YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS | Can a worker be fired for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19?

Attorney David BetrasNews about the approval of COVID-19 vaccines has raised two things: hope that the pandemic will end in the not too distant future and lots of questions including the one I’ve been asked most: Can a worker be fired if their employer requires them to be vaccinated and they refuse?

The answer is, with limited exceptions, “yes.”  That’s because in “will-to-work” states like Ohio employees can be fired for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all. Your boss doesn’t like the way you said “hello” when you walked in? You’re gone. Won’t be vaccinated? Hasta la vista baby, you’re out of there.

Professor Dorit Reiss of the University of California Hastings College of Law puts it succinctly: “Requiring a vaccine is a health and safety work rule, and employers can do that.” And they can show workers the door for failing to abide by the rule.

Some people have reacted with surprise and anger when told they can be canned for refusing to be vaccinated. “I’ll sue,” they say emphatically. “Forcing me to have that needle stuck in my arm violates my Constitutional rights!”

Well, not so much.

What most folks don’t know is that workplace vaccination requirements aren’t new and they passed Constitutional muster long ago. The health care industry provides a prime example. State and federal courts have repeatedly ruled providers can compel workers to be immunized against the flu and numerous other diseases. Don’t want to do it? That’s cool. Turn in your stethoscope, take off your lab coat, and don’t let the door hit you in the posterior on your way to a new career.

Doctor holding vial of Covid vaccineAbout the exceptions, I mentioned earlier. They exist, but they are incredibly difficult to secure.  Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 employers must make “reasonable accommodations” for workers who object to being immunized due to their “sincerely held” religious beliefs. Here’s a tip: personal or ethical objections like those harbored by members of the “anti-vax” movement generally won’t qualify as a religious belief.

In addition, people whose medical conditions could be worsened or impacted by the COVID-19 vaccine may use the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to force employers to make exceptions to a vaccine work rule. Here are some important points to ponder before seeking an exemption under these federal laws: the burden of proof falls squarely on the employee seeking the exemption, reasonable accommodations must not create an undue burden on employers, and in almost all instances the ADA’s “direct threat standard” trumps the reasonable accommodation rule. Oh, and you’re most likely going to need an attorney to assist in the process.

Finally, here’s the question that follows the question about vaccination requirements: If I’m fired for refusing to be immunized, will I be eligible for unemployment compensation (UC)? While the rules related to COVID-19 are unsettled, workers terminated for violating existing immunization mandates generally do not qualify for UC.

That’s another factor to consider as you decide whether or not to roll up your sleeve when the vaccine comes to a neighborhood near you.

Sunshine Laws enable citizens, media to expose government corruption, mismanagement, and malfeasance

Attorney David BetrasOhio’s Open Meetings Act enacted in 1954 and Public Records Act passed in 1963 known collectively as the state’s “Sunshine Laws,” are based on the belief that government belongs to the people. I couldn’t agree more, and, as a member of the Mahoning County Board of Elections a public body subject to those laws, I believe anyone and everyone should have access to our meetings and the documents we produce.

I’m in good company. The Founders including James Madison, one of the primary architects of our Constitution, clearly understood that public trust was critical to the survival of our democracy:

“A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives”

Over the 66 years since their enactment, Ohio courts have repeatedly recognized the importance of open government when asked to arbitrate Sunshine Law disputes. In 1976 Justice William B. Brown writing for a unanimous Ohio Supreme Court in Dayton Newspapers, Inc. v. Dayton set the standard for record production that has also been applied to cases involving public meetings:

“The rule in Ohio is that public records are the people’s records, and that the officials in whose custody they happen to be are merely trustees for the people; therefore anyone may inspect such records at any time…”

Given the Dayton Newspapers decision and the fact that both laws empower “any person” to enforce their provisions, one could assume that obtaining records or forcing public bodies to actually meet in public would be a simple, straightforward process.

One would, of course, be wrong.

That’s because we’re dealing with government and the legal system which means these critically important acts are wrapped in miles of red tape. For example, the Sunshine Law Manual published by the Attorney General’s office contains 35 pages of exemptions to the open records law that have been enacted by the General Assembly—including the one that exempts the General Assembly itself from the law. In addition, the courts and the AG’s office have issued numerous opinions that shield records and officeholders from public scrutiny. As a result, forcing government officials to operate in the open can be an arduous, time-consuming endeavor.

But it’s an endeavor that is well worth the effort. In case after case, citizens and the media have used the Sunshine Laws to expose government corruption, mismanagement, and malfeasance and to ensure that bad actors are held accountable for their misdeeds. Ohio is a better state, our democracy is stronger because a concerned resident or inquisitive reporter exercised their right to examine what our elected leaders are doing and how they are doing it.

