Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

More workers are testing positive for marijuana — here’s why

An industrial warehouse employee smoking marijuana

As more and more states legalize recreational marijuana, businesses are becoming more comfortable hiring and keeping workers who are regular cannabis users. In states where marijuana is legal, many companies have stopped testing for weed when they drug test new hires.

In a recent The Wall Street Journal article, business owners said that they do not want to turn away talent just because that person may have smoked marijuana over the weekend.

Also, they noted, marijuana drug tests don’t provide detailed data. Someone who smoked marijuana a month beforehand could still test positive for cannabis. Meanwhile, over the last 5 years, the number of U.S. workers testing positive for marijuana has grown steadily.

Lenient attitudes about its use and easy access to marijuana contribute to a riskier work environment for everyone.

Employees that tested positive for marijuana had 55% more industrial accidents than those who tested negative, according to the National Safety Council.

Marijuana dulls people’s motor skills, slows their reaction time, and messes up their short-term memory. A co-worker trying to do their job under any of these conditions increases the likelihood of a workplace accident.

Your right to a safe workplace

Employers have a responsibility to their employees to provide them with a safe work environment.

As a workers’ compensation firm, the Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl has been hearing from a lot of employees who have been hurt due to the reckless actions of impaired coworkers.

The facts back up what we’re seeing in our local offices in Fall River, Foxborough, and Providence, Rhode Island. Quest Diagnostics, Inc., one of the largest drug-testing labs in the nation, recently reported that of the 7 million drug tests they ran in 2020, about 2.7% came back positive for marijuana. This is up from 2% in 2016.

Going by the numbers alone, there are most likely more people at your work who are high, or possibly muddling through a marijuana hangover, than ever before. Can companies maintain safety standards and allow for marijuana use?

Why some companies stopped testing for marijuana

Now that marijuana is legal in 17 states, and many more have medical cannabis programs, some employers in these and neighboring states have loosened their drug testing policies.

In Massachusetts, marijuana is legal for adult recreational use. In Rhode Island, marijuana is decriminalized and there is a medical marijuana program. Attempts to legalize marijuana in this session — which wraps up at the end of June — seem to have stalled.

Businesses typically drug test employees when they are new hires, as part of random testing programs, or after a workplace accident or suspicion of drug use. Even though marijuana is legal, companies would still be in their right to test for it — they often test for alcohol. The difference between the alcohol and marijuana tests, though, is reliability.

There are currently no fool-proof breath, urine, or blood tests readily available for marijuana that can tell an employer when an employee last used it. Someone who has a positive urine test may have smoked marijuana anywhere between weeks and hours ago. This has made it challenging for companies to enforce anti-drug policies.

Some businesses have stopped testing for marijuana altogether, while others have stopped figuring it into hiring decisions.

Other companies have dropped marijuana tests in an effort to be more attractive employers. The hospitality and restaurant industry, in particular, decided to make room for marijuana. About 6.3% of workers in this industry had tested positive for marijuana in 2020 — the highest rate out of any other business sector.

The difficulty some businesses are having in attracting employees post-pandemic may further encourage companies to drop marijuana testing.

Marijuana increases the risk of work accidents

Not all employers, however, are so mellow about marijuana. In industries where heavy equipment is used, like construction and transportation, many employers are maintaining strict anti-marijuana drug policies.

This effort shouldn’t be restricted to big rigs and building, though. An impaired worker can cause a careless accident in a restaurant just as easily as they can in a warehouse.

Employees who test positive for marijuana had 85% more injuries and 75% greater absenteeism compared to those who tested negative, the NCS said. They’re also less productive and cause more accidents.

Strong anti-drug policies

Just because it is difficult to pinpoint when someone last used marijuana — possibly on the job, right before going into work, or suffering a weed hangover — does not mean employers should stop testing for it. Strong zero-tolerance workplace drug policies lead to safer jobs.

A good drug policy should include manager education, access to support for employees with drug problems, clearly defined use and possession parameters, established rules for post-accident testing, and rules on how you will handle an employee’s conviction or arrest. The policy has to be clearly written to reduce the risk of legal challenges.

Personal attention for injured workers

People who work high pose risks to their fellow co-workers. Employers should not tolerate marijuana use at work and educate workers about the dangers of using marijuana while on the clock — or right before getting to work.

If you were injured while on the job, you have the right to pursue workers’ compensation benefits to cover the cost of your medical expenses and your lost wages.

Depending on the specific details of your case, you may also be eligible to file a third-party injury claim. The key is talking to an attorney as soon as possible to figure out all your available options.

For workers’ compensation cases, not understanding how to navigate the system and missing an important deadline may result in your claim being denied.

