Jul 2017

Exceptions to Rhode Island’s Workers’ Comp Coming-and-Going Rule

The “coming and going” rule in Rhode Island workers’ compensation cases is one that typically most impacts commuting employees. These are the workers who are coming and going to their place of employment and are injured during the commute.

Updating his delivery status

As our Rhode Island workers’ compensation attorneys can explain, injuries are generally only compensable by a workers’ compensation insurer if the injury:

  • Occurred in the course of one’s employment;
  • Arose out of the scope of one’s employment.

What that means is that there is some proximity link (by time, distance or circumstance) and that it there is a causal link between one’s work and the injury. The “coming and going” rule has generally held that a worker who is commuting back and forth to work is not considered to be acting in the scope of employment.

However, as our attorneys can explain, this is not an absolute rule, and Rhode Island courts have carved out many exceptions.

Rhode Island Exceptions to the “Coming and Going” Rule

Courts in Rhode Island have been confronted with this issue numerous times, and have made many exceptions for workers asserting claim to workers’ compensation benefits despite their commuting at the time of injury.

Courts will often consider whether:

  • You were being paid for your time at the time of injury.
  • Employer was benefiting from your actions at the time of the injury.
  • You were in a company vehicle.

None of these single factors will be the sole decider, and courts will often take into consideration the totality of the circumstances.

One example of an exception was the 1995 Rhode Island Supreme Court ruling in the matter of Toolin v. Aquidneck Island Medical Resource. According to court records, plaintiff was employed as a nursing assistant for a medical company, with duties involving providing care for patients in their homes.

Each week, plaintiff received a new schedule of her assignments for the week, each time at different locations. Employee would then drive directly to these sites, which were patient homes. She wasn’t paid for her time or commute expenses. One day in 1991, plaintiff left one patient’s home and was en route to the next one when she was involved in a serious car accident that rendered her totally incapacitated.

Plaintiff sought workers’ compensation coverage, but was denied by the insurer as well as by a trial judge, who ruled her injuries did not occur in the scope of employment, as she was commuting.

The appellate division reversed, finding that because commuting was part of plaintiff’s job, her injuries did in fact occur in the scope of employment and arose out of it, thus rendering her eligible for benefits. Her employer appealed, arguing the coming-and-going rule in Rhode Island barred her from receiving benefits. The state supreme court, however, affirmed, finding there was sufficient evidence of a nexus between her injuries and employment.

Fighting for Your Workers’ Comp Benefits

At the time of that 1995 ruling, it was an issue of first impression for the court. But in the more than two decades since, many other cases have followed suit.

If you are injured during your work commute in Rhode Island, our workers’ compensation attorneys may be able to help.

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Jun 2017

Could Soap Cause Toxic Chemical Exposure At Work?

Soap BarCareful reading of food labels to become aware of any processed sweets, preservatives or other chemicals has become second nature for many of us. However, few of us have been reading our soap labels. Maybe we should start.

As reported by Occupational Health & Safety, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that up to 40 percent of workers will suffer from some form of occupational dermatitis at some point, and it often can be traced back to industrial soap.

Although dermatitis, a temporary skin condition characterized by irritation, redness and itching, may not seem serious, it is known to account for a noteworthy number of workers’ compensation claims. As noted in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a single claim for workplace illness due to dermatitis can cost $3,500 in workers’ compensation claims, with an average length of disability of 24 days.

Industrial Soap as a Toxic Exposure risk

Soap is supposed to be one of the substances at work that keeps us safe. It helps prevent the spread of germs and disease, particularly for restaurant and food preparation workers. It can minimize the risk of infections within the health care industry, when handling garbage, after handling animals/ pets or after using the restroom/ handling personal hygiene.

However, it appears the soaps often used can be hazardous.

OHS reports industrial hand soap often contains a type of ingredient called petroleum distillates. These are produced from crude oil, and include certain minerals such as kerosene, and naphtha. These are made with oil refineries alongside heating oil, chemical feedstocks and fuel for motor vehicles.

Exposure to these chemicals in the short term may well cause irritation of the skin. However, over time, long-term exposure could put you at risk of dermatitis, which is characterized by cracking, dry and painful skin. It can take weeks to recover.

Carcinogens in Soap

Another possible risk exposure to carcinogens, which may contaminate petroleum distillates. These chemicals may seep through into the skin, and may result in someone suffering potentially harmful levels of these toxins. In some parts of the world, these ingredients are fully banned due to the amount of safety concerns surrounding them. But they are used widely throughout the United States.

