When hiring a new employee, many employers request that a potential employee sign what is often referred to as a “Release,” which is used to initial a background screening process. However, there are strict federal rules to which an employer must comply when obtaining this information.

Section 604(b)(2) of the FCRA specifically provides that “…a person may not procure a consumer report…for employment purposes with respect to any consumer, unless—

(i) a clear and conspicuous disclosure has been made in writing to the consumer at any time before the report is procured…in a document that consists solely of the disclosure, that a consumer report may be obtained for employment purposes; and

(ii) the consumer has authorized in writing…the procurement of the report by that person.”

The statute requires this disclosure in a completely standalone document, without any extraneous information. The document should be referred to as the “Disclosure and Authorization” form, with the intent being to inform the applicant that the employer may obtain a consumer report for purposes of the employment application process, and they are seeking the applicant’s written permission to do the same. The Fair Trade Commission has made clear as have the courts that Section 604(b)(2) does allow the authorization to be part of this standalone document and therefore certain identifying information may also be included to initiate a background check, like name, date of birth, and social security number.

Despite the clear language provided in the statute, many employers continue to include other information, including language asking the applicant to release the company and others from any liability and responsibility in connection with the consumer report, also known as a release of liability. While including this language may seem to make some business sense, it is in direct violation of the statutory requirements. Employers also add information about drug screening and company-specific policies to the

Some employers also add company policy language, drug screen information and other miscellaneous items. Some add this “Disclosure and Authorization” as part of their employment application, although it has always been clear that this “Disclosure and Authorization” cannot be part of some boilerplate language somewhere in the application, and the statute specifically provides that it must be separate in a standalone document.

Are you complying with the FCRA?

Feel free to give me a call at 605-731-0218 if you have any questions.

I hope this finds you doing well. I have received many inquiries over the last couple of weeks on when temporary disability benefits are owed. I think that the confusion comes from the mislabeling of the benefits. There is a difference between TTD and TPD benefits, even though the amount may be the same. TTD is paid when the employee is ordered completely off of work. If there is a compensable claim, benefits are owed regardless of other factors. For instance, if the employee is ordered completely off work, and is unable to work because he is in jail, you’d still owe TTD benefits. The reason for this is that the standard for whether any benefit is owed is whether the work injury is and remains a major contributing cause to the benefit sought. If the employee is ordered completely off work, the employee being in jail makes no difference as he couldn’t work whether he is in jail or not as the doctor has taken him off of work.

The analysis changes once employee has been released to work by the doctor, even if the employee has not actually returned to work. Let’s take our employee who is in jail. When he was ordered completely off of work, his incarceration did not matter as he wouldn’t be able to work even if he was a law- abiding citizen. Once he is released to work, you would ask whether the work injury is and remains a major contributing cause to his inability to work. If the employer could accommodate the restrictions, you would stop paying benefits because the reason the employee cannot work is not related to his work injury, but, instead, from the fact that he is incarcerated. However, let’s say the employer cannot accommodate the restrictions when the employee is released to work, then what? You would still pay TPD in that situation because whether he is in jail or not makes no difference as he would not be working anyway. You would continue paying benefits until the employee is released to work full duty, receives an impairment, or the employer is able to accommodate the restrictions.

If confused, just ask yourself whether the work injury is a major contributing cause to the inability to work. If the employee is ordered off of work by the doctor because of the work injury, the answer is yes and you would owe TTD benefits. If the employee has been released to work but is not working, ask yourself “Why isn’t he working? Is it related to his injury?”

TTD and TPD are often interchanged, however the distinction is important because TPD benefits have defenses available. Always look to the doctor’s restrictions – not whether the employee is actually working. The proper question does not begin with the work status. Instead, the proper question is whether the employee has been released to work. If you have questions on this or any other issue, please contact Boyce Law Firm at 605-336-2424.

Considered by many scholars to be the most comprehensive source on mediation, Christopher W. Moore in The Mediation Process describes the steps to active listening in the following manner.

First, the mediator must listen to what the party is saying and determine the emotion the party is feeling. Is it frustration? Anger? Fear?

Second, select the word or words that reflect what the interviewee is feeling. Care must be taken not to minimize the feeling or blow it out of proportion. Disempowering the interviewee will also be counterproductive so saying “You are feeling really weak and helpless…” is not a good strategy.

Third, tell the interviewee what you have heard in the words and language selected. If more than one emotion is being expressed give feedback as to all the emotions.

