Marion trucking company owner failed to maintain workers’ comp coverage

MARION – A Marion employer who allowed his workers’ compensation policy to lapse and claimed his employees were subcontractors has been sentenced for failing to comply with the law. Lakhvir S. Sidhu, owner of Liverpool Express, was sentenced Dec. 7 after he failed to cooperate with attempts by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) to help him obtain proper coverage.

“BWC makes good faith attempts to work with businesses to bring them into compliance, but has no choice but to pursue fraud charges when our efforts are ignored,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Steve Buehrer. “Businesses with employees must comply with the law and maintain workers’ comp coverage to protect their workforce.”

BWC’s Employer Compliance Department first attempted to work with Sidhu to bring his policy into compliance but investigators with the agency’s Special Investigations Department opened a fraud investigation after Sidhu did not cooperate.

An audit on the business showed Sidhu was paying wages to employees he claimed were subcontractors. Investigators interviewed Sidhu on several occasions regarding the lapsed policy and the requirement to report wages for his employees. After meeting with agents, Sidhu paid his past due premiums, although he still claimed the workers were subcontractors. The investigation later revealed that Sidhu reported employee wages to the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services that totaled $266,000 more than the wages he reported to BWC for the same time period.

The matter was then reviewed by the Marion City Law Directors office after Sidhu failed to enter into a payment plan and/or file the additional payroll information as requested by agents. He was convicted of a second-degree misdemeanor count of failure to comply with the law and was ordered to pay restitution in amount of $3,724.77, and comply with BWC regulations and Ohio laws. Sidhu must also pay fines totaling $400 and serve 90 days of incarceration, suspended for two years community control.

To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov. Check out our latest cases at ohiobwcfraud.wordpress.com, and see what workers’ compensation fraud looks like in our fraud awareness video on YouTube.

Tuscarawas County woman ordered to repay $9K for workers’ comp fraud

Robin Beckett of Dennison (Tuscarawas County) has been ordered to repay more than $9,000 to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation after investigators found she knowingly committed fraud by working in violation of the workplace injury benefits she was receiving.

The Special Investigations Department Intelligence Unit noted a database cross-match with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services showed Beckett earned wages during periods when she was also collecting disability benefits for a workplace injury. The investigation produced evidence proving Beckett knowingly and with fraudulent intent worked for Tender Touch Home Health performing various nursing duties while on temporary total disability.

Robin Beckett pleaded guilty to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud on Oct. 6 in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. Judge McIntosh sentenced Beckett to 10 months in prison, suspended for three years of community control. Conditions of her probation include payment of restitution totaling $9,330.29.

Do you hear what I hear?

By Jeff Hutchins, Industrial Hygiene Technical Advisor

The holiday season is filled with a variety of sounds, from singing children to ringing bells.  But if you have difficulty hearing those children’s voices, or if there is ringing in your ears even when no bells are present, then you may be one of the approximately 10 million workers with noise-related hearing loss.1

Noise-related hearing loss is a painless, progressive and irreversible condition that is common in the United States.  In addition to hearing loss and tinnitus (chronic ringing in the ears), noise exposure above 85 decibels (dB) has also been shown to cause elevated blood pressure, sleep disturbances and other stress-related illnesses.

Nearly 22 million American workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels every year1, and reducing noise exposure among Ohio’s workforce is one of the goals of the BWC Industrial Hygiene (IH) staff.  We conduct noise assessments of Ohio workplaces and recommend ways to reduce excessive noise levels.  Noise control measures may include enclosing a noisy machine or process, dampening vibrating surfaces, or silencing compressed air releases.

As a rule of thumb, when normal speech communication between individuals 3 – 4 feet apart becomes difficult, the noise level is approaching hazardous levels.  The chart below shows the noise levels of some common sounds.

When control measures alone cannot reduce the noise to acceptable levels, we assist employers in instituting a hearing conservation program.  A hearing conservation program contains elements to assure that employees:

  • Have regular hearing evaluations called audiograms;
  • Are provided proper hearing protection such as ear plugs or ear muffs;
  • Receive training about the actions they need to take to protect their hearing.