These aren’t the only problems

Additional hazards can arise when soap is made with gritty materials to help remove substances like dirt and oil. Some soaps use products like pumice (a type of rough volcanic glass) to do the job. We see it used frequently in occupations such as housekeeping, beauty salons and construction.

While it works to remove the grime, it can cause microabrasions in the skin that can result in skin removal.

Dermatitis Workers’ Compensation

While dermatitis may not seem serious in the grand scheme of work-related injuries, our Providence workers’ compensation lawyers know it can be debilitating in some cases.

One study in the Journal of Allergy examined return-to-work outcomes of 70 workers diagnosed with occupational contact dermatitis. They were tracked for six months, after which time 38 percent were still not working, almost entirely owing to their skin condition. Further, of the 62 percent that had returned to work, nearly a third had changed jobs due to the adverse effects of the skin condition.

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May 2017

Securing Workers’ Compensation for Massachusetts Nurses an Uphill Battle

The risk of work-related injuries faced by nurses often fails to make headlines, despite them standing at a higher risk of workplace injury than construction workers. In a recent incident at Bridgewater State Hospital, a nurse was seriously injured recently when a patient reportedly punched and knocked her to the ground before beginning to kick her.

South Coast Today reports the nurse was attacked from behind, making this a particularly vicious attack where she could not properly defend herself. Though she did manage to get away and call for help from security, she still suffered serious injuries to her head and knees. Three corrections officers who responded to the scene also were injured and required medical attention.nurse work injury

Although this dramatic incident made statewide headlines, the risk of work-related injury posed to nurses across the country often does not. Nurses in all sorts of professional settings are at risk of a variety of job site injuries. Nonetheless, it can be difficult to secure workers’ compensation benefits in Massachusetts.

The risks of a hostile patient are just one thing to worry about when it comes to nurses being injured in the line of duty. A 2015 report by WGBH 89.7 revealed that anywhere from one-third to two-thirds of healthcare workers suffer musculoskeletal ailments. These include shoulder, back and neck injuries. Although safety guidelines limit the weight nurses should lift to 50 pounds, many nurses still need to lift other adult humans, and that puts significant strain on their backs.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates more than 2,800 healthcare workers employed in private hospitals in the Commonwealth missed work for some period of time in 2014 due to a musculoskeletal injury. Also at risk were orderlies and aides, who were deemed four times more likely to miss work due to this type of injury than the average worker in the state.

State-of-the-art mechanical lifts are supposed to ease these burdens and reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries. However, these devices cost approximately $2 million each, and not all facilities have them, or have enough of them, which leaves them having to resort to human labor.

The WGBH report revealed that in facilities that regularly used the lifts, there was an approximate 40 percent reduction with patient handling injuries. The Massachusetts Nurses Association has been lobbying for a state law that would require hospitals to adopt patient lifting protocol that would specifically include the lifts.

As of that 2015 report, one-third of hospitals lacked a protocol for safe patient handling and two-thirds of intensive care units don’t have lifts.

As far as how many nurses are still suffering injuries, it is somewhat difficult to ascertain because, as NPR’s Injured Nurses Investigation revealed, most hospitals do not make their employee injury statistics public. This poses a difficulty in being able to compare from region-to-region or state-to-state. However, we do know that many hospitals have been struggling with stagnating or falling revenues combined with rising costs. They are still turning a profit, of course, but the fact that these margins aren’t higher has meant many facilities are looking to cut corners, putting workers’ safety at risk.

Our Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyers know that nurses, as caregivers, deserve to have that care returned when they are injured on-the-job. Such claims may not be simple, but they are often successful with the help of an experienced attorney. If you or a loved one have been injured on the job, you need to seek help. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.

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Apr 2017

Rhode Island Roofers and Waterproofers Face Risks of On-the-Job Injury

Roofers and waterproofers have physically demanding jobs and are often exposed to the hazardous elements. Their professions require them to work in all sorts of weather conditions and their work may be performed at high elevations, or with a variety of dangerous industrial chemicals.

Roofing Accident Attorney Rhode IslandLike most in the construction business, roofers and waterproofers face a disproportionately high risk of being hurt or killed at work. If injured while acting in the course or scope of employment, that worker may be entitled to workers’ comp benefits. In the event of a work-related death, family may be entitled to benefits as well.

These benefits can provide coverage for treating all medical conditions associated with the injuries sustained while doing roofing work or waterproofing work. Disability income is also available when injuries temporarily or permanently impact a workers’ ability to do the job. These benefits can be very important to avoiding financial loss, so any roofer or waterproofer who is injured should strongly consider talking with a workers’ compensation lawyer to understand and protect their rights.

