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The inside story

Helping workers takes new approach for L&I staffer


October 20, 2014
By Matthew Erlich

Safety investigator Eric Wiseman faced a tough day recently in the L&I-Everett office.

Amid interviews with attorneys and eyewitnesses to one fatality investigation, he was called to the counter to see three people reporting another fatality. Three distressed, burly men, all wearing black stood at the counter on Sept. 22. They spoke Russian and appeared very upset. Wiseman was ready to call in a translator but one of the three said he would interpret for his friend, who was apparently reporting the death of his wife.

“He pointed at one of the other men and said, ‘His wife was a nurse and just passed away and we are not sure if it was work related or if he is entitled to any benefits or legal help,” Wiseman said. “He has children at home and cannot pay the rent and wants help questioning why she died.”

Wiseman focused on solving the problem and contacted the Medical Examiner’s Office. To help with the rent, he also contacted United Way of Snohomish County.

“They emphatically said thank you and started to head out the door but had one last question: They said almost in unison, ‘WHY DID YOU HELP US?’” said Wiseman. “All I could say to them was they should demand such service from anyone who is a public servant. It feels great to help people who come to our doors seeking help, particularly when they don’t know where to turn.

Wiseman, a 16-year agency veteran who works as a safety compliance supervisor for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), was initially hesitant to share this story. “Normally I wouldn’t write about this — all of us do a lot of similar things,” he said. “I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t have stopped what they were doing to try to assist.”

None of Wiseman’s efforts come as a surprise to his supervisors. Bob Parker, Region 1 DOSH Compliance manager, said public service is evident in Eric’s long career as a former U.S. Navy pilot and at DOSH.

“He’s always willing to explain things, discuss issues or problems at length with customers, to better understand their concerns,” Bob said about Eric. “Then he provides the best solution possible.”


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What, me worry about scams?


October 16, 2014
By Debby Abe

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You never think you’ll be the person who gets bilked — until you are.

That’s what happened to homeowners in Kent and Renton who shelled out hundreds of dollars for remodeling projects, then never saw a dime of work done. The Kent resident paid $850 toward a new roof. In a separate case, three neighbors in Renton paid more than $12,000 toward a job on their shared retaining wall.

L&I investigated the cases, which led the King County Prosecutor to charge a Quincy man and Spokane County man with unregistered contracting in connection with the incidents, which are unrelated. Read about it here.

We don’t want you to become the next victim. Whenever you’re considering hiring a construction contractor, remember to check whether the contractor is registered with L&I, as required by the state. Registered contractors must have liability insurance, a business license and a bond, which gives homeowners some monetary recourse if a job is left undone.

Things to do before hiring a contractor:

  • Verify the contractor is registered at www.Verify.Lni.wa.gov.
  • Check out the contractor’s references.
  • Get three written bids.
  • Don’t pay in full until the job gets done.
  • Get more tips at ProtectMyHome.net.


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New chapter of the Small Biz Guide makes hiring an employee a bit easier


October 13, 2014
By Aaron Hoffman

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As a small business owner, hiring an employee for the first time can be a daunting task. Not only do you have to find the right person, but you also have to meet paperwork, processing and filing requirements.

Fortunately, those tasks just got a bit easier with a new chapter of the Washington Small Business Guide.

The new Payroll For Your Business chapter includes:

  • A useful chart that summarizes employer filing requirements and employee and employer payroll taxes.
  • An interactive Payroll Calculator that helps you estimate payroll costs.
  • Answers to common questions about payroll such as, “What do I need to have in place before issuing paychecks?” and, “What payroll records do I need to create to give to my employees?”
  • An explanation why you may want to hire a professional to handle your payroll for you,

The Payroll For Your Business chapter joins existing chapters in the Washington Small Business Guide about hiring employees (see the Grow Your Business chapter) and quarterly and annual payroll reporting (see the Run Your Business chapter).

Getting it right from the start will save you big headaches down the road!


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Success story: Injured service supervisor finds a new job as a veterinary assistant


October 7, 2014
By Erin Jones, CDMS


Kyle Haugen at his new job as a veterinary assistant.

When the effects of an injury are long lasting, some workers find returning to work to be challenging, while others find new opportunities with ease and minor adjustments.

Every year, L&I partners with private vocational counselors to provide hundreds of injured workers with access to the tools they need to move forward with a successful and fulfilling career. Recently, I learned of someone who exemplifies the ideals we strive for here at L&I.

Kyle Haugan is a 40-year-old gentleman with a positive attitude about retraining for new employment following his own workplace injury.

