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Is return to work an all-or-nothing proposition? NY court says no

Monday, January 5, 2015

It may sound a little pie-in-the-sky, but it is true: One of the objectives of workers’ compensation is to get the employee healthy enough to return to work — and not just because the employer will benefit. This really is about the employee, too, because the sooner the recovery from injury or illness, the sooner the return to taking care of family and friends and, in general, living a full life.

Of course, all of this assumes that the worker can recover completely from an injury. With cases involving life-altering injuries and illnesses, cases that result in a permanent disability, recovery is not the objective. Maximum medical improvement is the objective. And when a worker is only “as healthy as he’ll ever be,” the idea of returning to work takes on a whole new meaning. Should a worker jump at the first opportunity? If he doesn’t, will workers’ comp close his claim and deny him further benefits?

That first offer can put an employee in a tight spot. For one New Yorker, the offer led to an appeal, first to the Workers’ Compensation Board and then to a state appellate court. In spite of the employer’s insistence that the man had refused work and, so, voluntarily withdrawn from the workforce, both courts found the claimant’s argument more convincing.

At the center of the case was the employee’s refusal to report to the employer’s physician and, assuming he was cleared for work, to report for a light-duty assignment — the next day. With so little notice, the employee could not comply.

Why? We’ll explain in our next post.

Source: The Workcomp Writer, “New York Court Finds Worker’s Refusal of Light-Work Justified,” Thomas A. Robinson, Dec. 30, 2014

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