More information can be found in the BWC Educational Guide “What is Hearing Conservation?

This holiday season, don’t take for granted the gift of good hearing.  In 2016 , resolve to protect your hearing for years to come.

 

References

  1. NIOSH – Noise and Hearing Loss Prevention page (http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise/stats.html)
  2. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety – OSH Answers Fact Sheets “Noise – Non-Auditory Effects” (http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/phys_agents/non_auditory.html)

 

Check out the Division of Safety and Hygiene’s OSHA On-Site Consultation Program

By Greg Collins, Industrial Safety Administrator, On-site Consultation

Working with the BWC’s OSHA On-Site Consultation Program can provide many benefits to a small, high-hazard employers. Here are a few of the benefits available from working with us:

  • small employer - blog postGet cost-effective professional occupational safety and health consulting for your work site. Call 1-800-282-1425 and request a visit. The Program’s services are free to small, high-hazard employers. The majority of these services are paid for through a grant from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the rest by BWC’s Division of Safety and Hygiene.

high hazard employer - blog

  • Get free hazard detection services and advice on hazard corrections. Program consultants conduct surveys of your facility, and provide a report which lists the hazardous conditions discovered along with advice for correcting the hazards.
  • Get free industrial hygiene sampling of processes in your facility. Upon request, the program’s industrial hygienists will evaluate your operations, and then conduct the sampling necessary to determine what the levels of air contaminants or noise levels are in your facility. They will use this information to help put together advice for improving the conditions in your facility if necessary.
  • sharp logoImprove a safety and health management system so that it is an exemplary system. Using tools such as the program’s safety and health assessment worksheet, safety consultants will assist employers in evaluating their safety and health management systems, and provide advice for making improvements and charting progress. Successful participants may elect to participate in OSHA’s Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP), which is a program that recognizes companies with exemplary programs, and provides to them an exemption from general schedule OSHA inspections. SHARP is an OSHA program administered by BWC.
  • Receive conditional protection from general schedule OSHA inspections while working on improving your program. Participants in the consultation program receive what is referred to as “consultation in progress status.” This means that while an employer is working with the OSHA On-Site Consultation Program, OSHA will not conduct general scheduled inspections at your work site. OSHA will still respond to fatalities, complaints, recordkeeping self-reporting, and disasters at your work site during a consultation.

The OSHA On-Site Consultation Program conducts about 900 visits per year. Please consider joining these other employers who are benefiting from our services.

Click here to find out more about the Division of Safety and Hygiene.

BWC investigations result in five workers’ comp fraud convictions in November

Columbus – Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) Administrator/CEO Steve Buehrer announced today that five individuals were convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, charges related to defrauding Ohio’s workers’ compensation system in November 2015. These court actions are the result of investigations conducted by BWC’s Special Investigations Department (SID).

“Identifying and weeding out fraud is an essential part of not only maintaining fairness, but keeping workers’ comp costs manageable for Ohio employers,” said Buehrer.

The following is a summary of the cases that resulted in guilty pleas or convictions in November:

Latonia Almon (Columbus, Franklin County) pleaded guilty Nov. 16 to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas for working while receiving benefits. A cross match with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Service conducted by BWC’s Intelligence Unit identified Almon as possibly working while receiving temporary total disability benefits. SID obtained employment records that revealed Almon she continued to work as a home health aide during the entire period she was collecting benefits for a workplace injury. During an interview, Almon admitted to “kinda” working and receiving payment for the services she provided. Almon admitted she did not inform the BWC of this employment. A pre-sentence investigation has been ordered and sentencing is scheduled for January 15, 2016.

Robert Aleshire (Delta, Fulton County) pleaded guilty Nov. 3 in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to a fifth-degree felony count of theft for working while receiving benefits. SID’s Intelligence Unit identified that Alshire was involved in a Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) motor vehicle inspection as a commercial truck driver while he was collecting permanent total disability benefits from BWC. The investigation found that Aleshire was driving as an independent contractor under the name MoMo Trucking. The judge ordered a pre-sentence investigation and Aleshire is scheduled to be sentenced on January 13, 2016.