In November 2011, Kyle was hurt on his job as a Service Supervisor. While working alone, he tried to move a stackable washer and dryer. As he navigated the appliance over a curb, it began to fall and Kyle tried to catch it. In the process, he injured his left shoulder and was unable to perform his usual work duties.

His doctor and vocational counselor ruled out any of the work he had done in the past due to the residual effects of the shoulder injury. We reviewed Kyles’ case and, working with his vocational counselor, determined he was eligible for training benefits. He enrolled in an 8-month program at PIMA Medical Institute with the goal of becoming a veterinary assistant.

During his training, Kyle gained a multitude of skills, including the ability to perform aseptic techniques required for surgical assists, animal nursing and laboratory procedures. He received training in standard computer skills and professional office procedures. The program included an externship, in which Kyle excelled.

Even before Kyle completed the program, he was offered two jobs: one with the VCA Alpine Hospital in Issaquah and the other from Okanogan Valley Veterinary Clinic.

In July 2014, Kyle started his new, full-time job as a veterinary assistant at the Okanogan Valley Veterinary Clinic.

Although experiencing an injury wasn’t what anyone had planned, and retraining took time and dedication, Kyle is now enjoying his job in a new line of work that doesn’t further irritate his shoulder.

The partnering of L&I with the private sector vocational community, along with Kyle’s personal dedication to completing his retraining program, resulted in a successful return to work for Kyle.


Erin Jones is a Vocational Services Specialist working in Tumwater at the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I). Before working at L&I, Erin worked for 3 years as a private sector vocational rehabilitation counselor. Erin has been employed at L&I for 11 months - first assisting workers directly at the Olympia WorkSource building, and currently working with the claims staff at L&I headquarters. Teaming with private vocational rehabilitation providers and employers throughout Washington State, vocational services specialists help injured workers meet their employment goals by ensuring access to the tools and services necessary to gain occupational skills and secure new employment opportunities.


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Washington state’s minimum wage: “Let’s do the numbers…”


October 2, 2014
By Matthew Erlich

The state’s minimum wage will increase 15 cents to $9.47 an hour beginning January 1, 2015. By law, L&I calculates the amount and reports it this time of year. But how is the calculation made? Let’s, as they say, do the numbers:

The minimum wage is tied to the federal Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), so the first step is to get the numbers. We go to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and get this year’s number (234.030) and last year’s number (230.359). Then we calculate the percent the numbers have changed, and come up with 1.59%.

The next step is calculating the minimum wage. Now, here’s the important part, we multiply the 2014 minimum wage ($9.32 an hour) by the 1.59% change in the CPI-W, which is expressed mathematically this way: (1 + 1.59/100). The whole calculation looks like this:

$9.32 x (1 + (1.59/100)) or

9.32 x 1.0159 = 9.468

Expressed in dollars, that’s $9.47 an hour. And there you have it!

To learn more about the new minimum wage, see the news release or our minimum wage web page.


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Tip leads to theft charges in BMX bike rider disability scam


September 30, 2014
By Debby Abe

You can be our eyes and ears in the battle to fight fraud.

Yes, some of the best tips we get about people scamming the state come from the public.

Case in point: This week, a Kent man is being charged with felony theft in Thurston County. He’s accused of competing in BMX bike races around the Pacific Northwest while claiming he was so disabled from on-the-job injuries that he couldn’t work. Yet at the time he was racing, he was receiving workers’ compensation benefits, including wage-replacement checks. (Read about it here.)

L&I investigated the case based on an anonymous tip to the department.

L&I has many staff who look for, investigate and hold people responsible for defrauding workers’ compensation and other programs administered by L&I. We refer the most egregious cases to the Washington Attorney General for criminal prosecution.

But we welcome information from the public. We follow up on every tip. If you suspect fraud, report tips at www.Fraud.Lni.wa.gov or call 1-888-811-5974.


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Saving a life was all in a day’s work for these heroes


September 25, 2014
By Elaine Fischer

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Tom Vessey

Tom Vessey is credited with saving the lives of two people during an early morning carbon monoxide leak inside their home in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.

Tom has worked in Puget Sound Energy’s Gas First Response unit for the past 27 years. On March 26, he took a call from dispatch at 3:30 a.m. from a homeowner reporting that her carbon monoxide detector was sounding an alarm. Vessey checked the fireplace, range and water heater in the townhouse but didn’t find any major problems. As they closed the windows, which had been opened to air out the residence, the carbon monoxide levels spiked again. Tom then went to a neighboring townhouse to look for a problem. There he found an unoccupied car with its lights on running in the garage. He called 911, and the Seattle fire and police arrived and kicked in the door. They found a semi-conscious couple in their 30s collapsed at the top of a staircase. They and their dog were rushed outside. Thanks to Tom’s training and quick actions, all survived this potentially deadly incident.

