are making stems from a scheme whereby the company is able to shift to its workers many of the costs of running a business.”

There is no official word on when a judge is expected to rule over the suit. If Uber drivers have their way, individuals can expect to be reimbursed for injuries in the future. If you have been injured on the job, do not hesitate to contact us.

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Liability in the 21st Century

When an accident happens, designating liability is usually pretty straightforward. If you are injured due to a car accident that is not your fault, for example, you may seek damages from the other driver. Thanks to advances in technology, however, the rules are becoming less black-and-white. In an interesting case involving Volkswagen in Germany, a young contractor was installing a robot when it struck out and hit him. He died later in the hospital. Who is at fault for this type of accident? These are questions the law is seeking answers to.

Science Fiction Come to Life?

In 1942, science fiction writer Issac Asimov wrote three laws that he felt governed the world of robots. They are as follows:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

In Asimov’s world, these rules were merely for science fiction. But the stories he created 75 years ago are becoming a reality today. Now we have robots assembling our machines, driving our cars, even flying aircrafts and participating in war. How does the law prepare for these types of changes?

Ulrike Barthelmess and Ulrich Furbach study robotics at the University of Koblenz in Germany. According to them, humans are still ultimately responsible and we need human laws, not Asimov’s laws, to cope with issues that may arise.

Liability in Work and War

Barthelmess and Furbach are not the only ones studying robotic liability. At the recent International Joint Conferences on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk were among signatories in an open letter warning against autonomous weapons. Similarly, in April, Harvard Law School and Human Rights Watch called for a ban on autonomous weapons in a jointly published report.

While autonomous weaponry poses a more immediate threat than work-aiding machinery, it still poses an interesting set of questions that will continue to dominate academic circles. While weaponry and drones may fall into the realm of international law, an accident like one in Germany will fall under each individual nation’s (or state’s) discretion.

Robot-Related Accidents Worldwide

The incident in Germany is unfortunately not without precedent. The New York Times detailed several accidents in a recent piece, while British authorities documented 77 robot-related accidents in 2005 alone. It is important to note that robot-related incidents are still relatively rare and occur under a specific set of circumstances.

According to the U.S. Labor Department: “Studies indicate that many robot accidents occur during non-routine operating conditions, such as programming, maintenance, testing, setup, or adjustment… During many of these operations the worker may temporarily be within the robot’s working envelope where unintended operations could result in injuries.”

This was, according to German news reports, the case with the contractor in the Volkswagen plant; he was reportedly inside the safety cage when the robot struck him. German prosecutors are still investigating the incident to see who might be liable. “We will then decide whether to bring charges, and, if so, against whom,” they said in a statement.

In this case, the burden may be on the manufacturer, according to one law professor. The prosecution will have to determine if the manufacturer committed negligence through failures to warn the contractors of potential dangers or failures to take proper care of the equipment. The prosecution may also mount a case on potential to avoid foreseeable risks, but this is harder to prove in court.

No matter the outcome, cases such as these may set precedent for other issues of the same nature. If you have questions, or if you have suffered an injury at work, contact us for more information.

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