An area of concern for many workers’ compensation claimants has to do with returning to work under a fully or light duty release. I always remind my clients about the importance of having a WC-240 form in hand before attempting to return to work. The WC-240 is an official State Board form completed by the authorized treating physician that sets out specifically the restrictions that must be accommodated by your employer when you try to return to work.
If you return to work without a WC-240 and cannot perform the job tasks, your employer is not obligated to restart your TTD benefits. If you try to return to work at a job within the WC-240 restrictions and cannot perform that job your TTD benefits will resume automatically (although the employer can later challenge you on the medical issue).
I recently ran across an interesting twist on this return to work issue. The case arose in Arkansas which apparently has similar rules to Georgia about return to work issues. In the Tyson Poultry vs. Francisco Narvaiz case, Mr. Narvaiz injured his left shoulder and was out on TTD. His condition improved and he was released to light duty work. While working light duty he got into a verbal altercation with his supervisor and called her a vulgar name that I will not repeat, and Tyson Poultry fired him but refused to reinstate his TTD. Tyson argued that Narvaiz’ termination was equivalent to a refusal to work and thus should relieve them of their obligation to pay TTD benefits.
The Arkansas workers compensation commission (equivalent to Georgia’s State Board) ruled in favor of Narvaiz, reasoning that the termination was Tyson’s decision and not a voluntary refusal by the employee. The Arkansas appeals court reversed and ruled in favor of Tyson, but the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed and found in favor of Narvaiz and accepting the reasoning of the commission.
While I think that the Georgia State Board would rule in a similar fashion, I do think it is wise for an employee who is returned to work with a WC-240 to light or full duty make every effort to avoid situations where he might be fired for misconduct. I can easily see a scenario where the employer would argue that the employee intentionally acted rude in order to get fired – in such a situation the State Board might very well find that intentional actions by an employee to get terminated from a WC-240 described job is equivalent to refusing to perform that job.
I therefore counsel my clients to be on their best behavior when attempting to return to work and avoid responding to sarcastic comments from supervisors.