An injured worker can’t get workers’ compensation benefits for the time he refused to work since his employer offered him employment within his medical restrictions, according to a Florida appeals court.
The worker was denied benefits for the six weeks he refused to work, but the court did award benefits for a period of time after he returned to work and a supervisor gave him duties outside of his medical restrictions.
Could return with restrictions, failed to do so for 6 weeks
Harold Darius was hired at Toufayan Bakery in 2005 and worked in various positions for the company.
In March 2020, Darius injured his back and shoulder at work while standing on a shaker table – a 3-feet high stand that positions employees so they can reach a lane where bread comes down for packaging.
Two days after the incident, a doctor placed Darius on work restrictions, including no lifting above certain weights and no climbing. The doctor didn’t place him at maximum medical improvement but did start him on medication and physical therapy.
Darius was cleared to return to work under the restrictions, but he didn’t go back to work for about six weeks. While he was away, he received a call from the company’s human resources office, confirming he would be assigned light-duty work that fell within his medical restrictions.
However, Darius didn’t return to work until he received a letter telling him he’d be fired if he didn’t return to work.
Supervisor assigned duties outside of medical restrictions
When he did return, he was assigned to sweep and clean floors, which was within his medical restrictions. After a few days of this, a supervisor assigned him to the shaker table, which was outside of his medical restrictions. Darius then began leaving work early or calling in sick.
Darius filed a petition for temporary partial disability benefits from the date of his injury through the date of the final hearing for the benefits.
A judge of compensation claims granted the petition in part and ordered Toufayan Bakery to pay benefits from the date of the injury until the medical restrictions were lifted on June 12, 2020. The judge reasoned that the bakery failed to offer suitable employment during the period, so Darius’s refusal to return to work was justified.
Supervisor’s actions separate from preceding 6 weeks
On appeal with Florida’s First District Court of Appeal, Toufayan Bakery argued it was Darius’s refusal to return to work that resulted in lost wages, not the company’s refusal to offer work within his medical restrictions.
The appeals court found the employer was partially correct, so it set aside part of the prior order because it found the judge’s analysis of the situation was flawed.
The supervisor’s actions following Darius’s return to work are separate from what occurred prior to those actions, the appeals court said. In his testimony, Darius testified that his failure to return to work was because of the pain he was experiencing, not because the bakery failed to offer him work within his medical restrictions.
‘Subjective belief doesn’t support award of benefits’
Given the circumstances, the appeals court found that “Darius’s subjective belief that he could not work due to pain cannot support the award of benefits for the period he refused to return to work.”
The appeals court set aside the portion of the judge’s final order that covered the six weeks Darius refused to go to work. It affirmed the portion for benefits from the date of the reassignment to the shaker table to June 12, 2020, since there was substantial evidence supporting that part of the judge’s findings.