Sandra Houshel (Dayton, Montgomery County) pleaded guilty Nov. 19 in the Franklin County Municipal Court to one first-degree misdemeanor count of workers’ compensation fraud for working while receiving benefits. The judge ordered her to pay a fine of $100 plus court costs. SID began investigating after receiving an allegation that Houshel was working at a restaurant in downtown Dayton while collecting temporary total disability benefits for a workplace injury. The investigation found that Houshel was working at the restaurant most the week, opening the restaurant and working as a waitress. Houshel immediately paid the full restitution of $3,369.24 to the court.

Mike Crawley (Shelbyville, Indiana) pleaded guilty Nov. 16 in the Darke County Court of Common Pleas to one fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud for working while receiving benefits. SID began investigating after receiving an allegation that Crawley may be working for a local trailer park. The investigation found that Crawley performed various maintenance work at the mobile home park while collecting temporary total disability benefits from BWC. Crawley is scheduled to be sentenced on January 16, 2016.

Rachel Madison (Bedford, Cuyahoga County) pleaded guilty Nov. 23 in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud for improperly receiving dependent death benefits. Madison was eligible to receive death benefits up to age 25 if enrolled at an accredited educational institution. SID received an allegation that she was submitting proof of college enrollment to the BWC in order to receive the benefits but was not attending the classes. Madison’s course schedule from the University of Akron showed that either she failed to attend classes or did not remain in full-time status. She failed to report to BWC that she did not attend classes and was not enrolled as a full-time student but submitted paperwork to BWC in order to continue receiving the benefits. Madison was sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for five years of community control. As a condition of her probation, she is required to pay $12,319.98 in restitution.

To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov.

Check out our latest cases at ohiobwcfraud.wordpress.com and view BWC’s workers’ comp fraud awareness video on YouTube.

A form of referral

By Jeff Baker, Program Administrator, BWC Special Investigations Department

Every day members of our BWC Special Investigations Department are reminded why we created our on-line fraud referral form. It works. Effective December 1, we had received more than 8,000 allegations from external sources via the referral form. And, since fiscal year 2002, the percentage of new allegations we have received from external sources via referral forms has steadily increased from one percent to 17 percent.

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Here is how the form works: simply select the type of subject you suspect – injured worker, employer, provider, or other – and the interactive form will prompt you for pertinent information. To “complete” the form, just post whatever information you have to a few screens. No field is required. You decide how much or little information you care to furnish us. You may advance past any screen at your discretion. Many sources have furnished their allegations in a matter of a minute or two.

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The form will display a confirmation that we have received your allegation. All members of our SID intake team immediately receive an e-mail containing all information from the form. They promptly enter the allegation into our secure database, the Fraud Management System, and commence their review and research of the subject. If you elect to furnish us with a contact phone number or e-mail address, a SID professional will contact you with an investigative update within 14 days. They will also re-contact you when we have a known outcome, such as a criminal conviction and/or sentencing.

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For example, as recently as December 11, we reported on the conviction of Rachel Madison, a Bedford woman who pleaded guilty to workers’ compensation fraud. She was ordered by the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to pay $12,319 in restitution to the BWC. SID commenced its investigation of Madison after an acquaintance confidentially reported his/her suspicions via a fraud referral form.

To report suspected fraud via the fraud referral form click here. You may also report suspected fraud by calling either the BWC fraud hotline at 1-800-644-6292 or Jeff in SID Administration at 1-614-466-7837.

What a difference a Board makes

“Look not mournfully into the past, it comes not back again. Wisely improve the present, it is thine. Go forth to meet the shadowy future without fear and with a manly heart.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“A problem is a chance for you to do your best.” — Duke Ellington

Whether you state it eloquently or simply, BWC was not in a good place in 2007. The reputation and hard work built by thousands of honest, hard-working employees over numerous years was undone overnight by a handful of bad actors. The business community and injured workers alike had ample opportunity to question the financial health and direction of BWC.

