The area of workers’ compensation law has been evolving since its inception, and today’s unique circumstances under COVID-19 have brought new layers of complication. Jared Correia talks with Sam Pond about the current state of workers’ rights and how lawyers in any area of the law can help those working in unsafe conditions.
Samuel H. Pond is managing partner of Pond Lehocky, the largest workers’ compensation firm in Pennsylvania.
Special thanks to our sponsors Scorpion, TimeSolv, Abby Connect and Alert Communications.
The Legal Toolkit
The State of Workers’ Rights Today
Intro: Welcome to Legal Toolkit, bringing you the latest legal trends and business initiatives to help you manage your law firm, with your host Jared Correia.
You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Jared Correia: Hi everybody. Welcome to another episode of the award-winning Legal Toolkit Podcast here on the Legal Talk Network.
If you are looking for professional sports of any kind, well, they’re on their way back, except for maybe Major League Baseball and the NBA.
Oh well, we almost had something positive to lean on there.
If you are a returning listener, welcome back. If you are a first time listener, welcome home, and if you are Pumbaa from ‘The Lion King’, you’re perhaps unexpectedly wise.
As always, I am your show host, Jared Correia, and in addition to casting this pod I am the CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting, which offers subscription-based law practice management consulting services to law firms, Bar associations and legal vendors. Check us out at redcavelegal.com.
I am also the COO of Gideon Software, Inc., which offers chatbots, software built specifically for law firms. Find out more at www.gideon.legal.
And when I am not hosting this podcast, actually I have another one with my wife; it’s called ‘The Lobby List’, and we talk about family travel. Fun topic, right? So we are not doing much family travel right now.
But here on The Legal Toolkit we provide you with a new tool each episode to add to your own legal toolkit so that your practices will become more-and-more like best practices.
In this episode we are going to discuss “The State of Workers’ Rights” at a time when the nature of work changes every day. And I just referred to Major League Baseball, National Basketball Associations, which is having its own employment issues right now.
But before I introduce today’s guest, let’s take a moment to thank our sponsors.
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All right, without further ado, my guest today is Samuel Pond of Pond Lehocky, Pennsylvania’s largest workers’ compensation law firm.
The firm also practices Social Security Disability, short and long term disability as well as employment law and has offices across the nation.
Sam is a Managing Partner at the law firm and leads the workers’ compensation practice.
Sam, welcome to the big show.
Samuel H. Pond: Well, thanks for having me. Glad to be here.
Jared Correia: Yeah, it’s going to be fun. So you’re a veteran of these sorts of things, right? You used to have a radio show in Philadelphia called ‘The Legal Eagles’, because you are a Eagles fan, do you like the band the Eagles or did you just pick that name because it rhymed?
Samuel H. Pond: Well, if it had something to do with the band, not that I have anything against the band the Eagles, I like the Eagles, I like their music, but if it was going to be named after the band it would have been the Rolling Stones Radio Show.
Jared Correia: Got you.
Samuel H. Pond: So, but we are — actually our firm is the only law firm that is the official partner or sponsor of the Philadelphia Eagles, so we partner with the Philadelphia Eagles and have partnered with the Philadelphia Eagles for a number of years, and it’s been a great relationship.
Being born and raised in Philadelphia, in the Philadelphia neighborhood with all the crazy Philly sports fans. You were talking about sports in your introduction.
Jared Correia: Right.
Samuel H. Pond: And me, by the way, just as a sidenote, Major League Baseball to get their act together, but that’s another issue.
Jared Correia: Tell me about it.
Samuel H. Pond: So, but yeah, you’re talking about failure to communicate between two parties, boy, they do have a big abyss between them.
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Samuel H. Pond: But getting back to the show, it was more about the folks that were running the show and producing the show and thought it would be a good idea, so we picked that name.
Jared Correia: Let me tell you, I probably had a worse time during Super Bowl 52 than you did, but that’s all right. I’ll let it pass for the sake of this podcast.
