Worker Fired for Misconduct Still Due Disability Payments

June 3, 2011 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – The Utah Court of Appeals has found that an injured worker did not purposefully refuse light-duty work offered by his employer by sending pornographic images to coworkers via company e-mail.

The employer in the case contended that light-duty work was available to the employee, but he “constructively denied” that work by engaging in the misconduct. However, the employee contended that because the employer terminated him, the employer had withdrawn the light-duty work offer.  

The court said that in workers compensation cases, the Labor Commission draws a line between an employee’s deliberate, volitional content with the intent to sever an employment relationship and conduct that lacks the intent to result in termination.  The Commission considers work to be “available” even when an employee engages in misconduct that results in termination, as long as the employee “lacked the purpose of severing the employment relationship.”  

Responding to the employer’s argument that they fired the employee for “good cause,” the court ruled that “the introduction of a good cause element into the issue of whether an employer who fires and employee is still making work ‘available’ to that employee impermissibly expands the meaning of ‘available’ as used” in workers compensation statute.  

According to the opinion, Jessie C. Gonzalez injured his shoulder in an industrial accident and began receiving workers compensation benefits. When his doctor released him to light-duty work, Stampin’ Up Inc. provided that work at full-pay until it terminated Gonzalez for distribution the pornographic images.   

The Workers Compensation Fund did not resume his disability benefits contending light-duty work was available but he had rejected it by his misconduct.  

An administrative law judge found in favor of Gonzalez and ordered that benefits be paid to him, and an appeals board affirmed that decision.   

The court opinion is here.

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