Has Uber not heard about the dangers of fatigued driving? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), at least 100,000 annual motor vehicle accidents are likely caused by a fatigued driver. Yet, the company behind the driver-for-hire app is vehemently against the 70 hour workweek limit for its drivers. Could it have anything to do with the launch of its new accident insurance policy?

Yes, you read that correctly – Uber wants drivers to be permitted to work more than 16 hours in a single day, and it wants to further profit by insuring those drivers against accidents that are sure to occur as a result. The insurance plan is being tested in eight states; Massachusetts is among them. In exchange for coverage in work-related accidents, drivers will pay a per-mile fee to Uber.

No Workers’ Compensation?

The question isn’t whether or not Uber drivers should protect themselves with insurance; taxi-related jobs have five times the death rate as other occupations. The issue is with Uber’s decision to charge drivers for medical care and lost wages rather than purchase workers’ compensation insurance to cover all drivers. In addition, the benefits that will be provided by Uber’s accident policy will be less robust than those provided by traditional workers’ comp. According to press reports, the plan will cover up to half of the individual’s average weekly earnings, compared to workers’ comp benefits which cover up to 66 percent of lost wages.

Employees in other companies and industries get overtime pay, which acts as a deterrent to employers to overwork their staff. In addition, those workers are generally covered by workers’ comp. It is true that Uber’s drivers are independent contractors, not employees. However, state agencies in Alaska, California and Oregon have audited Uber, collected payroll taxes, and demanded real protections for the company’s drivers. A MA workers’ compensation attorney can help you determine if you are entitled to workers’ comp benefits.

Driver Fatigue

The NHTSA conservatively estimates that fatigue results in about 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in financial losses every year. The statistics below provide further insight into this serious problem.

  • Individuals between the ages of 18 and 29 are most likely to drive while drowsy.
  • Men are more likely to drive while drowsy than their female counterparts.
  • Adults with young children have a greater tendency to drive drowsy.
  • The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a study revealing that individuals who get six to seven hours of sleep per night have double the risk of a fatigue-related crash than those who sleep eight hours or more.
  • A study in Australia revealed that a person who has been awake for 18 hours will have a level of impairment equal to someone with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05.

Other factors, including obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption and conditions such as sleep apnea weigh heavily when calculating the risk of driver fatigue. However, one thing is certain; driving for more than 16 hours in one day is unsafe. Consider asking your Uber driver how many hours he or she has been working the next time you go for a ride. And if you work for Uber and were injured on the job, a skilled Boston work injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed. Continue reading

A former high-ranking employee of UnitedHealth Group Inc., a healthcare company based out of Minnesota, has gone public with a whistleblowing case against his former employer, alleging that they purposefully and knowingly gamed the country’s chaotic healthcare system in order to get more money from the federal government.

The situation is an incredibly tangled web of different organizations, government agencies and winding policy, but the crux of the matter is as such:

  1. Healthcare insurance providers, such as UnitedHealth Group, are given money through the federal government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (C.M.S.)
  2. Insurance providers use this money to pay doctors, who bill the insurance companies for services rendered to their patients
  3. Insurers get paid more money by the government if they enroll people with worse health complications, an incentive to prevent sick people from being systematically denied coverage
  4. This system is known as “Medicare Advantage,” and was implemented by the federal government in the hopes that it would result in better care at a lower cost and help cover a $13 trillion funding gap for Medicare.
  5. However the whistleblower, Benjamin Poehling, alleges that insurance companies have been intentionally misreporting patient charts as a way to milk more money from the government, which is going directly into pockets and not helping patients in any way.

The lawsuit, filed under the False Claims Act, alleges that UnitedHealth Group would take patients with health complications such as diabetes and then explore every possible other condition they could have suffered as a result in order to boost that patient’s profitability to the company.

At the same time, the insurance provider would ignore possible complications such as high blood pressure, as these diagnoses did not carry a profitable incentive from the C.M.S. In short, the lawsuit alleges that UnitedHealth Group treated its patients as nothing more than a part of their profit margin, rather than treating them as human beings in need of care.

One particular email that was obtained in the lawsuit, as was reported by the New York Times, shows a disgusting, almost salesman-like attitude coming from a chief financial officer within UnitedHealth Group.