Samuel H. Pond: Well, I feel your pain, being a Philadelphia Eagles fan, it’s not, I mean, it was just not one Super Bowl a year for us.
Jared Correia: Right.
Samuel H. Pond: We had our moment in the Sun and it was long overdue.
Jared Correia: Absolutely. Not a picnic being an Eagles fan, I know, and it wasn’t a picnic being a Patriots fan for many years.
Samuel H. Pond: No.
Jared Correia: Although, it would have been rewarded since.
Samuel H. Pond: Oh, I remember, yeah, I remember and — but you have to — look, you have to — hats off to the Patriots and all they did under Belichick, in their ownership.
Jared Correia: Oh yeah, yeah. I just remember Rod Rust so.
Samuel H. Pond: Yeah.
Jared Correia: I have been there for a while.
Samuel H. Pond: Yeah.
Jared Correia: So let’s talk about this subject matter of the podcast, like Workers’ Rights, which I think is a really interesting topic to dive down on to like today in this day and age, because there’s so much happening with the nature of work.
So you specialize in Workers’ Compensation and have for a while. So why did you end up concentrating in that practice area to begin with?
I know it’s hot right now, but when you started why did you made that choice?
Samuel H. Pond: Well, it’s hot right now, but I’m not quite sure how hot it will be, because in Pennsylvania most people are working from home, so home injuries aren’t common and there’s a whole large unemployment, but we’ll get through this.
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Samuel H. Pond: To get back to your question, I grew up in the Philadelphia neighborhood, working-class neighborhood, worked in a number of unions through my time in my teenage years and also when I was a Drexel University undergrad, Business degree and then to Temple School of Law, where actually, I am a professor now teaching Workers’ Comp.
Jared Correia: Boy, you’re a Philly guy through and through.
Samuel H. Pond: Yeah, I worked at Schmidt’s Brewery, worked at the Philadelphia Inquirer, worked at Tastykake, three big brands here in the city. So my parents —
Jared Correia: I need a Cheesesteak right now.
Samuel H. Pond: Well, it’s not a daily consumption, but boy, I would love to have it big, but I don’t know if I had the tailor take out my pants all the time.
So — but that’s a whole other show that we could have on Philly Cheesesteaks, but both parents suffered work injuries and my father was a machinist at the gasworks here, had his pension denied, they didn’t pursue work comp cases. My mom had a broken hip at work and then had complications and died.
Jared Correia: Oh geez.
Samuel H. Pond: Yeah, so both of them died my first year law school. So came from a somewhat working-class background and then in Workers’ Comp, in Pennsylvania, and it’s also this way Jared, in other jurisdictions, it allows you to litigate. If you’d like to litigate, if you’d like to be in a courtroom, and here in Pennsylvania we try cases, so we’re in court and we’re also doing trial depositions daily. It really allows you to do that and for me not necessarily being a kind of a library research guy, although I didn’t mind that, and rather being on my feet in the moment of litigation, it really fell into my wheelhouse.
And quite frankly, I just love representing my clients against big insurance companies and big employers. It’s somewhat of a David and Goliath swing at windmills, but it’s allowed me to step in and really address injustices which at my dinner table was not tolerated and I still get — if I have a fault in my litigation I probably get too involved and take it a little too personally in litigating my cases, which, you know, you can’t do that.
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Samuel H. Pond: But I still get very worked up in regard to how insurance companies treat my clients.
Jared Correia: That’s great. I mean sad news, I mean sad about your parents obviously, but spinning that off and having such a positive effect on other people’s lives, is an important thing.
Samuel H. Pond: I think one of the other things that and everyone says that, but it’s, you learn, whatever you learn in life, hopefully you grow from it, and I think the other part of that is, though everyone has their woes; and quite frankly, I had a really great childhood and I’ve had a great life, but I don’t think I would ever felt like what happened to my parents in any way made me a victim of anything.
