Have you ever been suspicious of a workers’ comp claim? Be careful. A recent ruling appears to draw an important — and, in this case, extremely expensive — distinction between “reasonable” and what you might call “reflexive” suspicion.
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has upheld a $1 million punitive-damages award against a mining company accused of retaliatory discharge against a worker who’d filed a comp claim.
One key: what the jury viewed as unreasonable suspicion. It saw the company’s surveillance efforts as evidence of malicious conduct.
Specifically, the court noted, the company had “placed (the employee) under surveillance” and had “continued its surveillance” even after the employee said he could return to work.
And that was a contributing factor in the jury’s decision that the employee was “severely harmed” by the company’s actions.
The court added in a footnote: “That is not to say … that an employer may not use surveillance techniques to investigate the veracity of an injured employee’s claim for workers’ compensation benefits.”
Maybe not, but it certainly raises questions.
Where should companies draw the line? Is routine surveillance of comp cases reasonable, or should companies have to justify their suspicions before going to such lengths? Tell us what you think in the Comment Box below.