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What Is Shift Work Sleep Disorder?

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Archive: Feb 2018

What Is Shift Work Sleep Disorder?

Certain occupations – like healthcare, factory work, and direct care professions, require that workers complete shifts at all hours of the day and night. Employers should care about shift work sleep disorders because they have a profound effect on business operations. By addressing the root of the issue, employers can reduce their own liability, as well as provide a safer and healthier place for employees to work.

Sleep disorders come with an increased risk for occupational injury, lead to decreased productivity, and can increase costs to employers for health insurance claims.

How Do Shift Sleep Disorders Occur?

When people work unusual hours, it affects their biological rhythms. This can have a drastic effect on a person’s sleep schedule and ability to function. It can also give rise to a condition physicians call shift work disorder, which disrupts a worker’s circadian rhythms and creates a plethora of symptoms.

A normal sleep schedule is vital to our health and well-being. Proper sleep helps us with memory, attention, and even mastery of skills. There are several classifications of sleep – REM sleep is where we dream, and non-REM sleep has three different stages. Stage 3 non-REM sleep is the most restorative time.

Our circadian rhythms control our sleep processes. Think of your circadian rhythm as a clock working in your brain – it runs on a 24-hour cycle and works according to the light-dark cycle. In other words, we’re naturally disposed to wake when it’s light; we experience a drowsy slump between 2-4pm, experience another jolt of alertness, and become sleepy again at night.

Disturbing this natural cycle – such as by working the night shift – can cause sleep disorders. Shift work sleep disorder is the most common type of sleep disorder shift workers experience.

Who Is Prone to Shift Work Sleep Disorder?

Shift Work Sleep Disorder is most common in those who work 12 hour shifts that switch from day to night. Some of the professions that employ this practice include:

  • Hospital workers like nurses, physicians, and nurses assistants
  • Waiters, waitresses, and bar tenders
  • Truck drivers
  • Airline crews
  • Public transit operators, and;
  • Factory workers

Shift work disorders can present with difficulty concentrating, memory loss, and fatigue. Other studies link shift work to weight gain and a subsequent increased risk for developing diabetes. However, recent research reveals that shift work can have even more dire consequences, even affecting worker’s cardiovascular health.

Effects of Shift Work

A growing body of research shows that there is an association between shift work and blood pressure. Workers with a frequently rotating night shift experience a higher variance in blood pressure than the general popualtion. A study of the University of Michigan nursing staff found that women with a long history of night shift work and frequent shift rotation had an increased risk for developing cerebrovascular accident (stroke).

Other studies have found links between rotating shift workers and increase of ischemic heart disease and death. In other words, flipping your schedule from day to night can affect more than just your sleep – it can affect your heart.

What to Do About It

Unfortunately, it’s not realistic to assume that you can just give up shift work, especially if you’re working in a profession that requires 24-hour staffing (like a hospital). However, you can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke by restricting the amount of rotation. For example, ask your supervisor if you can remain on nights or days instead of switching back and forth. This simple step may go a long way toward reducing the risk of negative health outcomes related to inconsistent sleep.

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Can Domestic Workers Receive Compensation?

There are over two million domestic workers in California alone. This network of nannies, caregivers, childcare providers, and personal assistants provide valuable services to families throughout the state, but few understand their rights in the workplace. This is partially because the laws themselves are so patchwork – what applies to one domestic worker might not apply to the other. In fact, it was only in 2016 that California passed the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights – but even this only covers a specific class of domestic workers (called “personal attendants.”)

Under California law SB-1015, personal attendants have access to a minimum wage, paid sick leave, and three-year grace period to file complaints against their employers. They can also file complaints regardless of their immigration status. However, the laws surrounding workers’ compensation in California can be even more confusing if you’re a domestic worker. Here’s what you need to know about your rights and responsibilities under California law.

Who Can File a Claim in California?

Under California law, you may file a workers’ compensation claim if the following rules apply:

  • You provide any domestic service, including childcare, and worked for more than 52 hours and earned $100 or more within 90 calendar days preceding your accident causing injury or occupational disease.
  • Your employer must offer workers’ compensation, which may come from their homeowners insurance, if the preceding rules apply.
  • Workers employed by a parent, spouse, or child are not eligible to collect workers’ compensation benefits.

What to Do After an Accident

If you sustained a work-related injury and believe you may be eligible for benefits based on the criteria above, take the following steps to protect your right to compensation.

  • Report the injury to your employer as soon as possible. The law sets certain time limits for reporting injuries, and reporting too late could cause you to lose your right to compensation.
  • Seek medical treatment. Ask your employer if you can see your own healthcare provider or if they have an occupational doctor they would like you to see. Since workers’ compensation benefits will pay for the cost of your medical care, don’t worry about medical bills right now – just seek the care you need to get better.
  • Follow your doctor’s orders. Keep all your follow-up appointments and follow your provider’s instructions. Medical noncompliance has affected workers’ compensation claims, so do everything your doctor tells you to do to get better.
  • Ask what information you need to provide to file a claim. Employers have different methods for providing workers’ compensation claims. Sometimes it comes out of their homeowners insurance, and other times it comes from a CA state fund. Therefore, their requirements might vary. Be as cooperative as possible.
  • Hire a workers’ compensation attorney. Domestic worker claims can be difficult to navigate. Having an attorney as your legal advocate can help assure that you understand your rights under California law.

Domestic worker rights are an evolving area of law. Employment advocates are working hard to ensure that this vulnerable branch of workers – who provide invaluable services to our state’s families – enjoy the same protections under the law as traditional employees.

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Can You Receive Workers’ Comp for Natural Disaster Related Injuries?

Here’s the good news: if you sustained injuries in a natural disaster and you were at work, you may be able to collect workers’ compensation benefits. In some cases, the claim is unambiguous. For example, if you’re a relief worker and you sustained an injury in the course of your job duties, you should be able to collect workers’ compensation benefits. For the most part, if you were physically at work when disaster struck, you might be able to file a workers’ compensation claim.

There has been surprisingly little litigation over the years over natural disaster related injuries. However, there was a case in California decades ago that could serve as legal precedent. In a 1927 Supreme Court Case, a plaintiff’s husband died during an earthquake while he was performing his job duties (janitorial services). The court stated in its opinion that there must be some connection between the injury and employment other than happenstance. The court also referred to the notion of “force majeure,” which is the idea that employers cannot be responsible for “acts of God” like lightning, storms, floods, tornados, and more.

However, in this case, the courts ruled the plaintiff’s husband’s death compensable because an investigation revealed a defect in the building. Had this defect not existed, the building would not have collapsed in the earthquake. As a result, the plaintiff won the workers’ compensation claim. This case highlights some of the issues of workers’ compensation following a natural disaster and also emphasizes the need for a workers’ compensation attorney.

Other Considerations

There are other instances in which the law might be more confusing. For example, what happens if your employer shuts down business operations following a natural disaster? Since you did not experience an injury, you likely will not be able to file a workers’ compensation claim. However, you depend on your job to pay the bills, and a natural disaster can prove to be a financial disaster for some families. Instead of worker’ compensation, you have the following options:

  • The Family Medical Leave Act entitles you to a leave of absence when a natural disaster results in an injury or medical condition that is not work-related.
  • Take a look at your worker classification. If you’re an “exempt” employee, the law requires your employer to pay your full salary when there’s downtime following a natural disaster.
  • Take PTO and vacation. If possible, use your PTO and vacation days to compensate for your lack of work during downtime.

A workers’ compensation attorney can help you understand your legal rights and obligations throughout the process. He or she may also help you discover if there is way to receive workers’ compensation for your unique situation.

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