So those kind of lessons are very important, especially when you begin representing people and them being — them counting on you and having your trust so that you can perform for them, because in our business, in our profession, these clients, their lives are really in our hands.
Jared Correia: Oh yeah, absolutely. Well, let’s turn this around a little bit and put yourself in the shoes of a young attorney, right? Maybe a law student who is thinking about taking the same career path that you did. Would you advise him to do that, what are the pros, what are the cons, how does that look?
Samuel H. Pond: Yeah, it’s a great question and I liked it, I liked the way you ask it in regard to the pros and the cons, and the pros are, if you like to litigate, it’s a good area to practice assuming you’re in a state that allows you to have trial access.
Some states are more of a processing system, but a lot of states are litigation. So if you like to litigate and you like to get a little action in the courtroom and in depositions, I think this is really where you are going to be all in.
Some of the cons are, is that most systems and we’ll talk a little bit more about the Progressive Era in this show, I’m sure, but the workers’ compensation systems came into effect in the early part of the 20th Century, and they were really motivated by employers, because employers didn’t want to be sued anymore.
And in Pennsylvania the mine — the coal miner owners got sick of having widows sue them for fatal claims in wrongful death cases, and that was a big liability.
So Workers’ Comp was developed as a grand bargain in 1915. I think it’s really starting to erode, and I’m answering your question in this regard.
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Samuel H. Pond: I think that the pie of cases, the number of cases that are out there seems to be eroding and also the gig economy has affected our practice.
Jared Correia: Right.
Samuel H. Pond: And the last con I’ll have is that it’s a very competitive space. In Philadelphia, to break into the workers’ compensation space on the claimant’s side would really be daunting, you would really need a lot of money to market and get those cases or have relationships, etc. We have a broad network with attorneys and unions, etc.
Jared Correia: Right.
Samuel H. Pond: We have a lot of marketing dollars in that regard it’s a bit difficult, and I think that applies throughout most large metropolitan areas.
Jared Correia: Yeah, I think that’s a fair response and a realistic one for attorneys who are thinking about this, so that’s great. Let’s talk about this from another construct. How about attorneys who are practicing currently who don’t work in the Workers’ Compensation or employment space? What is it that they should know about employee rights that they may not know? And I will twist this question around and ask you in a slightly different way before we finish, but yeah, to start with what do they need to know, why should they know it, and why should they know it now?
Samuel H. Pond: Well, the question has application in almost 50 different ways because there’s 50 different state systems.
Jared Correia: Right.
Samuel H. Pond: And that applies not only in Workers’ Comp but also in the Federal System in Employment Law. So you really have to be aware, there’s a lot of nuance and it’s — and again another good question and I know you are in the business of questions, so it’s another good question in that we have to be careful. For example, in Pennsylvania you may not — you don’t have a right to sue your employer for negligence and that was part of the grand bargain, everybody in Pennsylvania and every other State gave up a constitutional right to sue under the State constitutions in exchange for Workers’ Comp. That’s a big deal.
However, you can get Workers’ Comp but you still may be able to sue your employer. For example, in Pennsylvania if you are terminated because you pursued a Workers’ Compensation case you can pursue a case for wrongful termination under a case called Chick where you can sue your employer for damages.
So there’s a lot of nuances in regards to Workers’ Comp and there’s a lot of nuance and into the interaction between third party personal injury law Workers’ Comp, Social Security Disability, pensions, employment law and unless you know the whole spectrum of those interactions, be very, very careful taking on these cases.
Jared Correia: Make sense. All right, so we are going to take a break. We have reached the end of the first part of our show. Let me draw you attention to some words from our sponsors and we will come right back.
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Jared Correia: Thanks for coming back. I have returned from raiding my stash of frozen chops and chews that I keep in the refrigerator that nobody else knows about. So let’s get back to our conversation with Sam Pond of Pond Lehocky about the state of workers’ rights today.