Fourth, wait for the response from the party. Be patient and do not fill the silence with more from your own mouth. The response will either confirm the accuracy of the emotion expressed or provide further clarification of those feelings.

Fifth, if the emotions are confirmed encourage the party to talk more about those feelings.

SIxth, if the mediator has not accurately understood the emotions being expressed obtain further clarification from the interviewee. In essence, start over again at the top of this list.

Finally, it may take several attempts to accurately describe the emotion felt and do not be afraid to spend the time and effort necessary to accurately understand what is going on. Do not, however, force this process on the interviewee. If you encounter resistance, move on.

Like most skills, active listening takes practice. It may very well be the most important skill a mediator can possess for resolving disputes. Let me know if you have any questions.

South Dakota is a rural, expansive state with many smaller towns throughout. There are very few major health care providers within the state. There are also very few doctors that will perform independent medical examinations within the state. On occasion, we are forced to ask a claimant to travel outside his community to have the IME performed. The question then becomes what time and (more importantly) place are “reasonably convenient for the employee” to attend the IME. Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule and each claim must be reviewed independently.
SDCL 62-7-1 allows for compulsory medical examinations (a/k/a IMEs) at employer’s/insurer’s request. However, the IME must occur “at a time and place reasonably convenient for the employee.” Sometimes it will be necessary for a claimant to travel several hours or several hundred miles to attend the IME due to the location of the IME doctor. On occasion, a claimant will claim the distance is not “reasonably convenient” due to being in pain from sitting for long periods of time or simply unable to travel due to finances. The South Dakota Supreme Court has not interpreted what “reasonably convenient” means. However, the South Dakota Department of Labor has taken into consideration a Claimant’s pain when traveling for an IME and determined that sometimes traveling is the best of a bad situation. See, Dale L. Dobson vs. Homestake Mining Company, 1995 WL 529827, HF No. 87, 1994/95 (SD Dept. Labor). In these situations, it is best to calculate the approximate costs the claimant will incur to attend the IME (mileage, hotel, meals) and prepay those amounts. Sometimes it is worth allowing the claimant several days to travel to and from the IME in order to reduce the amount of time in a car or bus. On other occasions, it may be best to fly the claimant to the IME instead of making them drive. If these considerations are given to the employee, you have the best chance of convincing the Department of Labor the IME was at a time and place reasonably convenient to the employee if the claimant refuses to attend the IME.
As mentioned above, each claim is a different so determining what is reasonably convenient for the employee depends on that particular set of circumstances. If you have any questions on this topic, feel free to contact us.

Likely the most important skill for a neutral to possess when trying to resolve a workplace dispute, or any dispute for that matter, is the ability to actively listen. While it might be logical to conclude that speaking and listening equally share the communication spotlight, this is not the case. Recent U.S. Department of Labor studies have shown that over half of all communication is accomplished through listening. Listening is more than just waiting for your turn to talk. Active listening has been described as hearing both the words and the music. Stated another way, active listening involves the mediator/neutral “…listening to and feeding back an interviewee’s emotions.” The Mediation Process, Fourth Edition, Christopher W. Moore.

Why is active listening a crucial skill to develop? In my experience there are two main reasons. First, most workplace disputes involve, at least on some level, a belief by one party that they have not had an opportunity to be heard or to tell their version of events. Everyone wants their “day in court” so to speak – it is human nature. Active listening helps achieve that. Secondly, workplace disputes are typically filled with emotions, often times negative emotions. Any time an individual’s livelihood may be at stake, negative emotions are understandable and expected. The sooner the parties to the dispute can feel that their version has been heard and understood, the closer the matter is to being resolved. Similarly, the sooner the negative emotions are released, the sooner focus can be placed on a rational solution to the dispute. Active listening is a skill essential to successful resolution of the workplace dispute. Outside of workplace disputes, active listening can help with interactions with colleagues, friends, and clients. Try focusing on listening to understand, rather than listening to respond – it will make a significant difference in nearly every interaction.

I will explore the seven steps to active listening in my next post. As always, please let me know if there are questions.

There can be little doubt as to the popularity and effectiveness of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) when dealing with workers’ compensation claims. The uncertainty, expense, and time involved necessitates that most claims get resolved through mediation outside of an administrative hearing and likely appeal through the court system.

Through my years of practice, I have discovered that one seldom used form of ADR is mediation followed by arbitration of issues on which the parties are deadlocked. Med-Arb, as it is referred to in the ADR world, can be a very effective tool for many claims.

