Failure to perform light duty after surgery doesn't amount to bad faith
Case name: Guzman v. Dold Foods, LLC, No. 102,139 (Kan. Ct. App. 03/26/10, unpublished).
Ruling: The Kansas Court of Appeals upheld the Workers' Compensation Board's award of permanent partial disability benefits to an injured production worker. The worker's failure to perform light-duty work did not preclude him from receiving an award based on a work disability.
What it means: A worker medically released from performing his regular duties for two weeks does not commit bad faith by failing to perform light duty during those two weeks, especially where he is unaware that his physician issued an updated release directly to the employer.
Summary: A production worker injured his back while stacking pork hides. His physician diagnosed overuse syndrome affecting the shoulders, arms and lower back. He received conservative treatment but eventually underwent shoulder surgery. The surgeon issued a work-release form, indicating that the worker was to be off work for two weeks. When the employer received the form, it contacted the surgeon's office, notifying it that light-duty work was available. The surgeon's office then issued a second work-release slip, which authorized the worker to return to work doing "one-handed" work. The employer then ordered the worker to return immediately. Upon his return to work two weeks later, he was terminated for insubordination. The Court of Appeals upheld the board's award of permanent partial disability benefits, concluding that the worker's failure to show up for work did not constitute bad faith.
The employer contended that the worker's failure to return when ordered demonstrated a lack of good faith that barred his recovery of benefits for a work disability. The court noted that the worker did not read or speak English and held only a second-grade education. Additionally, while the evidence clearly showed that the worker received the first release stating that he was to be off for two weeks, the employer did not establish that the worker received a copy of the revised release indicating that he could return to work right away. Given these factors, the board had ample evidence to find that the worker acted in good faith.
The court also pointed out that while the worker's case was being litigated, the Kansas Supreme Court abolished the requirement that an injured worker must put a good-faith effort into finding appropriate postinjury employment.
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May 24, 2010
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