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.