All right, so Sam, let’s spend some time talking about one of the biggest employers in the world, Amazon. Your view is that Amazon fall short in terms of employees’ rights, how is that the case?
Samuel H. Pond: Well, I think that Amazon is really and you talked about being one of the largest employers in the world and they are and they have become one of the largest employers in a lot of states and because of their warehousing and their distribution network and not only in regard to the fixed places of employment but also their drivers as well. Most of their work is at a very low wage and most of their work is in conditions that quite frankly are probably the most unsafe conditions that I have seen and I represent a lot of construction workers etc. that has really developed a lot of safety measures over the last couple decades.
They demand production, they demand speed and they haven’t really figured out how to make the place safe. People are literally running over each other in their warehouses, and there’s also the unknown and the unknown that’s not talked about much are the drivers. The drivers are under the same demands of producing at a certain level, and if they don’t, they are not around. And the interesting part about the drivers is they are part of the gig economy and we could have a whole other show on the gig economy and the consequences of the gig economy because what they are doing is demanding on them and controlling them and yet not considering them as employees and therefore they don’t have all the responsibility of someone being an employee whether it’s payroll taxes whether it’s paying into unemployment.
And I think we’re seeing the consequence of the gig economy without any kind of safety net paying into the Social Security system etc. So they are playing it fast and loose and they are really, really making profits off of human capital.
Jared Correia: So let’s extend this conversation a little bit because I think you can get deeper into this as well like you have actually compared the working conditions in the modern-day Amazon factories and work kind of Nexus including the drivers to Upton Sinclair’s, ‘The Jungle’, which was a pretty damning book about practices of business owners way back in the day. How does that analogy work for you?
Samuel H. Pond: Yeah, I do and it may not be a warehouse in night or a meat packing house in 1908 in Chicago but I am going to tell you, it’s pretty darn close in regards to the modern era in 2020. You have to understand that Amazon has been very, very keen on coming into locales and I will Pennsylvania as an example where mining has left, manufacturing has left, folks are looking for jobs, there’s really no other employer there. They have kind of come in and been the main employer. People are lining up for these $10 an hour jobs without any benefits. They are going into there, they are being exposed to forklifts, moving parts, machinery, no safeguards, no instruction, no adequate training, no management, no leadership, no collective bargaining agreement, no ability to unionize, no grievance process, I can go on and on, and it’s really just coming in and burning people out or waiting till they get hurt and then just discarding them on their own the human capital heap of used up parts. They are — at this point in our firm within a couple of years, they have become the largest number of claims that we have.
Jared Correia: Oh wow.
Samuel H. Pond: And they are in a network of just denying, denying, denying these claims repeatedly. It’s a serial process and in the process doesn’t allow any kind of deterrent to the behavior because the local folks and the local decision-makers are saying, hey, we will welcome you with open arms, we are giving you tax breaks, we are giving you land etc. because you are creating jobs and that’s trumping safety, that’s trumping people’s health and there has to be a better balance.
Jared Correia: Right. Now that we have really pissed off Jeff Bezos, like what do you think Amazon can do better?
Samuel H. Pond: I think I pissed off Jeff Bezos once — maybe once a day.
Jared Correia: All right, good to know, good to know.
Samuel H. Pond: I can’t wait to have a beer with Jeff, and he’s buying by the way.
Jared Correia: Oh yeah, he should definitely, maybe buy me a couple beers too while we are at it. So what can Amazon do better than moving forward?
Samuel H. Pond: Oh, I think they can pay their people a decent wage and I think that they want to have a plan where they create employee loyalty, they create clearly better training, they have classroom training before people come in and understand what the process is, that they don’t demand so much on production, that they have safety, better safety measures, they have safety officers, they have a safety department, they have a Diversity Committee. I can go a list of — it’s a laundry list of things that they could do better.
