AFL-CIO Sues to Force Issue of Who Pays for PPEs

Both the AFL-CIO and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Labor so that the agency will be forced to issue a final rule mandating employers to pay for personal protective equipment (PPEs).

The controversy over whether employers should pay for PPEs first began in 1999. That year, the Department of Labor proposed a rule that employers must pay for all PPEs required under OSHA standards. The only exceptions were safety shoes, prescription safety eyewear, and logging boots in certain circumstances. However, the agency never followed through with a final rule.

In 2004, the Department of Labor was still wavering; saying it needed more time to evaluate the proposal and calling for more public commentary on the subject. The biggest stumbling block for the agency was how the proposed rule should address the types of PPEs that are usually supplied by the employee, and taken from jobsite to jobsite or from employer to employer. They felt the problem was an especially thorny issue in industries with high turnover.

In actuality, the question of who pays for what PPEs has already been settled on most union job sites in either of two ways. Either it has become the custom that the employer/employee pays for the equipment or it is spelled out in the contract who pays.  However, in the absence of direction from OSHA, nonunion employers can do as they please, often leaving it to their workers to provide their own protection.  Because of the expense, many workers choose to work with the appropriate PPE, jeopardizing their own safety as well as everyone else’s.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, asserts that the agency’s failure to act is putting workers in danger. According to OSHA’s own estimates, 400,000 workers have been injured and 50 have died because there is no PPE rule in place. The labor groups say that workers in some of America’s most dangerous industries, such as meatpacking, poultry and construction, and low-wage and immigrant workers are being forced by their employers to pay for their own safety gear because of OSHA’s failure to finish the PPE rule.

The labor unions call the eight-year delay “egregious,” and they are asking the court to force OSHA to act. The suit asks the court to issue an order directing the Secretary of Labor to complete the PPE rule within 60 days of the court’s order.

Do You Need an Umbrella? Here Are Some Things to Consider

Standard auto, homeowner’s and boat insurance policies cover liability a person may have for injuries or property damage suffered by someone else. Insurance companies design them to cover accidents for which the insured person may owe tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, sometimes the person may be responsible for an accident so catastrophic that the damages are $1,000,000 or more. To cover financially devastating events like these, insurance companies offer personal umbrella policies. These policies provide additional protection when an accident uses up the amounts of insurance provided by the other policies. They may also cover some types of losses these other policies do not cover.

There is not a “standard” umbrella policy; each company’s offering will be different. Therefore, it helps to have a checklist of considerations when evaluating a policy.

First, identify those things that could expose you to a catastrophic loss. How many cars do you own? Do you have inexperienced drivers in your household? Household attractions like swimming pools, trampolines, and swing-sets present an exposure to severe losses. Boats, like cars, can cause serious injuries and damage if the operators are inattentive, intoxicated, or inexperienced.

Next, identify other exposures you may have that do not involve potential physical injury or illness or property damage or that might require different coverage. Do you or any members of your family participate in social media Web sites or online discussion forums? Does anyone coach a youth sports team, belong to the governing board of a non-profit organization, write computer code as a hobby, or give music lessons? These activities present different exposures to legal liability.

Review your insurance policies. How much will your auto insurance pay for injuries to one other person? How much will it pay collectively for injuries to more than one? How much will it pay for property damage? How much will your homeowners policy pay for your personal liability for an accident? Does it cover any business activities? Does it cover family members accused of slander, libel, or defamation of character in online postings? Does it cover you for allegedly causing mental anguish to a kid who didn’t get much playing time on a team you coached, or trouble caused by a computer program you wrote? How much will your boat-owners policy pay for your liability for boating accidents? The answers to these questions will tell you where an umbrella policy can help.

For example, if your auto policy will pay up to $250,000 for injuries to one person and $500,000 for injuries to multiple people, an umbrella with a $1,000,000 limit will give you insurance equaling $1,500,000 for injuries to two or more people. If your homeowners policy will pay up to $300,000 for your liability, the same umbrella will afford $1,300,000 if someone gets seriously hurt at your home. The umbrella limit of insurance also applies on top of the limit on the boat policy.

In addition, the umbrella may cover things like volunteer activities, statements made online, and certain business activities that a homeowner’s or auto policy might not cover. Normally, the insurance company will require you to pay a deductible amount (such as $250 or $500) before it will pay for a loss that one of these other policies does not cover.

A professional insurance agent can help you sort out what your current insurance does and does not cover and what additional coverages an umbrella will provide. It is important to compare all the coverages the policies provide and not just their prices. Fortunately, catastrophic accidents are extremely rare, but having an umbrella policy when they happen can make it easier to get through them.