With so much on the line, people injured on the job should consult with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer who knows how to fight for the benefits you’re entitled to.

At the Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl, we know the workers’ compensation system inside and out. We have been helping injured workers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island for years, and we would be honored to help you get back on your feet.

If you or someone you love was recently injured on the job, contact our law firm for a free case consultation. We will talk with you about the details of your injury and help you weigh your legal options.

Call or email us today to learn more about your rights.

Dec 2016

Is a Toy Maker Responsible for Preventing Holiday Accidents This Holiday Season?

Massachusetts personal injury

Pick up the doll

Any parent of a young child knows which toys top their holiday gift wish list. But not every toy turns out to be a fun thing for kids to play with. Toys can present unexpected risks. They can be defective and dangerous. When a problem with a toy arises, a child could be seriously hurt or even killed. If a child is harmed as a result of a defective toy, it is possible the toy manufacturer could be held accountable for the consequences of the incident.

Is a Toy Maker Responsible for the Prevention of Holiday Accidents?

Toy manufacturers, like the manufacturers of any product, are expected to release only safe products to the public. There are especially rigorous standards for the production of toys because children will be playing with these items.

In addition to making certain children’s toys are as safe as possible, manufacturers of kids’ toys also have an obligation to make certain that parents are warned if toys have inherent risks. For example, if a toy comes with any small parts that could present a choking hazard to a small child, the toy manufacturer should provide a warning about the choking risk.

If a toy manufacturer releases an unsafe or defective toy to the public, or fails to provide appropriate warning to parents who purchased the toy for their child, they could potentially be held legally responsible for any harm that occurred due to the toy maker’s failures.

It would be up to parents to prove the toy company either released a defective product or negligently failed to issue a warning about the toy’s risks. If the parents pursue a claim against the toy company due to a defect in the product, parents do not need to prove negligence in order to be able to hold the toy company accountable for damages. However, whether parents claim a defect or a failure to warn about risks,  parents do have to demonstrate that the child was harmed in some way by the incident.

The problems caused by dangerous and defective toys are not insubstantial. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warns that a total of 254,200 toy-related injuries occurred in 2015 that warranted emergency room treatment in U.S. hospitals over the course of the year.

Since the holiday season is prime time for new toys to be introduced into the home, it becomes essential for parents to be vigilant about what their kids are playing with so those children do not get hurt or even killed by a toy with a defect. Ultimately, it is the manufacturer’s responsibility to keep kids safe, but parents can do their part too to help prevent dangers, including checking the CPSC website regularly to determine if there were any recalls or warnings released about new toys which may end up in the hands of kids over the course of the holiday season.

Sep 2015

Why Social Security Disability Applications Go Up In a Bad Economy

Massachusetts workers' compensation attorneyRecently, an article on criticized the Social Security Disability (SSD) program. The article argued there is a “lucrative” industry dedicated to helping people get benefits who do not deserve them. The article was full of myths and misconceptions that are common among those who want to attack the Social Security Disability system.

As funding for Social Security Disability benefits is expected to run short in 2016, leading to a 20 percent benefits cut if politicians do not act, it is now more important than ever to push back at some of the common myths used to try to justify cutting benefits to people who need them the most.

Why Do Social Security Disability Applications Go Up When the Economy is Bad? 

One of the most pervasive misconceptions used to attack to the Social Security Disability system is the idea that people use SSD as an alternative to unemployment or welfare benefits, even when they don’t really need it.  Reason succinctly summarized this common argument, stating: “The statistics show large increases in applications for disability benefits when the economy is struggling and unemployment is rising but fewer applications when the situation is reversed. Given that people obviously don’t become more or less disabled depending on how the economy is performing, it means that people are using the program as a form of unemployment insurance.”

Arguments like this ignore one very important fact: most people who are disabled would like to work, but employers are less likely to hire them in positions they can do when the unemployment rate is high.

In a bad economy, everyone has difficulty finding jobs. The disabled, who have work limitations and who are thus restricted in the type of work they can do, are going to have an almost impossible time finding work. The fact the disability benefits rate goes down when the economy gets better actually supports the theory that people are only on disability when they truly do need it.  As soon as jobs become available they can do with their condition, they apply for them and try to get out off of the benefits program.

People with disabilities struggle to find work in even a good economy. The unemployment rate in the United States is now at its lowest level in years, but the Department of Labor reports the jobless rate for Americans with disabilities is still at 10.2 in September (down just a tiny bit from 10.4 when data was released in August).  The number of disabled individuals in the labor force all declined, with more people dropping out or no longer looking for work.  When things are this difficult in a good economy, it is no surprise the disabled will struggle more when jobs are scarce.