Because we believe transparency and accountability are essential to the efficient operation of government, you can access a readable/downloadable version of the Sunshine Law Manual here: 2020-Sunshine-Manual_WEB  It’s an A to Z guide that will enable “any person” in our community to utilize the Open Records and Public Meetings acts.

Take a look and then let the sunshine in…

Ohio inmates serving time in state prisons ravaged by COVID-19 may file for judicial release

Ohio’s state correctional facilities are COVID-19 hotspots. If you have a relative or friend incarcerated at one of these dangerous facilities Betras, Kopp & Harshman may be able to help by securing their judicial release from prison.

Call us today at 330-746-848 or 800-457-2889 to learn more!

Under Ohio law, qualifying inmates may ask their trial court judge to grant early “judicial release” from prison. The procedure is complicated and requires the preparation and filing of motions and court hearings, but it does offer a ray of hope for people trapped in the state’s COVID-19 ravaged correctional facilities.

An inmate is eligible if the following apply:

☑️He or she was sentenced in Ohio state court for Ohio state offenses.
☑️The sentence includes a “non-mandatory” prison term.
☑️The offender is not imprisoned for a felony related to and committed while he or she held public office in Ohio.

Eligible inmates may be granted judicial release according to this time-served schedule:

☑️Sentence of two years or less: eligible for immediate release.
☑️More than two years but less than five: must serve six months.
☑️Five years: must serve four years.
☑️More than five years but less than ten: must serve five years.
☑️More than ten years: the greater of half the time sentenced or five years.

Don’t delay, contact us today to learn more about the judicial release process. If your relative or friend is eligible Betras, Kopp & Harshman’s experienced criminal defense team will go to work immediately to secure their release from Ohio’s COVID-19 ravaged prisons.

Don’t delay. Contact us TODAY!

BKH’s new procedures for office visits will keep clients, employees safe

As an essential business, Betras, Kopp & Harshman has been open and serving clients during the COVID-19 crisis. We will continue to be here for you throughout the emergency.

On Monday, May 4 we are instituting the following procedures for office visits:

Anyone visiting the office must schedule an appointment in advance by calling 330-746-8484 or 800-457-2889.

All visitors must enter and leave our office at 6630 Seville Drive in Canfield via the building’s lower entrance. To access that entrance please turn left just after pulling into our driveway from Seville.

All visitors must wear face masks while in the building.

Visitors will have their temperature taken upon entering.

Visitors whose temperatures are above normal will not be permitted to enter the premises.

Visitors will be asked to cleanse their hands with hand sanitizer before proceeding to their appointment.

Strict social distancing protocols will be observed during all meetings/conferences.

Only people who are meeting with an attorney or staff member will be permitted to enter the premises. No spouses, significant others, children, other family members, or friends will be permitted in the office during your visit. If you are accompanied by a companion(s), we ask that they wait in the car.

If you are not feeling well on the day of your meeting or are exhibiting the following symptoms please call us to cancel and reschedule your appointment:

We are taking these precautions to protect you and our employees as we continue to provide the legal representation you need and deserve.

Finally, we want to remind you that we are able to meet with you remotely via Skype, Facetime, or teleconference.

Be well, stay safe, and remember, we’re all in this together.

Betras, Kopp & Harshman is open, law firm will launch free, online Covid-19 legal clinic on Wednesday, March 25

Betras, Kopp & Harshman Managing Partner David Betras announced today that the law firm, which has been designated an “essential business” under the Stay at Home Order issued March 22 by the Ohio Department of Health will remain open during the Covid-19 crisis. You may view the order here: DirectorsOrderStayAtHome

Attorney Betras also announced that as a public service, BKH will, for the duration of the emergency, conduct free, live Covid-19 legal clinics every Wednesday morning from 9:00 A.M to 11:00 A.M. via Facebook Live. “This is a confusing and frightening time,” he said. “We know people here in the Valley and across Ohio have lots of questions related to their jobs, health care, and finances. We’re going to do our best to answer their questions and provide sound advice that will help them cope with the crisis.”

The free clinics will be broadcast and archived on the firm’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/BetrasKoppandHarshman. Questions may be submitted during the broadcast via Facebook messenger, by calling 330-746-8484, 800-457-2889, or via email to dbetras@tb5.ddf.myftpupload.com. The first session will be conducted on Wednesday, March 25.