Jared Correia: Right. So now that we have gone there and my Amazon Prime subscription is probably being cancelled as we speak, listen to some words from our other sponsors and I will come back in a sec.
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Jared Correia: All right, thanks for staying with us. I never left. Now let’s continue on with Sam Pond of Pond Lehocky, he has been telling us about his experience and impressions of modern Workers’ Compensation practice.
Sam, I know you are a big Teddy Roosevelt guy, right?
Samuel H. Pond: Uh-huh.
Jared Correia: Yeah I am very excited about this. We are setting a Legal Toolkit record right here. This will be the second podcast in a row where we have done a significant segment on Teddy Roosevelt and I couldn’t be happier. Let’s talk about a history, we’ll figure this.
Samuel H. Pond: And probably Teddy’s happy too.
Jared Correia: I am sure he is or he’s rolling over in his grave; one of those two things.
Samuel H. Pond: Yeah, right.
Jared Correia: When I was younger I read Edmund Morris’s three-part biography of Teddy Roosevelt, which is amazing.
If folks haven’t read it like you should absolutely read that. But he was a pretty fascinating guy historically. What’s your favorite thing about Teddy Roosevelt?
Samuel H. Pond: Well, I think that Teddy Roosevelt was God. You asked a question where like —
Jared Correia: Somebody didn’t choose from, right?
Samuel H. Pond: Yeah I could spend a — you talk about deaths and we talked about loss, and to loss his mother and his wife, I think within a 24-hour span in the same home as a young guy and to get over that and move forward and then remarry and raise and raise his daughter that was born that day. That’s one thing. He just stood up.
I think what Teddy Roosevelt did is similar to what Churchill did. He was a voice in the wilderness often and he really won against powerful forces and challenged them and he was a patriot. But he also talked about, I think, and we talk about what happened, it’s a turn of the Century and progressive. Well, a lot of the things have changed in the workers’ compensation systems and some other things that came about were really about Teddy Roosevelt, even though he was an R, he was a progressive and bringing about number one protecting the environment, conserving our natural resources, but also protecting workers, and I think he would be on the forefront of challenging Amazon on what they’re doing right now in regard to how they’re treating their workers.
Jared Correia: Oh probably, yeah.
Samuel H. Pond: But he was also someone that said, you have to be involved in — you have to be a citizen and one of the responsibilities of being the citizen and I think everyone, years right now should be perking up. One of the things that — and especially with the pandemic going on, one of the things he really, really hit on, and he gave the great speech in Albany when he was a State Rep, is about the responsibilities of being a citizen.
In our firm, we talk about one of the things that I talked about on the radio program, the purpose of the radio program, ‘Legal Eagles’, was to educate people about their legal rights, and we can have people watch TV and listen to radio about the most recent slicer/dicer or the most recent gossip, or the reality show, or the latest diet, we need to educate people more about the most basic thing, the most important thing to them, and that is, what are their legal rights? What are your rights under the Constitution of the United States and what are your rights under state constitutions? What does the rule of law mean, because it’s about the rule of law that gives us liberty and there’s nothing more important to you as a citizen to understand that responsibility, and what you have to do as Teddy said, is to engage in civic responsibility. You have to vote, you have to be aware of candidates. You have to be part of the political process, you have to have your voice heard, and unless you’re going to not do any of these things, you’re really, really not living up to your responsibility as a citizen of the greatest republic ever to exist, that being the United States of America.
And that is so important. Yet it doesn’t — it should be ringing through the halls, it should be ringing out of our computers and in our faces all the time and yet it’s not.
