Worker's sleeping on job doesn't block vocational rehabilitation benefits
Case name: Oshkosh Corp. v. Labor & Industry Review Commission, No. 2010AP1219 (Wis. Ct. App. 02/23/11).
Ruling: The Wisconsin Court of Appeals awarded vocational rehabilitation benefits to a worker.
What it means: In Wisconsin, an injured worker cannot be denied vocational rehabilitation benefits when he is offered suitable employment after his injury and is subsequently terminated for just cause.
An assembler for a corporation injured both of his knees while working. After two surgeries, he continued working but with permanent restrictions imposed by his treating physicians. Eventually, the assembler's employment was terminated for allegedly sleeping on the job. After, he applied for retraining assistance, which was granted by his vocational rehabilitation counselor. Then, he applied for vocational rehabilitation benefits. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals held that the assembler was entitled to vocational rehabilitation benefits.
The corporation argued that the medical evidence did not show the assembler had permanent work restrictions. The court disagreed, stating that of the four physicians who examined the assembler, only one concluded that he did not require permanent restrictions.
The corporation next asserted that it offered the assembler suitable employment after his injury and later terminated him for just cause, so it should not be liable for vocational rehabilitation benefits. The parties agreed that the assembler was offered suitable employment. The court stated that an injured worker who is terminated is entitled to benefits because he continues to suffer his work-related injury. The injury, not the termination, caused the worker's economic loss. The court explained that the purpose of workers' compensation is to compensate workers who lost the ability to work due to a work-related injury, regardless of whether they are good or bad workers. Therefore, the assembler could not be denied benefits for allegedly sleeping on the job.
The court also found that the vocational rehabilitation counselor did not abuse her discretion when she allowed the assembler to take classes at a technical college before conducting a job search. An injured worker is not required to conduct a job search before he can apply for retraining benefits, and the assembler conducted his own job search.
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April 7, 2011
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