Case name: Stampin' Up, Inc. v. Labor Commission, No. 20100122-CA (Utah Ct. App. 05/12/11).
Ruling: The Utah Court of Appeals held that a worker was entitled to benefits during periods following his termination for misconduct while he was released to light-duty work but was unable to perform it because he was no longer working for the employer.
What it means: In Utah, a worker who is terminated for misconduct may be entitled to temporary disability benefits if he is able to perform light-duty work but cannot perform it due to the termination.
Summary: A worker injured his shoulder in an industrial accident. The Workers' Compensation Fund began paying temporary total disability benefits on the employer's behalf. The worker's doctor released him to light-duty work, and he returned to work the same day. A few months later, the employer terminated him for sending inappropriate images to coworkers' cell phones and on company e-mail accounts. The fund discontinued paying benefits. The worker later underwent surgery and was unable to work. The fund resumed paying benefits. The fund stopped paying benefits when his doctor released him to light-duty work. The worker sought benefits for the two periods the fund stopped paying him. The Utah Court of Appeals held that the worker was entitled to benefits.
The fund argued that even though the employer terminated the worker, light-duty work was available to him and he "constructively declined" the work as a result of his conduct that led to his termination. The worker contended that light-duty work was no longer available to him after the employer terminated him. The court explained that work is "available" even when a worker engages in misconduct that results in his termination, as long as the worker lacked the "purpose of severing the employment relationship." Contrary to the fund's argument, the court said the employer was not entitled to argue it had good cause to terminate the worker.
The court noted that the legislature enacted a provision that a worker's benefits could be reduced if he was terminated for good cause, but the provision was enacted after the worker was injured and did not apply to him.
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July 5, 2011
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