Tom and 22 other Washingtonians were honored with the Governor’s Lifesaving Award at the Governor’s Industrial Safety & Health Conference in Spokane today. Check out the stories of the other amazing winners who stepped up to help save a life: http://lni.wa.gov/News/files/20140923FactSheetLifesavingAwards.pdf


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Recipe for fraud: Busing dishes, prepping food while claiming arms are too weak to work


September 24, 2014
By Debby Abe

Check out this undercover video clip of a Spokane Valley woman who was caught in a workers’ comp scam.

An L&I investigator videotaped the woman, Wanitta Racicot, in August 2011 performing a variety of tasks to operate the Spokane restaurant she co-owned at the time. Footage shows her prepping food, busing dishes, scrubbing floors, carrying groceries, driving and doing other activities. The same month, Racicot told an L&I investigator that her hands were so disabled from an earlier work injury that she couldn’t even button her shirts or put on earrings.

Last week, Racicot pleaded guilty to first-degree theft, and was sentenced to 60 days confinement, converted to electronic home monitoring. The court also ordered Racicot to repay the state $125,000. Read more about it here.

There’s no free tab for workers’ comp fraud.


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Meet L&I at the fair - and fall home shows


September 18, 2014
By Debby Abe


Meet outreach specialists Rebecca Llewellyn (left) and Julie Perales at L&I’s booth at the fair and home shows.

Sometimes there’s no better way to get help than talking face to face.

You’ll get the chance to do just that over the next few weeks.  L&I outreach specialists will be at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup Thursday, Sept. 18, through Saturday, Sept. 20, and at home shows around the state from late September through mid-October to answer your questions about hiring construction contractors. Here’s the list of their fall appearances.

If you’re thinking of tackling a home remodeling project, visit the L&I booth to:

  • Get a free “Hire Smart” worksheet to help you plan your project.
  • Learn how to verify a contractor’s license by using www.Verify.Lni.wa.gov.
  • Find out what a “notice to customer disclosure statement” is. Hint: State law requires contractors to give you one before starting projects worth more than $1,000.

If you can’t make it to the fair or home show, visit www.ProtectMyHome.net for tips about hiring contractors.  And if you don’t have access to the Internet, check to see if a contractor is registered by calling L&I at 1-800-647-0982.

Take advantage of this free advice. It could save you thousands of dollars, countless headaches and a botched remodeling job.


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Easing tensions in wage complaints


September 16, 2014
By Matthew Erlich

At L&I, we receive thousands of wage complaints annually and each can be tense for employer and worker. It’s our industrial relations agents who can make all the difference for both sides.

A May wage complaint filed against a Redmond company turned into a compliment after the work of Ana Gamino. Ana investigated the case against NKS Home Services that resulted in complimentary comments for L&I from owner Hong Sodona.

“As a new small business owner, receiving a notice from a government agency can be quite intimidating,” wrote Hong. “Ana’s professionalism, kindness and patience helped guide me every step of the way towards resolving the issue following the law. Her grace and professionalism has won my trust to your agency.”

Here’s how Ana did it: We received a complaint for $920.90 for unpaid overtime against NKS. Also, there was an allegation the employer had been deducting $400 from the employee without consent.

As to the $400, it turned out it was being deducted as a previously agreed-to payback for a loan. “I informed the employee that I interpreted this as an implied agreement and that I did not agree that we should have the employer pay back the deductions,” Ana explained. The employee still owes $6,500.

But the overtime was another matter. NKS agreed it was their company’s mistake and forwarded payment after Ana’s explanation. “The employer was brand new and needed guidance in different areas,” Ana explained. “We went over the best practices to avoid these types of complaints.”

Hong said the information was helpful. “She forwarded me the related laws and explained to me in details my responsibility as a business owner and gave me advice to avoid issues in the future,” Hong said. “She treated me with respect and complete professionalism.”

L&I Director Joel Sacks also credited Ana for her work, and noted the agency has limited chances to make a good impression. “We build our reputation one interaction at a time,” he said.

In 2013, we received 3,867 wage complaints and returned $3.3 million to workers. Since passage of the Wage Payment Act in 2006, we have collected and returned approximately $13 million in unpaid wages to nearly 20,000 Washington workers.

Workers can file a wage complaint with us at https://secure.lni.wa.gov/wagecomplaint/. A complaint must contain a sufficient description of hours worked and wages owed. In most cases, we will give the employer a copy of the complaint, including the name of the worker. It is against the law for a business to fire or otherwise discriminate against you for filing a complaint about a possible violation of your workplace rights.


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