A worker was injured on the job and received workers’ comp benefits. While she was on light duty, she was fired for allegedly posting a threat about her supervisor on Facebook. The worker says, despite her firing, her workers’ comp benefits should continue. Her employer disagrees. How did a court rule?
Brenda Miller worked as a certified nurse assistant for Christus St. Patrick Hospital (CSPH) in Louisiana. She injured her back on June 29, 2010.
CSPH never disputed that she was injured.
When a doctor said she could do so, Miller returned to work on light duty.
According to CSPH, Miller was fired on Oct. 14, 2010, because she made threatening statements about her supervisor on Facebook while she was at work.
Miller doesn’t deny that she posted on Facebook while at work, but she says her post wasn’t directed at her supervisor. CSPH fired her for violating its standards of employee behavior.
When Miller filed for continuation of her workers’ comp benefits, CSPH sought to deny them on the grounds that she was fired for cause.
A workers’ comp judge (WCJ) ruled in Miller’s favor. CSPH took its case to a state appeals court.
Did WCJ get it right?
In reviewing the case, the appeals court said previous case law had established the following:
- Workers’ comp benefits end when an employee refuses employment
- If a company fired a worker for cause unrelated to an injury, workers’ comp benefits can be terminated, and
- If a company fired an employee for reasons other than cause, workers’ comp benefits don’t end because allowing that might encourage some employers to fire workers to bring an end to comp benefits.
Although CSPH said it fired Miller for cause, Miller disputed part of the hospital’s reason for firing her.
The appeals court called the circumstances involving Miller’s firing “obscure or murky.” It said the only job of the WCJ was to decide whether Miller met the burden of proof to get workers’ comp benefits. It’s not up to a WCJ to determine whether a firing for cause was justified.
The appeals court said Miller’s workers’ comp benefits should continue because it wasn’t clear if her firing was justifiably for cause.
Notes: Miller lost one other part of her case. Her physical therapy was being provided at CSPH. She said, given the circumstances, that was a conflict of interest and she should be allowed to choose her own physical therapist. The court denied her request. However, Miller was awarded $5,000 in attorney fees for work performed on her appeal.
(Miller v. Christus St. Patrick Hospital, Court of Appeals of Louisiana, 3rd Circuit, No. 12-370, 10/24/12)