Safety and OSHA News

‘Please lay me off … now I want comp, too’


Imagine this: A worker is injured and returns to light duty work. After a while he says he “can’t stand it anymore” and asks to be laid off. Then he turns around and applies for full workers’ comp benefits. Did he get them?

Kenneth Jason worked for Walbridge RB LLC in construction. One Friday at work, he slipped on ice and fell. The following Monday morning he reported for work, but he ended up going to the emergency room with pain in his neck, right arm, back and both legs.

On doctor’s orders, Jason didn’t return to work right away. Eventually, the doctor said he could return to light duty. His employer gave him a light-duty job sweeping, mopping and emptying trash cans.

Didn’t get along with safety supervisor

After his injury, Jason had run-ins with the company’s safety supervisor, Michael Wales.

Once, Jason became rude and disrespectful, muttered obscenities and walked away when Wales asked him to provide a doctor’s note so that he could be paid for time he spent at a medical appointment.

Another time, Wales accompanied Jason to the emergency room when he overextended himself. When Wales told medical staff that the company had light-duty work available, Jason erupted at Wales and pitched a small fit.

Jason went to his boss at least three times and said he wanted to be laid off because of his disagreements with Wales, and that he couldn’t “stand it anymore.” The final request happened on a Friday. Jason’s boss told him he’d think about it over the weekend. The following Monday, the boss said he’d lay Jason off.

While he was on light duty, Jason received partial disability benefits because the job sweeping didn’t pay as much as his previous position.

After he was laid off, Jason applied for total disability benefits as of the date he stopped working. Jason claimed his employer laid him off without any explanation. The employer said that wasn’t the case and fought the claim.

A workers’ comp judge (WCJ) found the employer’s story more credible and suspended all benefits because the company laid him off only because he requested it. Jason appealed to the workers’ comp board.

The board agreed that Jason didn’t deserve total disability benefits, but it did award him the same partial disability benefits he was receiving while working light duty. Reason: Jason still wasn’t medically able to return to his previous job.

Despite getting some workers’ comp benefits, Jason appealed to a state court. He argued a layoff, regardless of the reason for it, should automatically result in total disability benefits because it’s a unilateral action by the employer. He said his situation should be viewed differently than a voluntary resignation or a termination for cause, both of which would prohibit total disability benefits.

The court didn’t buy Jason’s reasoning. In their opinion, the judges said since Jason was laid off from a light-duty job, normally it would be presumed that his loss of earnings resulted from his work injury. However, since his employer proved that Jason asked to be laid off because he didn’t get along with the safety supervisor, it was Jason’s personal choice to leave his job. It wasn’t the work injury that prevented Jason from working.

For that reason, the court ruled Jason should continue to receive partial disability benefits as long as he is medically unable to return to his previous job. However, he should not receive total disability benefits because the layoff wasn’t involuntary — Jason asked for it.

(Jason v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, Commonwealth Court of PA, No. 2248 C.D. 2010, 9/21/2011)

What do you think about the court’s ruling? Have you ever had a worker on light duty become difficult? Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. Good ruling. I’m glad they get it right once in awhile.

  2. The WCJ finally got it right – somewhat. Jason is supposedly an adult – he should have gone the extra mile to get along with his safety supervisor instead of whining for a lay-off.

  3. Way to go Court!!! Right decision.

  4. If he thought he was right, then why did he lie and say that he was laid off without any explanation?

  5. BlackGold says:

    Looks like a good decision. Perhaps Jason should have been mindful of the old adage: “Be careful what you pray for – you might get it”.

  6. They definitely got it right! The company had light duty work available but he chose to ask to be laid off. It’s nice to see that the WCB sided with the company on this one!

  7. This sounds exactly like a case we had, however we had an insurance company unwilling to fight the battle. Now that totally disabled individual is working at another body shop.

  8. I feel the courts were right in this case, but I would have taken it a step further by citing Jason for insubordination toward the Safety Supervisor, who was obviously there for His protection..

  9. Correct ruling. Not sure why employer laid him off, instead of asking him to resign from work, which would have made it easier.

  10. Correct ruling. Even though his behavior seems questionable he still was given partial benefits. No such mercy for the cable guy who was beaten while doing his job.

  11. Finally, one of the rare moments WC got it right! @ Ravi, it stated in the story, the employer laid Jason off because he asked to be laid off. If Jason resigned he would’nt have been able to get the total disability benefits. Clear case of someone trying to beat the system & didn’t!!

  12. Really? You all think the final ruling was correct?

    This is one instance where I feel sorry for the employeer, not the employee. They should not have to be paying any benefits. This guy was a trouble maker and clearly knew/knows how to work the system. The construction company was very accomidating – apparently too accomidating. The article clearly says “it was Jason’s personal choice to leave his job”. How is this any different from voluntary resignation? This case becomes a paperwork/terminology nightmare because they “laid him off” BUT “at /his/ request”.

    A smarter employeer would have done a better job to mediate between Jason and the HS professional and then told Jason if he did not like it – his lighter workload and his limited and/or monitored interactions with the HS person – then he should take it upon himself to leave.