Atty. Betras noted that BKH has established new protocols for in-person client meetings. “We will observe social distancing protocols at all times and the number of visitors who may be present in the office will be limited to ten or less,” he said. “We’re asking any client who has a previously scheduled appointment or may have a hearing or trial pending to confirm the day and time by calling 330-746-8484 or 800-487-2889.”

As an alternative to in-person meetings the firm’s attorneys and staff are prepared to conduct initial consultations, meetings, and conferences via telephone, Facetime, and/or Skype. “This situation is not going to prevent us from aggressively representing our clients. We’re prepared to take extraordinary measures to protect our clients during these extraordinary times,” Atty. Betras said.

Mahoning Matters shines spotlight on area nursing homes, abuse and neglect of seniors

We would like to applaud Mahoning Matters for its in-depth series on area nursing homes. According to the report, conditions at two area nursing homes, Warren’s White Oak Manor and the Oasis Center for Rehabilitation and Healing are especially troubling. Reporters also found that 11 of the 46 nursing facilities located in Mahoning and Trumbull counties were rated below or far below average by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS). You can view inspection reports for facilities in Mahoning County here. Info on Trumbull County nursing homes may be found here. You can access a list of ratings for every nursing home in Ohio and across the U.S. here. We urge you to review the ratings and reports before selecting a nursing home or assisted living facility for someone you love.

Along with its reports CMMS’ Your Guide to Choosing a Nursing Home or Other Long-Term Service and Supports is an incredibly valuable resource for families and seniors. We recommend that you study the booklet and use its Nursing Home Checklist to help you evaluate and select a nursing home or assisted living facility. You can view and download the publication here. 02174-nursing-home-other-long-term-services

Here are some important factors to consider when you visit a facility during the selection process:
Facility layout, ambiance, residents

  • Is the facility clean and well-lit? Do you detect any odors? Is it attractive to you? Is it warm and enticing?
  • How is the temperature in the building?
  • How are the noise levels?
  • How is the layout of the various floors? Is it easy to get from your room to a common area?
  • Are there handrails in the hallways, rooms, and bathrooms?
  • Are the furnishings comfortable?
  • How do the residents look? Are they well-groomed and dressed?
  • How many residents to one room?
  • What are you allowed to bring when moving in?
  • Is there closet or storage space available? Do they have locks on them?
  • Do the residents have access to a telephone and a television? Is there an extra charge for these services?
  • Is there a secure outdoor area?
  • What are the demographics like? Will your loved one feel like they fit in? Will the staff be sensitive to any non-traditional family arrangements?

Staff

  • What kind of certification does the staff have?
  • What kind of staff are available on a 24-hour-basis?
  • How many registered nurses work there on each shift?
  • How the staff speak to and interact with the residents? Are they friendly and kind? Is the staff respectful of residents’ privacy?
  • How does the staff enter a resident’s room? Do they knock? Do they close the door when helping residents bathe and get dressed?

If a family member or loved one is already in a facility, be on the lookout for these signs of abuse and neglect:

  • Weight Loss
  • Bruises or Welts
  • Frequent Swelling
  • Dehydration
  • Bedsores
  • Soiled Clothing or Bed Sheets
  • Changes In Attitude or Mood

If your loved one appears withdrawn, fearful, or depressed you should be concerned. And if they complain about the treatment they are receiving or say they feel threatened by staff or other residents, listen and then bring the situation to the attention of the home’s administration at once. Then contact us right away by calling 330-746-8484 or 800-877-2889. We’ll listen to your concerns, evaluate the situation, give you our best advice, help protect your loved one, and fight for the justice and just compensation you and your family member need and deserve.

TV Law is Easy, We Win the Tough Ones in the Real World

Series featuring lawyers have been a staple on television since the first set flickered to life decades ago. Along with attracting millions of viewers, the shows shaped America’s perception of the criminal justice system. For instance, according to TV, crimes were committed, investigations conducted, and trials held in an hour, minus 14 minutes of commercials.

Winning on TV takes half-way decent acting and an hour. Winning a case in the real world takes years, knowledge, dedication and a highly skilled attorney like David Betras.

Those devoted to Perry Mason, the Defenders, Judd for the Defense, LA Law, the Defenders, or Matlock believed defendants would always be acquitted in the last five or ten minutes of the show—usually as the result of the real villain being unmasked in court. Fans of the various iterations of Law and Order know one thing for sure: the bad guy or guys are going down and then they’re going up the river—usually for decades.

After 34 years of practicing criminal law, I’ve learned one thing: the legal world portrayed on TV is a fantasy. First of all, it can take years to investigate a criminal case, research the applicable law, file briefs and motions, consider plea deals, and if necessary try the case in court.

