Termination based on social media posting doesn't block benefits
Case name: Miller v. Christus St. Patrick Hospital, No. 12-370 (La. Ct. App. 10/24/12).
Ruling: The Louisiana Court of Appeal held that an assistant was entitled to indemnity benefits.
What it means: In Louisiana, an employee who is terminated can be entitled to benefits if it is unclear whether her termination was for cause.
Summary: A certified nurse assistant for a hospital suffered a work-related injury to her back while transferring a patient to a bed. The hospital did not dispute that she was injured in the course and scope of her employment. The hospital provided medical treatment but not indemnity benefits. The hospital terminated the assistant for making threatening statements about her supervisor on a social media website while she was at work. The assistant denied that her posting was directed at her supervisor. The assistant sought workers' compensation benefits. The Louisiana Court of Appeal held that she was entitled to indemnity benefits.
The hospital asserted that the assistant was not entitled to benefits because her termination was due to her own actions. The assistant disputed the reason for her termination and did not agree that it was for cause. The court pointed out that the question of whether her termination was for cause should be decided by a District Court, not a workers' compensation judge. The court found that the assistant showed an entitlement to benefits, and the hospital failed to prove that employment was no longer available to her because of her refusal to work.
The court also found that the assistant was unable to earn 90 percent of her preinjury wages, and the hospital failed to reasonably controvert her claim. Therefore, she was entitled to a penalty and attorney's fees.
The assistant sought to choose her own physical therapist. The court disagreed. An employee has the right to choose a treating physician, but not a medical practitioner, and a physical therapist is considered a medical practitioner. Therefore, the court denied her request to select a physical therapist.
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January 18, 2013
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