Additionally, a lawyer may help the worker assert third-party liability in the event a non-employer on the construction site was negligent in causing the accident or contributing to the extent of one’s injuries. These third-party liability claims are not limited to lost income and coverage of medical bills the way workers’ compensation claims are. In a third-party liability lawsuit, a worker can claim non-economic damages, including those for pain and suffering.

Risks to Roofers and Waterproofers of Getting Hurt at Work

Research published by PubMed took a close look at proportionate mortality among roofers and waterproofers who are union members. The research was designed to determine if employees within these professions faced a proportionately greater risk of death than others of the same gender and demographic groups who were not working in roofing or waterproofing.

The researchers considered the toxins to which roofers were exposed that could make them sick, including asbestos and fiberglass when old roofs are being replaced and bitumen like asphalt and coal tar pitch. Researchers also considered common causes of physical injuries which could occur while a worker was on the job.

Unfortunately, a statistically significant increased mortality rate for unionized roofers and waterproofers was found for all different types of illnesses and injuries which were included in the research.

Roofers faced a much greater risk of death due to falls than other people in their same age group in other professions. They were also found to experience higher rates of lung and esophageal cancer and higher rates of cancer of the larynx.

Waterproofers and roofers were also at greater risk of non-malignant respiratory diseases as compared with people in the same demographic group in other professions.

While safe worksites can help to minimize these undesirable outcomes, the fact remains that far too many workers are putting their lives on the line in dangerous jobs. If a job does turn out to be high-risk and you are harmed as a result, you need to talk with an experienced attorney to understand your options for obtaining workers’ compensation benefits.

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Mar 2017

What Happens When a Rhode Island Independent Contractor Suffers a Workplace Injury?

The Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training makes it clear that independent contractors who get hurt on-the-job aren’t entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits. This is true even when the injury they suffered clearly occurred in the course and scope of their work duties. workers' compensation for independent contractors

Not being able to obtain workers’ compensation benefits means that independent contractors are deprived of very important workplace protections. Workers’ comp ensures the payment of medical expenditures for an illness or for an injury that occurs due to work tasks. The benefits available through workers’ comp can be obtained by reporting a work injury. There is generally no need to file a lawsuit and there is no need to prove an employer did anything wrong to get benefits.

For an independent contractor, these automatic benefits won’t be available after the contractor is harmed while doing work, which means the contractor could struggle to pay the bills. There are circumstances in which independent contractors may be able to recover damages for work injuries, but they’d have to go through the process of filing a personal injury claim and proving liability. This would mean showing that the defendant breached some legal duty and caused the damages due to the breach.

While this is a major downside of working as an independent contractor, it is important to know that Rhode Island has very strict laws for who can be an independent contractor. If those laws were not followed and a company hired you do to do work, it’s possible the employer could actually be responsible for providing workers’ comp coverage. There are also circumstances where people who work for themselves will be eligible to purchase workers’ comp coverage and will choose to buy it so they are protected if an injury happens.

The Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training explains the rules for workers’ comp for independent contractors. According to the department, independent contractors are “exempt from the RI Workers’ Compensation Act and are not eligible to collect benefits. For purposes of workers’ compensation, domestic employees, independent contractors, sole proprietors and partners are exempt.”

As of January 1, 2001, independent contractors are required to file a specific form, called a Notice of Designation as Independent Contractor (DWC-11-IC) form, with the Department of Labor and Training (DLT).

Rhode Island law also makes clear that just because you and your employer may believe you are an independent contractor, this isn’t enough to always make you fall within this designation.

“An independent contractor is someone who maintains an independent business and is available for hire to provide service to the public,” the Department of Labor and Training outlines.

It doesn’t matter if you and your employer both agree: If you only work for one company and that company controls how you work, you’re likely an employee and should be covered by workers’ comp.