Qualifying for disability benefits remains difficult and the definition of disabled is strict. There is no evidence to suggest people are taking advantage of the program and a misunderstanding of statistics should not be used as justification to reduce benefits or fail to support this important program.

Aug 2015

Providence Workers Watch for SSD “Reforms” That Could Slash Benefits

Massachusetts workers' compensation attorneyBy the fourth quarter of 2016, the Social Security Disability trust fund is going to hit a budget shortfall. This trust fund is separate from the retirement benefits trust fund and the money within it provides benefits to almost 11 million disabled people throughout the United States. Those who receive disability benefits depend upon the income from the trust fund. Unfortunately, if something is not done, the shortfall will leave only enough to pay about 80 percent of current benefits. This means a 20 percent benefits cut, through no fault of those who are counting on SSD for income.

The Washington Post reports both Democrats and Republicans are in agreement that such a benefit cut would be damaging and arbitrary and must be avoided. The problem, however, is there is no consensus on how to avoid benefit cuts to the disabled who depend upon SSD for income. While some argue for a simple reallocation of funds from the retirement trust fund to the disability trust fund, there are many other loud voices calling for reforms to SSD (and possibly even to the Social Security program as a whole).

A Social Security Disability lawyer knows far too often when politicians attempt to reform programs, it ends up meaning benefit cuts occur and the vulnerable are harmed as a result. As the debate rages regarding what steps to take to prevent the 20 percent benefit cut which could come at the end of 2016, the disabled advocates will need to watch carefully and object vocally to any indication of cuts to the SSD program harming those who depend upon it.

SSD Reforms Create Risk of Benefit Cuts

Back in 1983, substantive changes were made to the Social Security system because the trust fund was expected to run out of money that year. These changes were influenced by a committee created in the 1980’s. The changes included raising the payroll tax, but also doing things like raising the retirement age and imposing a partial tax on Social Security benefits. In other words, the people who were depending upon Social Security ended up losing out and paying the price for budget shortfalls.

There is danger history will repeat itself. Currently, an op-ed in The Hill argues that simply reallocating funds would be a missed opportunity. Instead the program should be reformed.

The McCrery-Pomeroy SSDI Solutions Initiative, an initiative organized by a former republican and former democratic representative with a combined 40-years in Congress, aims to offer lawmakers a series of proposals to help shore up the financially-troubled trust fund. The proposals include things like changing the eligibility rules, which are described as outdated, and changing the adjudication system for appeals.

There is a very real possibility proposed changes could result in less people getting benefits or less benefits being paid out. This would be a tragedy for those depending upon SSD to make their monthly bills and pay their medical costs.

Contact a Providence disability lawyer at the Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl at 508-677-4900 or visit to schedule your free consultation. Serving Coventry, Warwick, Providence and surrounding areas.

Jul 2015

Protecting Providence Healthcare Workers is Essential to Improving Safety

Massachusetts workers' compensation attorneyOver the course of 2013, almost 58,000 workers in hospitals and healthcare settings suffered workplace injuries and illnesses. Workers in the healthcare field have almost twice the chances of being hurt in their workplace compared with other people working in the private sector. A high rate of workplace injuries leads to more workers’ compensation claims, unnecessary costs, reduced productivity, and decreased quality of life.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has recently concluded a three year National Emphasis Program for healthcare workplaces designed to prevent workplace injuries among high-risk workers.  While the program has come to an end, Safety BLR indicates OSHA has announced new guidelines for inspectors who are going into healthcare workplaces to identify safety violations. These guidelines are designed to address the most common issues that make hospital and other healthcare workers sick or injured.

OSHA, unfortunately, does not have enough inspectors to regularly inspect every facility. Employers and employees should be aware of the OSHA areas of focus and should voluntarily take steps to try to prevent the most common injury risks.

OSHA Has New Guidelines for Hospital and Healthcare Workplaces

OSHA has identified five of the most common causes of workplace illness and injury for inspectors to focus on when inspections of health facilities are conducted. These include:

  • Slips, trips, and falls.  Slips, trips, and falls– along with overexertion injuries– are the cause of 69 percent of all reported work injuries necessitating that healthcare workers take days off from work.
  • Overexertion injuries. Approximately half of the injuries that are reported among healthcare workers are caused by overexertion leading to musculoskeletal disorders.  Orderlies, nursing assistants, and personal care aids have a significantly higher rate of overexertion injuries and musculoskeletal damage compared with people in other industries.  Many of these injuries come from lifting patients.  OSHA recommends the use of mechanical lifts in healthcare settings whenever possible.
  • Blood borne pathogens. Needle sticks are a significant risk factor for workplace illness among health workers. OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.1030, designed to prevent exposure to blood borne pathogens is also one of the top most violated standards leading to OSHA citations in healthcare workplaces.
  • Tuberculosis.  Workers in hospital and nursing settings have one of the highest risks of developing TB across employees in all industries.
  • Violence in the workplace.  Over the course of one year, there were 14,440 reported assaults among healthcare and hospital worker. Violence in nursing homes and other healthcare settings has increased for the second year in a row and 16.2 workers are assaulted or victimized by violence for every 10,000 workers in a healthcare setting.

