Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court Awards TTD to Employee Who Was Fired Due to Misconduct Unrelated to the Work Injury
In a recent case of first impression, Yoder v. Mosaic and Sentry Insurance, 2013 WL 7163425, Doc. 212 No. 1477 (2013), the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court determined that an injured employee who is fired due to misconduct unrelated to the work injury is not automatically disqualified from to receiving temporary total disability benefits.
In Yoder, the plaintiff suffered an injury to her shoulder that arose out of her employment with Defendant. Plaintiff worked in a light duty capacity for Defendant for a few months until she was fired due to misconduct unrelated to the work injury. The plaintiff argued that she was owed temporary total disability benefits for the time after she was terminated. The defendants argued that because the plaintiff was working light duty after the accident, and was then fired for misconduct unrelated to the work injury, she was disqualified from receiving temporary disability benefits. The defendants asserted that the plaintiff’s current inability to work was not due to her injuries but to her own misconduct.
Because the issue had not been previously addressed by the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court, the Court evaluated cases in which the issue had been addressed by other jurisdictions. It found that some jurisdictions deny compensation to employees who, after resuming employment following a work-related injury, are terminated for misconduct where the disability played no part in the discharge. These courts reasoned that an employee should not be rewarded with disability benefits where the separation from employment was not related to the disability but rather to an intentional act over which the employee exercised some control. Other jurisdictions held that an employee’s discharge from light-duty work for misconduct unrelated to the disability does not automatically bar the employee from receiving disability benefits. These courts allow benefits if the employee can establish that the work-related disability interferes with the employee’s ability to obtain or hold new employment.
The Court determined that the jurisdictions most closely aligned with the principles embodied by the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act have upheld an injured worker’s right to receive temporary disability benefits even though the worker is discharged for reasons unrelated to the work injury. The Court therefore held that “an employee is not automatically disqualified from receiving temporary disability benefits even though the employer provided the employee with light-duty work and the employee was subsequently terminated and lost that accommodation because of misconduct unrelated to the work injury. … [A]n employer’s obligation to pay temporary disability benefits to an injured employee does not cease because the employee has been discharged – whether or not the discharge was for ‘cause.’”
The Court recently addressed a similar issue in Zwiener v. Becton Dickinson East, in which an injured employee voluntarily quit working for the defendant in order to take up alternative employment. See our post regarding the Zwiener case here.
For more information regarding temporary disability obligations to injured employees, contact Sara Hughes at email@example.com or (402) 475-1075.