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Feb 2017

Preventing Overexertion Injuries Could Cut Costs & Reduce Harm for Construction Workers

Overexertion is one of the leading causes of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs). WMSDs are a major problem for workers within the construction industry, with a substantial number of employees experiencing this injury each year. According to Fox News, studies showed approximately 18,000 construction workers suffered work-related musculoskeletal disorders in 2014. injured construction worker

This is down from around 55,000 annual WMSDs reported by construction workers in 1992. However, the big decline isn’t just because of safer worksites, but is instead, partly explained by underreporting of WMSDs. In part, the decline is also explained by changes in how injuries are reported to Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Despite the decline in work-related musculoskeletal disorders, this type of injury still accounts for about 25 percent of non-fatal, work-related injuries that affect employees in the construction industry. WMSDs is actually a relatively broad category of injuries, which includes injuries to muscles, joints, and tendons. Overexertion is one of the big ways in which people hurt these parts of their body, although there are also other ways to injure the musculoskeletal system including repetitive motion. If you overexert yourself, such as by lifting more weight than you can, your body systems suffer and you can experience pain and limited mobility.

Many construction workers who overexert themselves, or who otherwise develop WMSDs, will end up with back injuries. Approximately 40 percent of musculoskeletal disorders that happen due to construction tasks are back injuries. When a back injury or any other WMSD happens, workers miss an average of 13 days of work. In 1992, they missed around eight days of work for work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

The costs that come with missed work include loss of productivity for the employer and loss of a paycheck for the injured worker. Annual costs are around $46 million, which is obviously a substantial amount of money. Workers often cannot afford to cover the costs of treatment for injuries and time they are forced to take off from work. Employees should not have to pay for these costs, as workers’ compensation benefits should be available to provide them with disability income and medical coverage. With help from an attorney, an injured worker can make a claim for benefits and should be eligible as long as he can prove his musculoskeletal disorder was caused by doing work tasks.

Prevention of injury is the best way for employers and workers to avoid costs, and preventing injuries can be possible if employers do things like offer proper training on safe lifting or incorporating the use of power equipment to move items instead of relying upon workers to always lift and transport heavy materials. Construction workplaces should be designed as much as possible with a focus on ergonomics in order to try to ensure that construction staff members are able to avoid damaging their musculoskeletal system while they are performing their own duties.

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Jan 2017

Work Accident Risks Rising for Truck Drivers

On I-95 in Rhode Island, a tractor trailer rolled over and WPRI indicated the traffic was slowed or stopped for hours as crews tried to clean up the debris from the truck accident According to initial reports, it was unclear if anyone had sustained injuries in the rollover truck collision. Unfortunately, injuries in these types of crashes are common. truck-4-1478008

Commercial truck drivers spend many hours on the roads and travel many miles. They face a substantial risk of accidental injuries, including fatal injuries. When they are hurt at work, truckers must understand their rights.

Unlike in a traditional motor vehicle accident case, truckers may be entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits either instead of or in addition to other types of available compensation. Accidental injuries of truckers are on the rise, so knowing what to do after a crash is becoming more important than ever for commercial truckers.

Bureau of Labor Statistics came out with a report recently which emphasizes the added dangers of workplace injuries for truckers. Truck drivers are very susceptible to suffering serious or fatal injuries when roadside accident rates rise. Truckers account for around half of the annual workplace injuries that happen in road accidents, which makes sense because their job involves driving almost all of the time.

According to BLS, there was a substantial increase in fatal accidents involving transportation incidents. In 2015, there was a nine percent rise in the number of transportation incidents leading to fatal work injuries. Transportation incidents now account for 26 percent of all workplace deaths that happen over the course of the year, with a good portion of the victims coming from the trucking industry. Out of 1,264 fatal roadway incidents in 2015, a total of 629 involved a driver who was operating a tanker, tractor-trailer, or semi-truck.

Because of the increasing number of roadside incidents, and the disproportionate number of truckers who are hurt in this type of incident, BLS indicates heavy truck drivers and tractor-trailer truck drivers sustained the most fatal injuries of any occupation. A total of 725 fatal injuries were recorded in the trucking field, according to BLS.

Truck accident risks may be rising for several different reasons. One issue is the overall increase in road collisions, which is driven by improvement of economic conditions. There are more people who drive on the roads, and those who drive travel for more miles. This is because both gas prices and unemployment are down. A shortage of qualified truck drivers is also contributing to rising accident risks since companies may hire less experienced truckers and may pressure drivers to do more work than is safe.

If a truck driver gets into an accident while doing his work tasks, he should be covered by workers’ compensation, provided he was an employee of a trucking company or other business. Truckers can make workers’ compensation claims not only for truck accidents they are involved in but also if they are injured in other ways, such as getting hurt while loading or unloading their truck or making a delivery.

