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Employee fired for misconduct due comp benefits

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An employee who injured his back at work is entitled to workers compensation temporary total disability benefits even though he was fired for misconduct, an Indiana appeals court ruled.

Douglas Waid was employed as a production associate for Jasper, Indiana-based Masterbrand Cabinets Inc. in June 2014 when he slipped and injured his lower back. Mr. Waid notified his supervisor of the injury but did not seek treatment until his pain worsened more than two weeks after the accident. Masterbrand referred Mr. Waid to a doctor who returned him to full duty, a determination that Mr. Waid disagreed with, according to court documents.

Mr. Waid attempted to return to work, but was unable to get out of bed the day following his first full shift. When he returned to work, he got into a verbal altercation with his supervisor regarding his back pain and lack of work restrictions and threw an ice pack, which nearly struck another employee. The company suspended Mr. Waid and then terminated his employment, court records show.

Mr. Waid continued to see the doctor, who ordered physical therapy but removed work restrictions. The doctor released Mr. Waid from treatment in September 2013, finding maximum medical improvement, and assigned a 3% whole-person impairment rating, according to court documents.

Mr. Waid requested an independent medical examination, which found in August 2015 that Mr. Waid had likely exacerbated a pre-existing back condition and diagnosed him with a disc injury that was 10% to 20% attributable to his work injury. The Indiana Worker’s Compensation Board determined that Mr. Waid was unable to perform work of the same kind he was performing when injured and that he was due TTD payments. An appeal to the full board was affirmed, court records show.

Masterbrand appealed the ruling to the Indiana appeals court in Indianapolis in Masterbrand Cabinets vs. Waid, saying Mr. Waid is not entitled to TTD benefits because he was terminated for misconduct. The company pointed to the state’s workers comp statute, which says termination of TTD benefits is allowed when an employee is unable or unavailable to work for reasons unrelated to the work injury.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court Thursday unanimously affirmed the workers comp board’s decision to award TTD benefits to Mr. Waid, saying Masterbrand’s argument is a request to reweigh evidence, which it is unable to do.

“Although Waid was terminated from his employment at Masterbrand, the relevant inquiry is whether his inability to work, even for other employers, was related to his injury,” the court said in its ruling. “The board here found that Waid’s inability to work was related to his injury. That decision rested on a determination of Waid’s credibility and weighing of the evidence.

“We conclude that Waid’s termination for misconduct does not prevent him from receiving TTD benefits as a result of his on-the-job injury,” the court said.

Representatives from Masterbrand were not immediately available to comment.