The risk of these injuries and top causes of illness can be reduced if safety precautions are taken. OSHA inspectors are encouraged to ask specific questions when performing inspections in hospital and health settings in order to determine if adequate steps are being taken to reduce injuries. For example, OSHA inspectors should ask if there are training protocols and hazard-prevention systems in place and if anyone has been identified who is in charge of operating these programs.

If adequate steps are taken to protect healthcare workers, hopefully the high rates of injury in this industry can be reduced and the workers who take care of patients can be safer in their professions.

May 2015

Providence Work Safety in Focus for North American Occupational Safety and Health Week

Massachusetts workers' compensation attorneyThe first full week of May was North American Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) week. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) suggests that NAOSH week is an “excellent opportunity to focus, reinforce, and strengthen commitment to occupational safety and health.” Of course we shouldn’t stop there. Employers and employees throughout Coventry, Warwick, Providence and surrounding areas should focus on safety as the long summer months begin.

An experienced workers’ compensation lawyer knows it costs far less to prevent work-related illnesses and injuries than it does to correct and treat them. While employees should have costs covered by workers’ compensation insurance if they suffer an injury in the workplace, it can be difficult to get an insurer to pay the full amount of benefits necessary, and some legitimate claims for benefits are denied. Preventing work injuries is preferable for both employers and workers and NAOSH week is an ideal time to focus on some of the different steps that can be taken to make workplaces safer.

Preventing Workplace Injuries with a Focus on Safety

HHS suggests that participation in NAOSH week can:

  • Improve attitudes about workplace safety
  • Increase understanding of how important occupational safety and health is to workers and employers
  • Foster a culture that is safety-minded
  • Prompt more cooperation between employers and employees
  • Make employers and employees more aware of issues affecting occupational safety

Both employers and employees generally consider workplace safety to be a very important issue. A total of 85 percent of al workers indicate that worker safety standards are the single most important labor standards. Worker safety standards rank higher in importance among workers surveyed than other issues like minimum wage, family leave, maternity leave, paid overtime, paid sick days and the right to become a part of a union.

Employers also understand the importance of workplace safety for maintaining worker morale, keeping employees motivated, and preventing costly work injury claims. Workers who feel confident in their safety are more productive and do a better job for their employers.

Despite the fact that worker safety is a high priority for both employers and employees, a number of conditions may exist in workplaces that can contribute to a higher risk of workplace injuries. These include:

  • Poor lighting in the work environment.
  • Poor environmental hygiene in the workplace
  • Missing guard rails on walkways or other missing protective elements or protective gear designed to prevent accidents
  • Misused equipment due to lack of training
  • Poorly maintained equipment
  • An absence of safety protocols and training procedures
  • Safety procedures and protocols that are confusing and unclear to workers
  • Walking surfaces that are slippery, not properly maintained, or otherwise unsafe.

NAOSH week ran for the first full week in May and thousands of individuals and organizations participated in an effort to draw attention to these and other safety issues. While events like worker safety week are important to raising awareness of top safety issues, employers and employees should make a strong commitment to workplace safety that lasts throughout the entire year.

Contact a Providence injury lawyer at the Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl at 508-677-4900 or visit to schedule your free consultation. Serving Coventry, Warwick, Providence and surrounding areas.

Drivers in Rhode Island: Who’s More Likely to Text and Drive?

Massachusetts car accident attorneysIt’s no secret that texting and driving has become a major concern in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and across the United States. As the number of smartphone users and texting accidents has risen in recent years, so have educational efforts designed to teach teens and high school students not to engage in these dangerous behaviors. Recent studies, however, indicate that these anti-distracted driving programs may be better aimed at older drivers who admitted to texting while driving more often than teenage drivers.

Our experienced car accident lawyers in Providence know that texting while driving is a dangerous habit for all drivers. No matter your age or driving experience, it’s important to remember to put your phone away while driving and not to send texts, post photos, or visit your favorite social media sites while behind the wheel.