Because the Department of Labor (DOL) must approve all workers’ compensation resolutions, the parties must first agree that the decision of the arbitrator will be binding, and the decision will be submitted to the DOL for adoption and approval. Such an agreement is then presented to the DOL, followed by an order entered by the DOL agreeing to adopt, as its own, the arbitrator’s decision, findings and conclusion. The parties then proceed to attempt mediation of the case. If a settlement is reached on all issues, a settlement agreement is prepared, signed and submitted for DOL approval. If the parties are deadlocked on some, or all issues, the mediation is then converted to an arbitration and submitted to the arbitrator for decision and later adoption by the DOL.

While theoretically any claim could utilize Med-Arb as an ADR tool, the claims that stand to benefit the most are those where medical causation is in dispute on some portion of the claim, and entitlement to future medical expenses is an issue. In those situations, my experience has proven that often the underlying claim is more easily resolved if the medical dispute can be resolved as well.

Med-Arb deserves your consideration on many claims. If there are questions, please do not hesitate to let me know.

By now, those of you reading this blog know that in order for an injury to be compensable in South Dakota, the injury must arise out of and be in the course of the employment. Pretty straight forward, right?

Not so much.

While South Dakota adopts the “coming and going rule, establishing that an employee is not covered for purposes of workers’ compensation while coming from and going to work, the law has also established a ‘gray area’ regarding what is, and what is not. covered. Three seminole cases in South Dakota address this topic: Norton v. Deuel Sch. Dist. 2004 S.D 6; Fair v. Nash Finch Co., 2007 S.D. 16; and Terveen v. South Dakota Dept. of Transp. 2015 S.D. 10. These cases make it clear that a fact investigation into a workers’ compensation claim must include an analysis of minute details of the claim.

In Norton, the SD Supreme Court found that personal activities involving self-care, such as eating, resting, smoking, or using bathroom facilities should be considered in the course of employment. In Fair, the Court found that an employee’s deviation from work duties does not ‘automatically constitute departures from employment, but may … be found insubstantial.’” Fair was injured while she was exiting Family Thrift after a brief deviation from her usual direct route to her vehicle. The Court found that while it was reasonable to expect employees to exit the premises after work, it was also reasonable to expect Fair to engage in personal shopping after her shift had ended. Thus, the Court found that mere fact that an employee deviates from their work does not preclude a finding that the injuries are compensable.

Insubstantial deviations have been defined as those “largely the kind of momentary diversions which, if undertaken by an inside employee working under fixed time and place limitations, would be compensable under the personal comfort doctrine.” Arthur Larson, Larson Workers’ Compensation § 17.06[3] (2014). If someone engaged in an act for personal comfort, they do not leave the course of employment unless the extent of the departure is so great that an intent to abandon the job temporarily can be inferred. Id. at §21. In Terveen, the Court adopted the majority rule around the nation, finding that an employee who has made a personal side-trip has to ‘get back on the beam’ before being deemed to have resumed the business trip. Id. § 17.03[5]. Additionally, the Court noted that the deviation cannot be substantial.

Now you are probably wondering, what information you need to find out during an investigation. Some information you need to know will include finding out what the employee was doing at the time of the injury; did the employer authorize, expressly or impliedly, that running personal errands was acceptable; was the employee on their typical route home, did they get lost, or, perhaps, were they stopping for food? These cases are very fact specific so be sure to take the time to gather all the facts you need to make a determination.

As always, we are here and happy to help. Give us a call anytime.

 

Have you ever had a Claimant allege that he or she is entitled to permanent total disability benefits and move to a new community before any determination can be made? If so, you are probably wondering whether to use the community where the Claimant was injured or the new community when determining potential job opportunities that would allow the Claimant to get back into the workforce. The job search question gets more difficult when the Claimant moves from a populated area to a rural area with less work opportunities.

The short answer is that you use the Claimant’s current community when determining potential available jobs the Claimant could perform.  In Reede v. State Dept. of Transp., 2000 S.D. 157, 620 N.W.2d 372, the claimant lived and worked in the Black Hills at the time she was injured. After her injury, the claimant did not seek additional employment, instead choosing to home school her daughter. Prior to hearing, the claimant moved several times, either to follow her family or to find work, and she eventually followed her sister to Montana, where she lived with her sister. The claimant was able to show that, while in Montana, she unsuccessfully attempted to obtain employment. The main question for the Court was whether the claimant’s Montana residence should be used for the purposes of determining whether there was available employment within her community such that she could secure more than sporadic employment. The Court held that, because the Department of Labor had found that the claimant’s move was not specifically intended to withdraw herself from the workforce or to aid in obtaining benefits, but instead was a good faith move based on financial necessity, the Montana residence should be used as the claimant’s “community” for the purposes of determining her eligibility for workers compensation benefits.