Jared Correia: Yeah, it’s funny like people who have a modern notion of like what a Republican would be, would probably be very surprised to some of the things Teddy Roosevelt did during his career, and some of the stuff he mentioned like, he was a very famous orator, he delivered “The Man in the Arena” speech and he just referenced the duties of American citizenship, speech he gave in 1883, right? So that’s where he outlines some of these responsibilities for citizenship. So beyond like —
Samuel H. Pond: But I also think, I also — I mean I don’t mean interrupt you. But I also think talking about some of the — what I mentioned earlier and this is kind of the blend of what you get and educate as to how you want to really act as a citizen. He was — he never allowed himself to be a victim, even though he had loss. He said, I’m not going to be a victim. I’m going to continue to live my life. I’m going to make a difference in my world, and you don’t — look, you don’t have to change the world, you could change one person’s life, you could just be a better father, you could be a better employer, you could be a better employee, but he never allowed life’s challenges, or life’s burdens, and I don’t know if that’s the correct word. To stop him from moving forward and that was ingrained in him and it was ingrained in his messaging, and he also said, “get in the ring”, that famous speech. Get in the ring of life, live it, don’t be afraid of it.
I think right now we’re living in a world that there’s a little too much fear and we have to get out of that fear mode, and for that I think with this pandemic has become some of a political football, which is regrettable. But I think there’s some argument on and I am a D, I’ll just reveal that. There’s some argument on the R side about, let’s face things, let’s not cower in the face of challenges. Let’s get out and face them head-on
Jared Correia: Oh yeah, yeah, it makes sense. So furthering this topic a little bit like responsibilities of citizenship, moving forward, advocating, lawyers advocate all the time. So how can lawyers, and this will be my final question, better exemplify those responsibilities of citizenship that Roosevelt talked about, and also how can lawyers work to help workers who are experiencing unsafe conditions even if they’re not “employment lawyers”?
Samuel H. Pond: Well, I think that first of all the profession of law is sacred; all professions are sacred, but we are within our profession or really the keys to liberty and the keys to the rule of law, and without that we don’t even have a capitalist system, we don’t have a market-driven system, we don’t have the ability to have free speech or everything else that we have under our Constitution.
So what we really need to do is to honor the profession. So I think that folks can’t take for granted having a license to practice law and understand that there’s certain basic fundamental things that we have, and that is honesty, that is trust, that is the ability to make a difference and understand that the courthouse is really the game-changer, is the equalizer between the powerful and the weak.
So what can lawyers do? I think lawyers have to be involved even doing pro bono work in regard to what’s happening to some frontline workers. It’s a shame what’s happened to some of our frontline workers in regard to this pandemics.
Number one, they weren’t kept safe enough, even when we understood that there was the opportunity to do so and that Amazon is one of those employers.
Number two is that they were just — they’re just not been treated fairly by most of these employers and I’m talking about health systems not treating nurses correctly. I have a number of these cases. The transportation workers, not treated fairly, denied their cases, told to use personal time to deal with their time out for being COVID.
So we can all get involved, especially this time we all have the ability to do pro bono work and take those cases on especially in a time of pandemic, and there’s a special responsibility of being a lawyer and making sure that you practice at a very high level as a professional, and that’s very sacred.
Jared Correia: Awesome. Alright everybody, get out there, take some action. Sadly, we’ve reached the end of yet another episode of the Legal Toolkit podcast. This was the one when we talked about workers’ rights and we’ve been chatting with Sam Pond of Pond Lehocky.
Now, I will be back on future shows with further insights into my soul, the soul of America and the legal market.
If you are feeling nostalgic from my dulcet tones; however, you can check out our entire show archive anytime you want at legaltalknetwork.com.
So thanks again to Sam Pond of Pond Lehocky, for making an appearance as my guest today.
Sam, can you tell everybody how they can find out more about you, the service that you provide and your firm?
Samuel H. Pond: Yeah, you can contact us #PondLehocky and Lehocky is my partner’s name. It’s lehocky.com and we will be more than happy to help you in any way we can.
Jared Correia: Awesome. Check it out everybody and thanks again Sam Pond of Pond Lehocky for coming on to talk today.
Finally, thanks to all of you out there for listening. This has been the Legal Toolkit podcast.
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