Washington Workers’ Compensation

Washington State Announces 2020 COLA Increase; Affects Temporary Disability Payments Starting July 1st

Under RCW 51.32.075 temporary disability benefits are recalculated July 1st of each year to reflect changes in the states average wage. According to the Washington State Employment Security Department, the statewide average wage for 2019 was $69,700. This represents a 6.7% increase from 2018 average wage of $65,301; the largest increase since 1999. The Department of Labor and Industries has provided updated information on how to apply the COLA here. Please note the COLA does not apply to temporary disability payments until the second July after the date of injury, unless a worker’s temporary disability rate is set at the minimum or maximum temporary disability rate. Have questions about this year’s COLA increase? Feel free to contact me at 503-595-6110 or dwhite@sbhlegal.com.

Back to Basics: While easy to overlook during the COVID-19 pandemic, double checking details in Washington Claims is still as important as ever

As the impacts of COVID-19 continue to occur and affect people and businesses, it is easy to get swept up in the breadth of complexities this pandemic has created. While businesses grapple with safety, financial, and personnel issues and decisions, day-to-day business details can get lost in the shuffle. Among these details, important items such as workers’ compensation time loss benefits and the proper calculation of amounts due to injured workers are certainly easily placed on the back burner or perhaps overlooked entirely. While it is understandable that issues such as worker safety and social distancing concerns, furloughs, and remote workers may take precedence right now, improper or simply incorrect time loss calculations in a Department of Labor & Industries… Continue reading

Course of Employment in Washington: What Factors are Considered When an Employee is Injured While Working from Home?

As the State of Washington slowly implements its four-phase recovery plan, many employees continue to work remotely from home in various capacities due to the social distancing requirements brought on by COVID-19. As employees continue to work from home, many employers are faced with new claims involving injuries sustained away from the employer’s premises. These unique claims can make it difficult for employers and third-party administrators to assess what constitutes a compensable injury or occupational disease. In Washington, workers acting in the “course of employment” are covered by the Industrial Insurance Act. Generally speaking, acting in the course of employment means the employee is acting at his or her employer’s direction or furthering the employer’s business. This is broad definition… Continue reading

Adjusting to the New Normal – Washington Claims Processing and COVID-19

As the impact of COVID-19 continues to reverberate through Washington, it has created numerous challenges for employers and claims managers who are working hard to process claims properly and as efficiently as possible. Within this ever-evolving situation in mind, this post discusses some of the common issues that have arisen to date and offers suggestions for how to navigate claims processing. Treatment Plans and Time Loss Certification With treating providers cancelling or postponing many non-emergency appointments, it has made it challenging for workers to submit proper time loss certification in a timely manner. To address this issue, Department’s Guidelines suggest workers schedule appointments via video or telephone to document ongoing eligibility for treatment and/or time loss benefits. For claims managers,… Continue reading

L&I Offers Some Guidance on Active Retraining Plans through Office Careers as Moratorium On New Plans Remains in Place

In early March, the Washington Department of Labor of Industries announced a moratorium on approval of new vocational plans that include retraining by Office Careers. The move by L&I followed a three-part investigative series aired by King 5 which was highly critical of the Renton-based school, contending it did not provide adequate training to injured workers to prepare them to re-enter the workforce. The King 5 series spurred an investigation by the Washington Workforce Board, but even before the series aired, L&I had started its own audit of Office Careers. As an unaccredited school approved by L&I to offer vocational retraining, Office Careers has been a frequent target of plaintiff’s attorneys. However, its basic office skills classes, in areas such… Continue reading

Washington: COVID 19 and Voluntary Termination/Unemployment Benefits

Workers’ Compensation Is time loss due if a worker performing modified duty takes a voluntary layoff in the context of COVID-19? According to RCW 51.32.090(4), if a worker is performing modified duty and that modified duty “comes to an end”, before his or her recovery is sufficient to permit a return to the job of injury or other available work offered by the employer of injury, time loss should be reinstated. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many layoffs and company closures. If a worker performing modified duty loses his or her job due to a company shut down or involuntary layoff due to lack of business, the modified duty will have come to an end under RCW 51.32.090(4). Therefore,… Continue reading

Washington – COVID-19 Incident Reports, Workers’ Comp, Wage and Leave Issues

Krishna Balasubramani | Sather Byerly and Holloway, Oregon and Washington Employment Law, Workers Compensation, Longshore, and OSHA Defense AttorneysWith the recent news of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Washington, we want to ensure everyone understands the guidelines for incident reports, workers’ compensation claims, and other employment-related concerns. We have created a Q&A to cover many questions Washington employers may have on this confusing and pressing issue.   When should an OSHA Injury and Illness incident report be filed? If an employer is aware of an exposure or an employee reports an exposure to a virus, this should be documented as a work incident. While the common cold and flu is exempt from OSHA recordkeeping requirements, COVID-19 is a recordable illness. OSHA COVID-19 Standards Employers should file an incident report if either: An employee has tested positive for COVID-19; or The… Continue reading

SBH Attorney Aaron Bass Testifies in Front of Washington State Senate

Attorney Aaron Bass testified on behalf of Washington Self-Insurers Association in opposition to SHB 2409. The bill not only increases the penalty amounts, it imposes a new vague “fair conduct” standard and includes a “per occurrence” multiplier on self-insurance penalties. Attorney Bass used his time to point out the grossly punitive and concerning language in Section 2 of the proposed bill. The bill would entitle claimants a penalty each time benefits were unreasonably delayed. Rather assessing a penalty of $500 or 25% of the aggregate amount of delayed or unpaid benefits, the proposed bill provides a maximum $1,700 penalty for each act of unreasonable delay. The consequence of a “per occurrence” penalty is catastrophic and extremely punitive. Attorney Bass outlined… Continue reading

Department of Labor & Industries Issues New Checklist for Willful Misrepresentation

The Department of Labor & Industries recently amended the process and published an amended checklist for employers seeking Willful Misrepresentation orders. The Department’s new checklist for reporting Willful Misrepresentation available here. Pursuant to RCW 51.32.240(5), self-insured employers can demand repayment of any benefits induced by willful misrepresentation along with a 50% penalty payable to the Department’s supplemental pension fund so long as the repayment and recoupment of benefits is demanded within three years of the discovery of the worker’s willful misrepresentation. The statute goes on to explain that “willful misrepresentation” includes willful false statements, omissions, or concealment of any material fact. Additionally, Washington Administrative Code 296-14-4121 provides that the term “willful” means a “conscious or deliberate false statement, misrepresentation, omission,… Continue reading

New Washington Law: First Responder Presumption

On June 7, 2018 the First Responder Presumption, House Bill SB 6214 became law and changed the way workers and employers approach mental health claims filed by firefighters and law enforcement officers throughout the state of Washington. Before the First Responder Presumption, all workers, including first responders, were typically prevented from filing a claim for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as an occupational disease. The new law changes this rule and carves out an exception for first responders. Now, when a firefighter or law enforcement officer files a claim for PTSD, it is presumed to be an occupational disease unless the employer proves otherwise. In other words, the new law shifts the burden of proof to the employer, who is now… Continue reading