Morgan v. Interim Healthcare – Refusal to Accept Suitable Employment

The purpose of workers’ compensation is to give workers and employers a straightforward process by which to request and offer benefits to those who have been injured at work, without the hassle of a lawsuit. The ultimate goal in most cases is for the worker to return to gainful employment, whenever possible.
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A worker who refuses to seek or secure employment when the commission deems the worker eligible to do so may risk forfeiting these benefits. Such was the case recently in Morgan v. Interim Healthcare, before the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

Our Asheville workers’ compensation lawyers know there may be situations in which the North Carolina Industrial Commission overestimates a worker’s ability to return to the workforce. An advocate in these circumstances is necessary.

In the Morgan case, the worker was a certified nursing assistance, who was employed to assist ailing patients in their homes. On two separate dates in January 2008, the worker was hurt while assisting a patient. As a result of these incidents, she suffered injuries to her back and hip.

The injuries were immediately reported to the employer, and determined to be compensable, with a weekly compensation rate of $234. Two years later, the worker asked for a hearing, due to a dispute regarding whether her medical benefits were covered.

At the hearing, the deputy commissioner denied the worker’s claim for further medical benefits, and allowed the weekly compensation to continue only for another six weeks. The worker appealed to the full commission.

The commission review looked at reports from the 10 doctors the worker had seen since her injury. Less than four months after she was hurt, one orthopaedic surgeon indicated no objective findings to support her complaints of pain. He referred her to a pain management physician, and recommend she continue working four hours daily, with restrictions on bending, squatting, lifting and patient transfers. The commission also noted the report of another orthopaedic surgeon, who indicated the worker reached maximum medical improvement eight months after the injuries. He assigned her to permanent work restrictions that included maximum eight-hour shifts and alternating between standing and sitting and limitations on bending, twisting, stooping and lifting. He indicated she had a 2 percent permanent impairment rating to her spine and discharged her from his care.

After that time, the worker was twice offered a full-time clerical support position. She declined the first offer, accepted the second, but failed to show up for work. The day after she was to report to work, she reported to a family health center, requesting a note restricting her from work. The employer said even if she had a note, the company had a zero tolerance policy for failure to notify. She was terminated.

She continued to seek medical treatment, and sought compensation for her medical bills. The full commission denied her request and affirmed the ruling that ended her workers’ compensation benefit claim.

The appellate court found the worker turned down suitable employment without justification, and was not entitled to ongoing disability benefits. Article 1, Section 97.32 of the Workers’ Compensation Act indicates an injured employee’s refusal to secure suitable employee will result in the employee not being entitled to any compensation during the time of refusal.

If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Morgan v. Interim Healthcare, Aug. 5, 2014, North Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries
State Accident Fund v. SC Second Injury Fund – Reimbursement for “Second Injuries,” Aug. 13, 2014, Asheville Work Injury Lawyer Blog

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