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Case 13: Workers Comp: Benefit or Bane?
James Kelly worked as an installer for a satellite TV company. He typically drove 200 miles a day between jobs, climbing ladders, working on roofs, and crawling into tight spaces. Kelly was injured while driving the company van and filed a workers’ compensation claim. His doctor said Kelly couldn’t perform his normal job duties but could work with certain restrictions. Since Kelly couldn’t work as an installer, his employer offered him a light-duty position.
At a medical exam arranged by a third-party workers’ compensation administrator, the examining doctor said Kelly was well enough to return to his installer job. Kelly’s doctor disagreed, saying his condition had not stabilized and he should continue treatment.
After the exam, the employer offered Kelly his installer job back, but Kelly declined, saying his doctor had not yet lifted the work restrictions. When the company refused to keep Kelly in the light-duty position, Kelly sued, alleging that the employer retaliated against him for filing a workers’ compensation claim, eliminated the light-duty position, and refused to offer him other available positions.
At trial, the employer claimed the light-duty position had been a temporary assignment and that Kelly was ineligible for other available positions either because of his medical restrictions or because the position constituted a promotion.
Although the court determined that the evidence was “not overwhelming” in Kelly’s favor, it did suggest a connection between his filing a claim and the employer’s adverse employment action. It said a “reasonable jury” might reach the same conclusion.
Employers should remember that filing workers’ compensation claims is a protected activity for employees, and they must take care not to factor such information into employment decisions.
In your opinion, how should employers treat workers’ compensation claims to avoid problems? Post your response in this week’s DB forum, and comment on one other student’s response.
Case: Kelly v. Ironwood Communications Inc., CV 08-3058-CL, 2009 U.S. Dist. Lexis 36674 (April 30, 2009).