Adults more likely to text while driving than teens

A recent study published by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety suggests that young adults – namely drivers age 19-24 and 25-39 – are significantly more likely to text and drive than teenage drivers. The AAA study revealed the following information:

  • Of drivers aged 16-18, a total of 58 reported cell phone use while driving. Twenty percent of teens in this age group said they used the phone fairly often. Thirty-one percent reported having sent a text or email while driving and 7 percent regularly send texts while driving.
  • A total of 72 percent of drivers age 19-24 said they used the phone while driving, and 27 percent reported using their phone fairly often. Forty-two percent reported texting while driving and 11 percent said they text and drive regularly.
  • Eighty-two percent of drivers aged 25-39 reported using their phone and nearly half – 42 percent – reported doing so fairly often. Of the drivers surveyed, 45 percent admitted to having sent or received texts while driving and 10 percent said they do it frequently.
  • Among drivers aged 40-59, seventy-two percent reported using the phone while driving, with only 30 percent reporting as doing so on a regular basis. Drivers age 40-59 were also more likely to text, at 24 percent, and even less likely, at two percent, to text on a regular basis.
  • Just over half – 51 percent – of drivers aged 60-74 reported using their phone while driving and only 15 percent reported doing so regularly. Only seven percent had sent a text while driving and one percent reported as doing so regularly.
  • Among drivers aged 60-74, 51 percent said they use the phone while driving and 15 percent said they do so regularly. In this age group, seven percent had sent a text behind the wheel and one percent did so routinely.
  • Thirty-one percent of drivers aged 75 and older reported using the phone while driving, but only seven percent do so regularly. Among drivers aged 75 and older, only one percent report either sending a text ever or sending a text regularly.

What this data suggests is that drivers with a little more experience behind-the-wheel might be more likely to text while driving. In the event of a texting-related car crash, though, it’s important for these drivers to remember that their experience won’t matter to an accident victim, their car accident lawyer, or law enforcement officials.

Car accident lawyers in Providence can help if you have been injured in an accident with a texting driver. Contact the Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl at (508) 677-4900 for a free case consultation

Nov 2013

Qualifying for Disability Benefits When You Are Depressed

Massachusetts attorneysThe Social Security Disability system is designed to protect people who cannot work because they suffer from an illness, injury or impairment.  Anyone who has a long-term condition that impacts him in such a way that work is impossible should qualify for SSD benefits. This includes people with mental illnesses.

Unfortunately, an experienced Social Security lawyer in Fall River knows that qualifying for disability benefits can be very difficult, especially on the basis of a mental health condition.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a very strict definition of what it means to be disabled, and the SSA also reviews applications very thoroughly to help ensure that no fraudulent benefits claims are approved. This can result in many people with legitimate claims not receiving benefits, especially with mental health conditions that may be harder to diagnose and that may not provide patients with objective proof of their impairments.

One type of disability that many people experience is depression. Those who are severely depressed and who cannot hold down a job as a result should be entitled to receive either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Unfortunately, many depressed individuals have their benefits claims denied.

Depression and Social Security Disability

Concerns about depressed patients being denied SSD benefits are very pertinent because depression has become a leading cause of disability. According to a recent article from Fox News, research has now revealed that depression is the “second leading cause of the global disability burden.” The research comes from a new study conducted by the Queensland Center for Mental Health, which is part of the University of Queensland in Australia.

This Australian study revealed not only that depression is common, but also that it can affect individuals of any age. In fact, signs of depression have even been identified in kids who are just three years old.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has also taken steps to measure the global burdens of depression. According to the WHO, about four percent of the world’s population – or 350 million people -are depressed. Individuals in Central and Southern Asia, Central America and Afghanistan have some of the highest rates of depression.

For patients in the United States who are depressed and who cannot work as a result, it is important to understand the SSA’s requirements for obtaining disability benefits. The SSA lists different disabling conditions that can qualify an applicant for benefits on a Listing of Impairments, which is also called The Blue Book.  Depression among adults is addressed in section 12.04 of Part A (Adult Impairments).

According to the relevant section, an individual who is depressed may be eligible to receive SSDI or SSI benefits provided:

  • The depression causes disinterest in activities, a lack of energy, and problems concentrating, sleeping or eating.
  • The depression makes it difficult to perform routine activities of daily living (ADL).
  • The depression interferes with normal social function.
  • Decompensation occurs (repeated, lengthy periods where your symptoms get worse).

You will need clear medical proof that you meet the relevant criteria in order to qualify for disability benefits based on depression.

Social Security lawyers in Fall River can help if you are applying for disability benefits. Contact the Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl at (508) 677-4900 for a free case consultation