So, unless there is a showing that the Claimant moved for purposes of withdrawing from the workforce in order to obtain aid in obtaining benefits, you must look to the Claimant’s current community when determining whether jobs are available. As always, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Preparing a workplace dispute resolution policy is not difficult, but it does require some thought by the employer and HR professional.

First and foremost, there needs to be some thought put into the decision regarding whether to even have such a policy. The primary motivating factor for nearly all employers is the time and cost of employment litigation versus handling workplace disputes internally. This internal dispute resolution is either handled by HR or through the use of an outside mediator or arbitrator. The latter has proven time and again to be a better and more efficient system.

Once the decision is made to adopt a workplace dispute resolution policy, the employer must determine what claims made by the employee will be covered by the policy and what claims will not be covered. While the list of claims that will be covered is quite lengthy, there are generally only a few claims that a policy will exclude. For example, claims for workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits must be pursued through a state administrative agency and are not properly governed by an internal dispute resolution policy. Often times ERISA/pension plans have their own internal dispute resolution plans which must be followed.

Further considerations in drafting such policies includes identifying the circumstances under which an outside mediator will be retained. Most sample policies provide that if a matter cannot be resolved satisfactorily by the HR professional, an outside mediator will be hired, at the employer’s expense, to attempt resolution of the claims. Should that effort fail, many policies then provide for binding arbitration by an arbitrator knowledgeable in employment law. The American Arbitration Association has a list of trained employment arbitrators and can assist the employer in developing the rules for arbitration and the administrative handling of the claims. As with mediation, the employer will bear all the expense of any arbitration.

Although adopting a dispute resolution policy proves to be beneficial, identifying those employment situations requiring dispute resolution, either internally or through the use of a mediator, is more of an art than a science. I am always here to provide assistance, so please let me know if there are questions or if you would like to explore this topic further.

My role as a “neutral”, to use the official jargon, necessitates that I am balanced in order to resolve conflict in the workplace and elsewhere. Some may joke that I am far from balanced, however, I take pride in my ability to be balanced when it comes to the subject of mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution in the workplace. The simple truth is this: Mediation works. It saves an organization time and money, and it is not something that should only happen when a formal complaint or lawsuit has been filed. Indeed, the closer to the origin of the conflict or dispute matters can be addressed, the higher chances there are to save both time and money.

The cost of conflict to an organization is high. Defending an employment-related lawsuit can easily approach $100,000 in legal costs alone. While employment practices coverage is fairly common these days, many cases (an estimated 81% by some sources) result in no payment by the insurance carrier. In other words, it is the EMPLOYERS deductible/retention money that is the first to go towards resolution or defense costs. The time spent by HR and other upper management can be staggering and have significant impact on the company. The average duration of an employment matter has been estimated to be 275 days.

The good news is that the vast majority of organizations recognize the cost-control effectiveness of alternative dispute resolution – a number on the rise since 1997, according to a study by Cornell University and Price Waterhouse. Nearly 90% of organizations responding to the 1997 study reported having used mediation as a means of resolving conflict in the prior three years. In addition to saving time and money, organizations have learned that allowing parties to resolve disputes themselves, with the assistance of a mediator, preserves working relationships, results in more satisfactory settlements, and was all-in-all a more satisfactory process.

Trained HR professionals can and should mediate disputes in the workplace, particularly those involving: personality conflicts, poor communication, strong emotions, misunderstandings, employee leave, benefits and pay are at issue. As always, however, if you are in doubt about you or your organization’s ability to mediate a particular conflict at hand, I urge you to seek the advice of your organization’s employment attorney.

When is it risky for the mediation to be handled by internal HR professionals? Because mediation is a voluntary process between the participants, when one participant refuses to allow HR to mediate, then it is time to see if an outside mediator would be a viable alternative. Another situation would be when HR cannot be balanced, or neutral, due to an obvious conflict of interest, or when HR’s impartiality is called into question on the particular matter at issue. Perhaps most importantly are those situations which have triggered the organization’s legal duty to investigate, or when the complaint/dispute is between the employee and the organization. In those situations, the organization is better off enlisting the services of an outside neutral mediator to work towards an amicable resolution.

Please feel free to contact me for further questions or discussion to learn how mediation can benefit your organization – saving your organization both time and money.