Second, winning a criminal case is not anywhere near as easy as Perry Mason makes it seem. I’ve won hundreds, but each one has been a long, uphill battle waged against talented prosecutors who walk into court confident they have the evidence that will convict my client.

And, I can tell you from personal experience U.S. attorneys, who have all the resources of the federal government at their disposal, are the most confident of all. There may only be one or two lawyers from the Justice Department in court, but when I look over at the prosecution table, I see thousands of FBI/DEA/ATF agents, forensic experts with PhDs from Harvard and MIT, and an army of highly trained paralegals who do nothing but help the attorneys I’m facing prepare the government’s case. It’s an intimidating situation to say the least.

But even though Jack McCoy may win every time on TV, it is possible to mount a defense that results in the dismissal of the charges filed against my client or a “not guilty” verdict from a judge or jury. It’s important to note, however, that I’ve never achieved that outcome by cross-examining a witness so adroitly that they break down and confess to the crime while on the stand.

So what does it take to win? Hard work, knowledge of the law and how to apply it, a fair amount of theatrical skills, and total commitment to seeking and securing justice for my clients.

Here’s an example of how the legal system works in the real world.

In the early morning of June 1, 2016, Warren, Ohio police officers who had responded to a house alarm entered the home in question to investigate a burglary and shooting incident that had taken place at the residence. While walking through the home they noticed what they believed was evidence of narcotics trafficking. Based on that observation, the police obtained a warrant, searched the home and found drugs, drug paraphernalia, money, and loaded firearms.  I’m sure you won’t be shocked to learn that the homeowners were soon indicted and charged with a number of drug and firearms-related offenses.

So far so good, right?

Well, actually no, because after reviewing the facts and the law, I concluded that the police had violated my clients’ Fourth Amendment rights. Just about everyone is familiar with the First and

It may be the Fourth Amendment, but it is every bit as important as the First and Second…

Second Amendments, but believe me, the Fourth is just as important because it’s the one that protects all of us against unreasonable searches and seizures.

In light of the Fourth Amendment violations, I filed a motion in Federal Court to suppress the evidence in the case. Not surprisingly, the Justice Department opposed my motion. On August 7, 2019, more than three years after my clients were arrested, Federal Judge Christopher Boyko conducted an evidentiary hearing on the matter. On August 21, he issued this ruling:

Law enforcement did not have consent to enter the Residence a third time and process the scene for evidence related to the burglary and assault on police. And since police did not have a warrant, the third reentry was unreasonable and therefore a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Since Detective Gambill based her Affidavit for a search warrant on facts she uncovered during the third reentry, those facts must be excised from the Affidavit. Finally, the Government failed to establish by a preponderance that the evidence it seeks to introduce would have been inevitably discovered in a lawful manner. Thus, any evidence uncovered or learned about during Detective Laprocina’ s search of the Residence must be excluded. Defendants’ Motions to Suppress are GRANTED. You can read Judge Boyko’s order in its entirety here: Opinion and Order (002)

What does the decision prove?

It proves that cases can take years to work their way through the criminal justice system.

It proves that the government must play by the rules. Please don’t underestimate how important this is. As I noted earlier, the government possesses awesome power. If police and prosecutors abuse it by ignoring the Constitution they are undermining the rule of law, endangering the freedoms we hold dear, and placing all of us, including law-abiding citizens, in jeopardy.

It proves that a skilled, knowledgeable, experienced, and dedicated attorney can take on the federal government and prevail.

Victories like this, which demonstrate the fundamental strength and fairness of our judicial system, make me proud to be an American and an attorney.

And I have to admit, as I read Judge Boyko’s order, I could swear I heard the Perry Mason theme song playing softly in the background…

New York Times investigation: Breathalyzer test results can’t be trusted

Breathalyzer screenIt’s a tradition here in the Valley and across the country: every weekend people climb into their cars and drive to their favorite restaurants, bars, and nightclubs to eat, dance, hang out with friends and yes, drink.

Later in the evening some of those people will participate in another American tradition: taking a breathalyzer test after being pulled over by the police. It’s a bad way to end a great evening. That’s why we at Betras, Kopp & Harshman have a hard and fast rule about driving if you’ve had an alcoholic beverage or two or three or four:

DON’T DO IT.

Use a designated driver. Call Uber or Lyft. Get a ride from a friend or loved one. But please don’t drink and drive.