“You mentioned vasculatory disease opportunities, screening opportunities, etc., with huge $ opportunities,” the chief financial officer of Poehling’s division wrote. “Let’s turn on the gas!” Continue reading

In 2011, a railroad worker filed a complaint against Pan Am Railways, Inc., claiming he was subjected to retaliation after filing a Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) whistleblower complaint. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigated the complaint against the North Billerica-based railroad and decided in favor of the employee. A federal appeals court has agreed, ordering the railway company to pay $260,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

The employee, who worked in a Waterville, Maine rail yard, was accused by his employer of dishonesty in connection to an injury-related whistleblower complaint. For their retaliatory actions, Pan Am Railways, Inc. was ordered to compensate the employee to the tune of $10,000, pay $40,000 in punitive damages, and take corrective actions so that a similar incident doesn’t occur in the future. The railway company appealed.

Appeals Denied, Punitive Damages Skyrocket

Here’s the thing, unequal pay in the workplace isn’t just unfair, it’s illegal. It seems like simple logic that when a woman performs the same job as a man, she should receive the same pay. But that’s rarely the case. We are certainly in a better place than we were 50, 20, or even five years ago…but we have a long way to go until equal pay is a reality for every American worker.

Equal Pay Act and Title VII

The Equal Pay Act (EPA) holds that men and women should receive equal pay if they complete equal work in the same workplace. This applies to all forms of pay, including salaries, benefits, stock options, and vacation pay. If a worker believes that her EPA rights have been violated, she must file an EPA charge within two to three years of the alleged violation, depending on the underlying circumstances. A Boston employment law attorney can help you determine if your EPA rights have been violated. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also makes sex-based discrimination for pay and benefits illegal. Thus, someone whose rights have been violated may have an EPA claim and a Title VII claim.

Pay Inequality Statistics

It is an unfortunate fact that American women continue to earn substantially less than their male counterparts. The statistics below illustrate just how deep this problem runs.

  • Women who work full time earn about 84.6 percent of what full-time male workers earn.
  • For African American women, it’s even worse; they earn approximately 72 cents for every dollar earned by male workers.
  • Latina workers suffer the most, earning 60 cents for every dollar earned by men.
  • Unequal pay is even an issue in female-dominated industries, such as childcare and housekeeping. In these industries, women earn approximately 95 percent of what their male counterparts earn.

Further, women must often work longer to get promoted. The following statement was taken from UrbanMinistry.org, “”women may work longer to receive the promotions that provide access to higher pay. For example, among school principals, women have an average of 3 years longer as teachers than men do.”

If you feel that your EPA or Title VII rights are being violated, it’s important to create a paper trail. Document as much as you legally can; this can include copies of published job descriptions, length of employment, and pay data. A MA employment law attorney can analyze your case to help you determine if your rights have been violated, and advise you on how to collect evidence of these violations.

Pay Secrecy is Illegal

The reality is, if the stigma of discussing pay disappeared, unequal pay would probably disappear along with it. Many companies have policies about not discussing pay, but these policies are also illegal. So-called “pay secrecy policies” have been prohibited for about 80 years, but in 2014, President Obama signed an executive order to provide further protections for employees who openly discuss their salaries. “Pay secrecy fosters discrimination and we should not tolerate it,” said Obama, “not in federal contracting or anywhere else.” Continue reading

To understand workplace assault we must first understand what assault actually means. Many people incorrectly assume that assault requires physical violence. In fact, even a verbal threat can be assault; it’s the intent that matters. For example, if a supervisor threatens an employee’s life if the employee doesn’t complete a project by Friday, the supervisor may be guilty of assault. However, if the supervisor and employee are buddies, and the “threat” was an obvious joke, it wouldn’t be considered assault.

Generally speaking, assault occurs when a person intentionally harms or threatens to harm another person. Simple assault doesn’t require physical injury, and aggravated assault typically involves a deadly weapon or serious physical injury. Assault crimes usually conjure images of bar fights or domestic disputes, but workplace assaults are actually quite common. Work environments can become tense due to confined spaces and close groupings of people who are required to see each other regularly, sometimes every day. Personality conflicts and power struggles may escalate in this environment, erupting into workplace violence with little to no warning.

Some incidences of workplace assault are serious, even fatal. We’ve all seen mass media coverage of disgruntled workers who “shoot up” the office, killing everyone from the supervisor who disciplined them to the secretary and mail-room clerk who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Other cases of workplace assault are much less serious. A Boston personal injury lawyer can help if you’ve been a victim of assault in the workplace.

When is the Employer Liable?

In addition to the supervisor or employee who is accused of assault, the employer can also be liable for the victim’s injuries under certain circumstances, including:

  • If employer negligence contributed to the incident.
  • If the employer intentionally played a role in the assault.
  • If the employer is not covered by workers’ compensation.

