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Employer offered injured worker suitable light duty, court says

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Light duty ruling

An injured worker was not entitled to temporary partial disability benefits because of a lack of employment opportunities, the District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District in Tallahassee held unanimously on Monday.

In MJM Electric Inc. v. Spencer, the appellate court reversed a judge of compensation claims’ decision in favor of an injured worker and her finding that the employer failed to offer suitable employment opportunities after the worker was terminated.

William Spencer worked for Tampa-based MJM Electric Inc. as a journeyman electrician. On Aug. 1, 2017, he reported that he was injured at the workplace and went home. Three days later he returned to work and saw an authorized physician but did not return to work. The company tried calling Mr. Spencer multiple times over the next two weeks and left him voicemail messages advising him that light-duty work that fell within his work restrictions was available for him and that he needed to come in. On Aug. 15, after still not hearing back from Mr. Spencer, the company terminated his employment for job site abandonment. Mr. Spencer testified that he did not answer the phone because he did not recognize the number and said he doesn’t retrieve voicemail unless he recognizes the number. However, he also said that no voicemail messages from the company were left on his phone.

The judge of compensation claims found that MJM offered Mr. Spencer suitable light duty and that when he chose not to listen to his voicemail or contact the employer, he was not entitled to temporary partial disability benefits for the first two weeks after his accident. However, the judge did hold that he could receive disability benefits after his termination because she found that the company failed to meet its burden of showing that Mr. Spencer had suitable employment opportunities after Aug. 16.

MJM appealed, and the appellate court reversed and remanded the judge’s decision. The appellate court held that the judge erred as a matter of law because she assumed that the employer was “obliged to make repeated offers of suitable employment.” The court noted that Mr. Spencer’s supervisor testified that suitable employment “would have continued” if Mr. Spencer had returned to work, and that the judge’s finding that the electrical company was not likely to offer light duty work seemed “speculative based on the record.”

The appellate court, therefore, reversed and remanded the case with directions to address the continued availability of suitable employment, Mr. Spencer’s refusal of such employment and any justification for a continued refusal.

Attorneys in the case did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

 

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