Unfortunately, as an in-depth investigation in the New York Times revealed, people who follow the rules are sometimes charged with OVI/DUI because the breathalyzers law enforcement uses to measure the blood alcohol level of people who are suspected of drunk driving aren’t reliable.

Here is the top takeaway from the investigation:

More than 1 million drivers a year are arrested for drunk driving, but the breath test technology supporting many of those arrests can be unreliable. Courts across the country have tossed out more than 50,000 tests in recent years because of problems with specific machines, errors made by police officers and mistakes by labs that set up and maintain the devices.

In the past year, more than 30,000 test results were thrown out by judges in Massachusetts and New Jersey. Other challenges are moving through the courts in states across the country. The machines used in Ohio are among those that have produced inaccurate results.

The Times notes that the machines are sensitive scientific instruments, but in many cases they haven’t been properly calibrated, yielding results that were at times 40 percent too high. Maintaining machines is up to police departments that sometimes have shoddy standards and lack expertise. In some cities, lab officials have used stale or home-brewed chemical solutions that warped results. In Massachusetts, officers used a machine with rats nesting inside.

We encourage you to read the shocking NYT report here: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/03/business/drunk-driving-breathalyzer.html

Man taking field sobriety testAlong with making a strong case that breathalyzer results cannot be trusted, the Times report also features profiles of people whose lives were nearly destroyed because they were wrongly convicted of OVI based on faulty test results. We don’t want Valley residents to suffer the same fate. If you are pulled over by the police or stopped at a DUI checkpoint, you have rights. Here’s how to protect them:

  1. Take advantage of your right to consult an attorney before submitting to a breathalyzer test. Inform the officer or officers who are administering the test that you want to speak to a lawyer before you take it. If you download the free Betraslaw app you will be able to contact a member of our legal team with one tap on the screen of your smartphone. You can download the app by searching for it in the App Store on Google play or by accessing the links we’ve posted at https://bkmlaws.com/download-app/ and our Facebook page.
  2. To blow or not to blow? We’re asked this question often. But there is no blanket answer because the circumstances surrounding every case are different. That is why you should contact us before submitting to the test. In general, however, because failure to take the test will result in an automatic one-year suspension of your driver’s license you should take it, especially if you have never been charged with DUI before and you have not been involved in an accident.
  3. If you are charged with DUI/OVI hire experienced legal counsel. OVI is a serious offense that carries steep penalties. Attempting to represent yourself in an OVI case is, in a word, reckless. If you are convicted you will be fined, you could be sentenced to jail, you may lose your driving privileges for a long period of time, and you will be forced to pay incredibly high auto insurance premiums for a number of years. In addition, an OVI conviction could get you fired from your current job and may make it difficult to find another.                                                  Don’t face these consequences on your own. When you retain Betras, Kopp & Harshman to represent you we will be with you at your first hearing, ask the court to allow you to drive as your case works its way through the judicial system, investigate the circumstances surrounding your arrest, provide sound legal advice, and fight to obtain the best possible outcome, including a dismissal or acquittal.
  4. Is it possible to successfully defend a DUI in court? The answer is yes. Our experienced OVI/DUI Defense Team led by Atty. David Betras has represented thousands of clients charged with impaired driving. If we believe you should not have been arrested and charged we will use our expertise and knowledge of the law to have the charges dismissed or win an acquittal in court. That expertise includes challenging the results of breathalyzer tests which, as the NYT report notes, are not always reliable or accurate.

If you or someone you know has been charged with impaired driving, contact the Betras, Kopp & Harshman OVI/DUI Defense Team right away by calling 330-746-8484, 800-457-2889, or by using the Betraslaw app. We’re here to fight for you.

Legally Speaking on WFMJ Today: Fans suing NFL over blown calls

In this episode of Legally Speaking on WFMJ Today, Managing Partner David Betras discusses the lawsuits filed against the NFL by fans distressed over the blown pass interference call that marred the 2018 NFC Championship game between the L.A. Rams and the New Orleans Saints.

You may view the segment on our YouTube channel or on the Betras, Kopp & Harshman Facebook page.

Federal suits have been dismissed, but a state court judge in Louisiana has allowed a suit filed in that state to move forward. David outlines whether or not the plaintiffs have a valid case.

One outgrowth of the bad call: pass interference can now be reviewed. According to a new rule implemented by NFL owners, offensive and defensive pass interference, including non-calls, will now subject to review. Coaches can challenge those calls in the first 28 minutes of each half.

Don’t forget, David and other members of the BKH team discuss the hottest legal topics on  WFMJ Today every Friday at 6:40 A.M. Don’t miss the interesting and informative segments.