    Also, how long will they be on the hook? It says “as long as he is medically unable to return to his previous job”. Due to his conflict with the HS professional, he may decide that he is never medically able to return and due to enough falsified statements get a doctor to consent to continued disability. I see no cause for continued benefits here!

  13. I think the court should have sought additional opinions about Jason’s “ability” to work. It seems abundantly clear that he is a chronic malcontent whose only goal is to stay home and collect disability. His case sounds like a scam from start to finish.

  14. Trent – I completely agree. Never lay an injured worker off in the middle of a claim.

  15. I agree with the court’s decision denying the total disability, accepting and knowing the reason they could not end all benefits.

    Regrettably even though evidence in this “Lay Me Off Now” case illustrations the employee was playing the system, there was no denial of the work related compensatory injury that placed him on restricted/light duty. Due to that reason the law still entitles him to medical and partial financial coverage until he is at MMI. The courts hands were bound by that. Yet it angers me and for good reason.

    The employee in this case is just one illustration of why employees like me are suffering with legitimate injuries yet we are treated like frauds even with irrefutable medical evidence and eyewitness’s including a co-worker that was injured by the same incident as we worked side by side.

    Again because of people like him, legit injured workers get delayed treatment and Appointment scheduling on medical essential referrals. Actually in my situation I assure you that the prisoners at Gitmo get better and quicker medical care than the Injured Florida Worker!

    It has been almost 6 months since my injury and Finally Five Months into my restricting pain, burning, and intermittent loss of feeling bilaterally and atrophy in areas around my thumbs starting to become obvious now.

    Well finally I actually have a confirmed diagnosis as of almost 3 weeks ago!

    Not overjoyed that it’s kind of bad, but relieved that I actually know what it is and if there are no more unnecessary delays by the IC surgery may be able to repair most of it. Diagnosis Confirmed Cervical HNP with Bi-lateral Radiculopathy.

    Dr. said the spinal cord injury crushed and squeezed the discs by both the impact and the whiplash effect of the hard fall. When I fell backwards the impact produced a rupture and squeezing the pulpous out of the disc into the root when it herniated two cervical discs at C5-C6-C7. The MRI showed the rupture caused the nucleus pulpous to…

  16. Continued……
    out of the disc into the root when it herniated two cervical discs at C5-C6-C7. The MRI showed the rupture caused the nucleus pulpous to eject out the posterior of the disc impeding and putting pressure onto the nerve root bilaterally causing extreme pain that at times that I never knew existed including my time as a soldier and previous years as a Firefighter/EMT.
    For the reason that is has taken so long and I still waiting almost 3 weeks once again on approval to see a Surgeon I now have significant cervical kyphosis and it is getting worse as the other cervical discs have had to compensate for the two herniated ones below for so long. I do not want to be disabled…I want to go back to work. Dr. says that I can still be a manager/supervisor, but may be limited with a permanent weight restriction, limits on working overhead, and climbing ladders even after surgery. Hands on Mechanical/Technical labor intense work is all I know as the big 50 is close at hand. I can supervise but have little patience for teaching (probably my ADD!). I want to get back to work, do my own lawn again, and ride my Harley on weekends. I had better be able to get back on my bike!!! It been months and she sits in the garage and all I can do is start it up to keep it from having issues but cannot get on it and ride right now. Sad…you know what I am talking about if you ride.
    Again people that do what the genius in the case above did make honest people like us have to pay for their dishonorable debaucheries. Thanks for letting me rant a bit and vent….I am starting to feel depressed and useless for the first time in my life as I can no longer help anyone right now with anything…so I mostly just stay inside. Thanks again.

  17. Sorry to hear about your ordeal and hope that even with delay you will get the proper compensation and the surgery will help you recover. Before you know it you could be riding that bike, cutting the lawn and helping others -not teaching!!!
    I know comparisons are bad but, if there is any consolation -the guy who was beaten while at work did not get anything whatsoever -ever.

  18. Gigi,

    Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging words.

    Now if that situation as printed was true…That guy was Robbed at Least Twice! Once by the thugs, and the other time by the system!

    You would think that even Lucifer himself might feel a little sympathy for that guy if he were on a jury in an appeals court.

    I used to be a broadband tech for a large cable company and people see the uniforms of utility workers and they figure they have to collect from somebody or at least they have a wallet as they are away from home and they have to eat sometime.

    That is why years ago as a service tech for Coca-Cola and I Never collected money the words on all of their vehicles stated “Driver Carries No Cash” even if it wasn’t true…..

    In my case it was absolutely true and it should have read “Driver Carries No Cash…He’s Married!” That might have kept more people safe as it is more believable! lol

    Thanks again and have a great week!

  19. Bingo! There are too many of these “attitude” employees waiting for a free ride. I had one employee tell me, ” I am tired of all of this, I am going to hurt my back and go out on workers compensation until I can retire on social security.” He did exactly that and there was not one thing that could be done about it. Some leaches want to paint the company as the boogie man- The court was absolutely correct in this case.

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