The first of the above bullet points addresses how employers respond to hostile work environments. If an employer knows about, or should have known about, threatening behavior and fails to take action, it may be liable if the person responsible for the behavior harms a co-worker. This may even be true if the person in question is a non-employee, such as a vendor or contractor.

When is Only the Employee Liable?

On the other hand, an employee who assaults a co-worker will likely be exclusively liable if:

  • The employer was unaware of the employee’s conduct.
  • The conduct was not related to the accused’s job.
  • The conduct was not encouraged or tolerated by the employer.

Workplace assault can result in criminal penalties, but it can also result in a civil action, such as when the victim brings an injury claim to recover financial damages for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost wages. A MA injury lawyer can help you determine how to obtain compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other associated costs if you’ve been harmed in a workplace assault . Continue reading

Embezzlement is a form of theft that is typically characterized by the misappropriation of funds by a person in a position of trust. Anybody who handles money can embezzle funds, from cashiers and bank tellers, to accountants and individuals in charge of large family estates.

According to recent studies, employee embezzlement is a massive – and growing – problem in the United States, accounting for about $400 billion in stolen funds annually. And embezzlement doesn’t discriminate based on company size; small mom-and-pop stores are just as at risk as  giant corporations. A MA defense lawyer can help you determine how to move forward if you’ve been charged with embezzlement.

How Are Investigations Into Employee Embezzlement Conducted?

Basically, they are conducted in much the same way as all other investigations into employee misconduct. Of course, the manner of the investigation will depend largely on the amount of money stolen – a few hundred dollars missing from the corner store isn’t likely to warrant the same investigation as a Fortune 500 company with millions in potentially-embezzled funds.

As with any employment investigation, both employer and employee have rights. In fact, employees have an extensive list of federal and state rights and protections. For example, without strict compliance with federal and state laws, an employer cannot use outside investigators, credit or background checks, monitoring devices, or polygraph tests to investigate an employee or an employee’s suspected misconduct.

If an employer suspects embezzlement, an investigation will likely be conducted to determine the following:

  • Whether a theft actually occurred
  • The total amount of the theft
  • The method used to steal the funds

Once this information is available, the employer will likely terminate the person or persons responsible for the theft, and implement procedures that will prevent a similar theft from occurring again. The next step would be to try and recover the stolen money or property.

Penalties for Embezzlement

In MA, if you get convicted of embezzlement, the penalties will vary depending on the severity of the case and prior criminal history. These penalties may include:

  • Value of money or property worth $250 or less: First offense carries penalties of between six months in jail and two-and-a-half years in prison, and a fine of up to $600.
  • Value of money or property worth more than $250: Fine of up to $25,000 and up to five years in prison.

Were Your Rights Violated?

It’s important to remember that embezzlement is almost never caught by direct observation of the act. Suspicions are usually initiated by the report of another employee, through an audit, or are based on circumstantial evidence. Employers are usually quick to begin an investigation when embezzlement is suspected, lest they lose more money. For this reason, they often make mistakes, violate employee rights, or make incorrect assumptions based on rumors and personal opinions. A MA defense attorney can help you determine your rights and options if you are being investigated for embezzlement in the workplace. Continue reading

Every employer should have a policy against sexual harassment. Federal and state laws prohibit this type of harassment in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean it never occurs. In some cases, the accuser has a legitimate claim against the accused. However, false accusations do occur with relative frequency. They may be a form of retaliation, or fabricated to justify the firing of an employee. If you are being investigated for sexual harassment in the workplace, a Boston employment law attorney can help you determine your rights and options.

What is Sexual Harassment?

From mild innuendos to blatant abuse, sexual harassment can take many forms. Some examples of prohibited conduct include:

  • Sexual assaults: This includes everything from unwanted, intentional touching, such as grabbing, patting, and even brushing against another’s body, to outright rape.
  • Unwelcome advances of a sexual nature: Sexually-oriented comments or gestures, propositions, and jokes or remarks about another employee’s sexuality.
  • Special treatment in exchange for sexual conduct: Soliciting another employee to engage in sexual conduct in exchange for a raise, promotion, or preferential treatment.
  • Threatening unwanted sexual attention.
  • The presence of any type of sexual or discriminatory materials or publications in the workplace.
  • Retaliation for refusal of sexual advances or for complaints of sexual harassment.

What if the Accusation is False?

