Psychiatrist's opinion doesn't justify refusal of suitable employment
Thornton v. City of Raleigh, No. COA11-1503 (N.C. Ct. App. 09/04/12, unpublished).
Ruling: In an unpublished decision, the North Carolina Court of Appeals suspended a mechanic's temporary total disability benefits because she refused to accept suitable employment.
What it means:
In North Carolina, "suitable employment" is any job that a worker is capable of performing considering her age, education, physical limitations, vocational skills, and experience.
A water meter mechanic for a city sustained an injury to her right shoulder. The city accepted her injury as compensable and began paying temporary total disability benefits. After surgery, she was released to light-duty work. The city offered her a position as a security booth attendant at the same salary and benefits she received at her preinjury position. The mechanic's pain management physician determined that she could perform the duties of the position, but her psychiatrist determined that the position would aggravate her anxiety and claustrophobia. The mechanic did not report to work at the position, and the city sought to suspend her benefits. The North Carolina Court of Appeals suspended her TTD benefits.
The mechanic argued that her refusal to accept the position was justified because the position was unsuitable. The court disagreed, stating that the physical requirements of the position were within her physical restrictions. The position could not be characterized as "make work" because it existed in the competitive job market. The job required less education than her mechanic position.
The mechanic asserted that the position was not available at a comparable rate of pay in the competitive marketplace. A vocational consultant said that the base pay of the position was between $8 and $11 per hour. No evidence indicated that the mechanic had previous experience as an unarmed guard, so she could expect to receive that base pay in the general labor market. The city offered her an hourly wage of $14. She could receive up to 78 percent of the wages she would earn from the city to perform the same job for another employer. The court found this was a comparable wage.
The court also pointed out that the psychiatrist did not know the details of the position and may have recommended that the mechanic accept the position if he knew the requirements. The mechanic's other physicians found the position to be suitable.
The mechanic argued that she later agreed to accept the position. The court sent the case back to consider the mechanic's reinstatement of benefits.
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November 12, 2012
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