(Adapted from a February 23, 2019 presentation by Steve Modica for an educational program sponsored by the New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations of Cornell University)
You probably know someone who has been touched by the opioid crisis. I do.
I participated in a program for Union leaders sponsored by the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Here’s some of what I discussed.
CIVIL RIGHTS LAWS
Laws that prohibit unlawful discrimination—and laws that guarantee job-protected leave—can help members affected by the opioid crisis.
Employers may not discriminate against an employee if they are motivated by the employee’s membership in a protected class. Disability is a protected class and can apply to members who are addicted to opioids.
Disability discrimination laws protect members who: (1) have successfully completed a supervised drug rehabilitation program OR otherwise have been successfully rehabilitated AND are NOT currently using illegal drugs; and (2) are in a supervised drug rehabilitation program AND are NOT currently using illegal drugs.
Members whose rights have been violated can file a charge of discrimination with the New York State Division of Human Rights for FREE.
Family & Medical Leave Act [“FMLA”]
Members may be protected by the FMLA if they need time off from work due to their opioid addiction or the addiction of a loved one. Opioid abuse is a “serious health condition” (a reason entitling the member to FMLA) if it involves inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider. An eligible member gets up to 12 weeks of job-protected (but unpaid) leave.
Members whose rights have been violated can file a complaint with the United States Department of Labor for FREE. Alternatively, members can sue in federal court.
EMPLOYEE BENEFIT PROGRAMS
Employee benefit programs can help members affected by the opioid crisis.
New York Paid Family Leave Law [“NYPFL”]
Members may be protected by the NYPFL if they need time off from work due to the opioid addiction of a loved one (but NOT for themselves). In 2019, an eligible member gets up to 10 weeks of job-protected leave paid at 55% of their average weekly wage but NOT more than $746.41/week.
Members whose rights have been violated can file a complaint with the New York Workers’ Compensation Board for FREE.
Short Term Disability [“STD”]
Most employers in New York are required to provide STD insurance benefits to members. Members who are unable to work due to an injury or sickness that does NOT arise out of employment are entitled to up to 26 weeks of STD benefits (paid at 50% of their average weekly wage but NOT more than $170/week).
Opioid abuse should qualify for STD so long as the member is under the care of a duly licensed physician or a duly registered and licensed psychologist
Workers’ Compensation [“WC”]
Members who are injured at work are entitled to lost income benefits (paid at two-thirds of their average weekly wage up to a maximum benefit amount) and medical treatment through the WC system. Some members who have suffered serious workplace injuries have become addicted to opioids.
Opioid abuse resulting from treatment of a workplace accident can be a covered “consequential condition” and, if so, treatment is free to the member. If a member is injured solely from using drugs or alcohol, however, they are NOT entitled to WC benefits.
Social Security Disability [“SSD”]
Members who have been (or who expect to be) unable to work due to opioid addiction for one year or more may be eligible for SSD benefits. A person who could work but for their opioid addition is NOT entitled to SSD. In my experience, however, most people who abuse drugs/alcohol have an underlying disability (most often a mental impairment).
HOW UNIONS CAN HELP
- Negotiate language that mandates treatment for a member addicted to opioids instead of immediate termination or other harsh disciplinary action.
- Negotiate for employee assistance programs that help members impacted by opioid abuse.
- Partner with employers, other unions and the community to educate and provide services to members and apprentices impacted by opioid abuse. This could include union led addiction programs, peer advocacy training for addiction recovery, courses about substance abuse, etc.
- Get trained on how to use Narcan and secure it for use in the workplace and at union meetings. The Monroe County Department of Public Health provides Opioid Overdose Prevention Training, typically on the 4th Wednesday of the month, in the morning and evening. Training is open to all who are interested and there is no cost. Learn more at https://www.monroecounty.gov/opioids/narcan.php
Thank you for all that you are doing to stem this awful crisis.
Tis the season of thanks. Modica Law Firm and I have MANY reasons to be thankful. Before I explain why, here are my two favorite quotes about appreciation (a close relative of thankful):
“We are so often caught up in our destination that we forget to appreciate the journey, especially the goodness of the people we meet on the way. Appreciation is a wonderful feeling, don’t overlook it.”
“Appreciation is like an insurance policy. It has to be renewed every now and then.”
We are blessed by MANY good people who are part of our daily journey. Thanksgiving is an excellent opportunity to renew our appreciation for them. Here are ten of them:
Thanks to Labor News readers. We don’t communicate often, however, I feel your love. I sincerely hope that you read these columns and that they are helpful.
Thanks to Labor News editor Matt Hynes and his staff. You are an important voice for labor in Rochester. I am glad to support you as an advertiser. I thank you for the opportunity to write this column and share our expertise.
Thanks to Union leaders who trust us to serve their members. For more than 23 years, union leaders have trusted Modica Law Firm to serve people they care about deeply—their union brothers and sisters. They hold us to a very high standard. They want us to treat their union brothers and sisters like they are our siblings. We have done that consistently since we opened our doors on November 1, 1995.
Thanks to Union Members who trust us to represent them. We are nothing without you. My family, and the families of all on our team, owe you a great debt of gratitude for allowing us to serve you. We have fed our families and educated our children because of your labor and because you trusted us to help you.
Thanks to our team at Modica Law Firm. We are blessed with a compassionate, empathetic, dedicated and a highly professional team who believes in the Golden Rule (we treat our clients like we would want to be treated). We are thrilled each time we lessen the burden of a union member troubled by an accident, injury, illness or employment problem.
Thanks to the family members of the Modica Law Firm team. Your loved ones work very hard. Thank you for supporting them in this important work.
Thanks to Union leaders who are considering recommending us to their members. Talk to your fellow union leaders about us. They will tell you that they refer union members to us because they know that they will be served professionally and honestly.
Thanks to our Judges. The men and women who decide Workers’ Compensation, Social Security Disability, personal injury and employment cases are honest, work hard and do their best to “get it right.” I wish that they agreed with us 100% of the time, however, I respect them greatly.
Thanks to lawyers on the other side of our cases. We know you have a job to do. Thank you for understanding that we too have a job to do. Thank you respecting us and our clients. Thanks too for referring folks to us that you cannot serve.
Thanks to my family and Brad Kammholz. I am blessed to have a wonderful wife and daughter who do more for me than I can express. My wife Lorrie runs the “day to day” operations of Modica Law Firm, freeing me up to practice law. My close friend and colleague (Brad Kammholz) partners with us in personal injury cases and has produced tremendous results for our clients. I am proud to work with him.
Take a moment to appreciate the many blessings in your life. I hope that you are as fortunate as me.