Worker's half-hearted job search may not preclude temporary total disability
Powe v. Centerpoint Human Services, No. COA10-1022 (N.C. Ct. App. 09/06/11).
Ruling: The North Carolina Court of Appeals reversed the industrial commission's decision that a clinician was not entitled to benefits because she did not fully comply with rehabilitation and sent the case back for further findings under the correct standard.
What it means: In North Carolina, a worker who substantially complies with vocational rehabilitation services and does not significantly interfere with efforts to assist her in returning to suitable employment may be entitled to continued benefits.
Summary: A human services clinician sustained a compensable injury to her lower back and left hip while working. Her temporary total disability benefits were suspended due to her noncompliance with vocational rehabilitation. She sought to reinstate her benefits, arguing that she was compliant with vocational rehabilitation. The clinician kept her rehabilitation appointments and provided the rehabilitation specialist with documentation that she was looking for work. However, the clinician said she did not have stamps to mail resumes, could not search for work on the Internet because she had no computer skills, and refused to meet the specialist to participate in a program to help individuals obtain appropriate clothing for interviews. Subsequently, the employer ceased offering vocational rehabilitation to her. The North Carolina Court of Appeals reversed the industrial commission's decision that she was not entitled to benefits because she did not fully comply with rehabilitation and sent the case back for further findings under the correct standard.
State law bars compensation for workers refusing to cooperate with rehabilitation services until the refusal ceases. The clinician argued that her willingness to comply should reinstate her benefits. The court disagreed. The clinician did not completely reject services but failed to cooperate. The court said that workers participating in vocational rehabilitation should not be precluded from receiving benefits when a lack of full cooperation does not "substantially interfere" with a specialist's ability to serve the purposes of rehabilitation. The court said the commission had to determine whether the clinician substantially complied with services and significantly interfered with the specialist's efforts to assist her in returning to suitable employment.
The court said the commission also had to determine why the vocational rehabilitation was ceased. If it was not due solely to non-cooperation, TTD could be reinstated.
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October 17, 2011
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