The short answer is, it’s complicated. If the employer disciplines the alleged victim for a false complaint and it turns out the complaint was valid, the victim can take the employer to court. For this reason, many employers submit to the knee-jerk reaction of immediately firing the accused. The accused does have a right to challenge this termination, but this right is limited. An employer also has the right to discharge an employee based on suspicion of sexual harassment, even if the suspicion turns out to be inaccurate. So most employers decide to take the easy road to protect themselves, even if they don’t fully believe the accusations. But if the employer uses a fabricated accusation to cover up an unlawful reason for discharge, the employer may be liable. A MA employment law attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been falsely accused of sexual harassment in the workplace. Continue reading

Social Security Disability (SSDI) is a federal program that provides monthly benefits to individuals who cannot work due to a qualifying disability. Although certain mental illnesses are listed as qualifying disabilities, proving that you have a mental illness – and that your condition prevents you from working – is generally harder for mental illnesses than for physical. For starters, symptoms are not as easy to evaluate. And physical disabilities, such as immobility, are visible, whereas most mental illnesses are not.

But the biggest problem you encounter may be related to the biases of the Social Security examiners assigned to your case. Some examiners may think that a particular disorder – anxiety, for example – is just an excuse for someone who doesn’t want to work. This may be due to a past experience with someone who abused the system. Whatever the reason, examiner biases can present a real problem when it comes to SSDI applications. An experienced MA SSDI attorney can help you overcome this potential problem and get the benefits you deserve.

The Social Security “Blue Book”

Racism is still a problem in this country. In some situations, it’s blatantly obvious; more often, however, racism is subtle and harder to identify. This is especially true of racial discrimination in the workplace. For example, an employer may fail to hire an individual based on his race, but claim the decision was based on another factor, such as attitude or lack of experience. A MA employment attorney can help if you believe you’ve been a victim of racial discrimination.

What is Discriminatory Intent?

Whether racial discrimination in the workplace is obvious or subtle, there are multiple federal and state laws prohibiting this type of discrimination in any form. In many cases, identifying – and proving – racial discrimination can be difficult. But sometimes, an employer inadvertently displays discriminatory intent.

Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits are paid to individuals who are unable to work due to an eligible disability. For some families, this monthly benefit helps them avoid extreme poverty. But what if the person receiving these benefits dies, leaving behind a spouse who relied on that source of income to survive? Fortunately, Social Security Disability has a survivor benefit, known as a Widow/Widower Benefit, to address this problem. The information below details who is eligible for survivor benefits and how they are paid out.

Do I Qualify?

If a person passes away while receiving SSDI or regular Social Security benefits, the surviving spouse may be eligible to receive a percentage of the balance of benefits. However, he or she must be age 60 or older, or at least 50 if disabled. In addition, the surviving spouse must be unable to work due to a long-term physical or mental impairment. The surviving spouse is also entitled to a one-time benefit payment of $255 following the spouse’s death. Below are the categories that may qualify you for SSDI survivor benefits, along with information on how to calculate the payments you are eligible to receive.

  • A child in your care, who is under the age of 16 years, receives SSDI survivor benefits from your deceased spouse. In this scenario, you will receive 75 percent of the SSDI benefit your spouse was receiving.
  • If you have a disability and are at least 50 years old, you will receive 71.5 percent of the SSDI benefit.
  • If you are not full retirement age but are at least 60 years of age, you will receive between 71.5 percent and 99 percent of the SSDI benefit.
  • If you are full retirement age, you will receive 100 percent of the SSDI benefit.

The application process for Widow/Widower benefits can be complex and confusing. A MA Social Security Disability attorney can help you determine if you are eligible for a transfer of payments following the death of your spouse. If you are eligible, your attorney can help you navigate the process to ensure that you receive full benefits in a timely manner.

Special Scenarios

As with most things in life, there are exceptions to the rules above. For example, if you remarry before age 60, you are not entitled to survivor benefits. However, if you remarry after the age of 60 (or 50 if disabled), your benefits will not be affected. And remember above when we discussed survivor benefits if you have a child under the age of 16? Well, those benefits usually end on the child’s 16th birthday…unless he or she is also disabled. Further, sometimes SSDI survivor benefits can actually work against you. In certain situations, your own retirement benefits may be greater than survivor benefits based on your deceased spouse’s benefits. A Boston SSDI lawyer can help if you are unsure of the benefits available to you following the death of a spouse.

What Documentation Do I Need?

The documentation below is required to obtain survivor’s benefits:

  • Death certificate
  • Your Social Security number
  • Your deceased spouse’s Social Security number.
  • Your deceased spouse’s birth certificate
  • Your marriage certificate
  • Recent tax forms

When the surviving spouse reaches age 62, SSDI payments may begin to change. This is no different from the change that would have occurred between the ages of 62 and 70 for the original SSDI beneficiary. Continue reading

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