Today BWC is a much different place. Rates have been lowered repeatedly. The private sector base rates in fact are more than 20% lower than even five years ago. The public sector base rates are the lowest in more than 30 years. Businesses have benefited from $2 billion in rebates and another $1.2 billion in credits to help move to a modernized billing system. Injured workers are benefiting from a pharmacy management system that is better coordinating care and reducing the chance of addiction or overdose of narcotics. They are benefitting from pilot programs that are better coordinating care, including by addressing aggravating conditions.

All Ohio workers are benefitting from safer workplaces. BWC has tripled its safety grant program to $15 million annually, and is investing millions to better train firefighters and fund university research on a myriad of safety topics.

And it is doing these things with a great majority of the same people who were here in 2007.

So what’s the difference? One big part of this turnaround is the creation of—and the direction provided by—the BWC Board of Directors.

Since first meeting in August 2007, the Board has, first and foremost, established itself as a strong, professional board, with the personnel and governance measures necessary to provide direction rooted in real-world expertise. To its original Audit, Investment, and Actuarial committees—each requiring a board member with expertise in that area—the Board quickly added a Governance Committee in addition to a  Medical Services and Safety Committee. Each month, the Board of Directors meets to conduct its business. Particularly telling of the professionalism of its members though, attendance at ALL the committee meetings, held the day before the Board meeting, is almost always close to 100 percent. Despite there being no requirement to attend any more than your assigned committee, the board members typically choose to do so. This helps ensure that the work of those committees benefits from the input of the various directors, who each represent a particular interest or area of expertise, ranging from small business to injured workers to investments.

Having just marked its 100th meeting, we sat down with two directors who have been there from the start. David Caldwell, currently legislative coordinator and assistant director of United Steelworkers State of Ohio District 1, and a career member of the United Steelworkers of America, represents the Executive Committee of the AFL-CIO. Kenneth Haffey, chair of the Audit committee, is a partner in the CPA firm of Skoda, Minotti and Co. in Mayfield Village.

 

BWCBlog: What were your initial impressions walking into the first board meeting?

KH: What am I doing here?  How is this group ever going to get along?

DC: Apprehension was quickly replaced with a realization of the enormity of the tasks that lay ahead.  The size of the spectator crowd, at that time, overflowed into additional meeting rooms on the second floor.

 

BWCBlog: What did you see as your biggest challenge in the early days of the board?

DC: Getting back, or maybe establishing for the first time, the trust of our stakeholders and the public at large.

KH: Learning about the operations of BWC. I was comfortable with my role as the Audit committee chair, I just didn’t realize what else I’d be involved in.

 

BWCBlog: How would you describe your stakeholders’ view of the board back then?

KH: Skeptical. The BWC was just coming out of a lot “bad stuff.”

DC: Distrust on a massive scale, far worse than I was ever aware of at that time.

 

BWCBlog: How do you think this board compares to other boards?

DC: It is my belief that each member of the Ohio BWC Board, from the beginning, has been the “gold standard” for any board of directors public or private.

KH: Comparable to corporate boards I work with and have been on over the years, except that our members attend all the committee meetings, which doesn’t happen in the private sector.

 

BWCBlog: How would you describe your stakeholders view of BWC now?

KH: I think they see us as a viable governing body that has made and continues to make a difference to injured workers, business owners and BWC employees.

DC: Much improved. I suspect there is always some skepticism, but from what I hear the opinion of BWC is better than the “government” as a whole.

 

BWCBlog: What are you personally most proud of over the past 8 years?

DC: I’m most proud of feeling I was, in at least some small way a part of re-establishing public confidence on Ohio BWC.

KH: Being recognized as a board who put politics and personal agendas aside and made the right decisions for the right reasons all along.

 

BWCBlog: If you had one piece of advice for other workers’ compensation boards, what would it be?

KH: Do not lose sight that you have a “duty-of-care” for the injured workers and business owners alike.

DC: Stay the course, with a constant eye toward improving. Our challenges are always changing.