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Dec 2016

Delays in Treatment Show Workers’ Comp Insurers Don’t Care About Rhode Island Workers

Workers’ compensation insurers are paid premiums by employers to provide coverage if an employee gets hurt on-the-job. Unfortunately, some of these insurers seem to care more about making money than they do about fulfilling their obligations. Workers who get hurt are suffering greatly because insurers are stretching out the time it takes them to pay for medical care, sometimes even outright denying care that should be covered. backache-1620045

Since insurers are focused only on their bottom line, injured workers need to make sure they have an advocate to help them deal with workers’ comp insurance companies. If you are hurt on-the-job and are struggling to get medical care bills paid for by an insurance company, you need to have a legal advocate on your side.

Workers’ Comp Insurers Causing Unnecessary Delays in Work Injury Treatment 

NBC reported recently on the difficulties that injured workers are having getting their treatments covered by workers’ comp. Workers’ compensation insurance is supposed to pay for all necessary medical care arising out of work injuries.

There are times when care must be approved for it to be paid for. This is an especially big issue for employees who have serious and complex work-related illnesses or injuries or for employees who need ongoing treatment for medical conditions that developed over a long period of time.

Workers are submitting requests to try to get care, and some of these requests either go unanswered for months or end with a denial of legitimate care. According to one survey of physicians who treat workers’ comp patients, more than half said their patients had experienced denials of coverage for care considered medically necessary, including both diagnostic services and actual treatment. A bigger percentage of physicians, 67 percent, said delays and other problems had occurred when trying to get workers’ comp to pay for patient care.

Not only does this practice of delaying and denying end up causing workers to linger in pain, but it can also end up causing workers to get worse. Some workers told NBC about deteriorating body parts due to delays in treatment. Others reported longer recovery periods before they could get back to work. Since ongoing disability benefits have to be paid if it takes longer for an employee to go back to work, insurers are not doing themselves any favors by causing injured employees to have to draw out their recovery period.

Injured employees should get all of the care deemed medically necessary in an efficient and timely manner so they can recover and get back to work. When insurers fail to keep the promise to cover workers that they made by accepting premiums, they should be held accountable by the injured employees whose health is being compromised by insurance industry shenanigans. An experienced attorney can provide assistance in trying to get benefits paid as needed.

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Dec 2016

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

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. toys-1197784

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.

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Nov 2016

Injured Workers Face Holiday Financial Hardship Due to Workers’ Comp Benefit Restrictions

In Rhode Island, workers are entitled to benefits if they sustain an injury on-the-job. The Social Security Administration explains how the workers’ comp system works in Rhode Island when it comes to the provision of benefits. The workers’ compensation statute which outlines available benefits to Rhode Island workers is found in Title 28. The rules establish workers can receive certain payments for loss of wages caused by temporary or permanent disabilities.  Payments are based on 75 percent of pre-injury spendable wages earned by the worker, up to state maximum limits. money-cube-1512873

While an injured worker receives loss wage benefits if he can get covered, sometimes getting access to workers’ comp benefits is difficult even though the law is supposed to provide broad protection to employees.  A worker who receives benefits also will not get his full salary, which can always be difficult for families but which can be especially burdensome during the holiday season when spending tends to rise.  Injured employees need to know what benefits they will receive from workers’ compensation if they get hurt and may need to adjust their holiday budgets accordingly if they do not have the money coming in that they would receive from their normal salary.

While the holiday season can make it especially hard to get by on limited workers’ comp benefits, especially as you have to buy gifts for loved ones and entertain family, there are challenges year-round if an injury causes missed work and necessitates medical care. Cuts to workers’ compensation benefits systems, which have been occurring nationwide, have made those challenges worse.

Workers’ comp should provide comprehensive benefits for injured employees who need to be covered for medical care and who need disability income if they cannot work.  Unfortunately, ProPublica published a report indicating 33 states had slashed workers comp benefits. Affected employees were faced with major financial hardship as available benefits were reduced and as states made it harder for workers to get the coverage they need for workplace injuries.

In response to the ProPublica report, democratic senators wrote a letter urging action and the Labor Department responded. The Labor Department prepared a report discussing the detrimental impact state workers compensation laws were having. The Department of Labor also made some recommendations to try to fix the issue. Re-starting a 1970’s commission from the Nixon era was one proposal. The commission would have the power to set some basic standards for state workers’ comp systems and would facilitate federal oversight in situations where workers’ comp programs fell short. Another option would be for congress itself to set minimum standards and to require federal oversight when workers’ comp programs fell short of fulfilling those standards.

Unfortunately, the chances of action on the Labor Department’s report seem slim, so workers may continue to suffer hardship- especially during the holiday season when more money is needed to participate in festive events.

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