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Injured workers get pink slips along with diagnoses

Workers at a factory that had to handle hazardous chemicals and resins kept coming down with two common conditions: painful, chronic rashes followed shortly by pink slips that terminated their employment.

To the workers, the connection couldn't be more obvious.

At least six former employees tell a similar tale: They went from healthy individuals to victims suffering from contact dermatitis and other skin injuries they acquired after handling caustic chemicals on the job.

While the company seems to have known that the chemicals caused skin problems in at least 300 cases, they provided workers with nothing in the way of protective gear or clothing except gloves, paper suits and paper masks. However, employees often had to lay in the very chemical goop they were applying. The chemicals soaked through the cheap paper easily. Employees were never warned that the resin was dangerous.

Initially, employees could change their paper gear whenever it got soaked and switch out their gloves at will. Later, managers let them know that was too costly. They put the paper gear behind lock and key. Gloves had to be reused, and anyone asking for a new paper suit had to justify the request to a supervisor. Anyone who asked for a respirator to do the job had to prove they had a medical condition, like asthma, that warranted such an extravagance.

The six former employees currently suing all claim that when they sought medical treatment and received a diagnoses that tied their condition to their job, they were promptly fired and denied fair compensation for permanent conditions. The company has already lost two lawsuits for denying unemployment to workers who were similarly injured.

The company acknowledges that at least one of the workers was fired because she developed an allergic reaction to the chemical resin used by the company -- making it impossible for her to return to her duties. She was paid a partial benefit.

However, the company is trying to deny her additional workers' compensation based on the idea that the skin condition isn't permanent -- even though a physician has testified that it is and her condition has yet to abate.

Cases like these show how important it is to talk over your legal rights even when you're offered a partial workers' compensation settlement. Some employers will take advantage of an employee's desperation or lack of knowledge to lower company expenses.

Source: Des Moines Register, "Chemical exposure results in injuries, pink slips at Iowa wind blade maker, lawsuits claim," Kevin Hardy and Grant Rodgers, Dec. 16, 2017

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