Missouri employers often try to get out of making temporary disability payments to injured employees by claiming that the worker engaged in post-injury misconduct.
A new workers’ compensation decision drastically expands this defense.
Injured Worker Accused of Misconduct
The case is Paxton v. Little Sisters of the Poor.
In January, 2014, a nurse slipped on ice in the parking lot of the nursing home where she worked and fractured her ankle. A few days later, she returned to work on crutches, but fell and cut her elbow. The cut ended up getting infected and she had to be hospitalized for an MRSA staph infection.
She returned to work in March. In April, 2014, the nursing home put a written warning in the nurse’s personnel file for violating policies and state law by leaving a medication cart unlocked. It was disputed whether the nurse was verbally told of the warning, and the warning was not signed by the nurse.
A couple of weeks later, the nurse was fired for allegedly mixing up a patient’s prescriptions.
The administrative judge hearing the workers’ compensation case awarded the nurse medical bills from the injuries, as well as temporary disability benefits. In so doing, the administrative law judge rejected the employer’s claim that the nurse’s post-injury misconduct made her ineligible for these benefits.
A Huge Expansion to the “Post-Injury Misconduct” Defense
Missouri Statute 287.170.4 states that workers are not entitled to temporary disability benefits if they are “terminated from post-injury employment based upon the employee's post-injury misconduct.”
The statute, though, does not define what “misconduct” means, and workers’ compensation cases have never resolved the issue.
The administrative law judge looked at the nursing home’s defense and decided that the nurse’s actions did not amount to “misconduct” because they were negligent or, at worst, reckless.
Because there was no intent, though, they could not amount to “misconduct” under workers’ compensation law.
The Labor and Industrial Relations Commission (LIRC), however, overruled the administrative law judge on appeal.
Over a dissent, the LIRC pointed to other statutes and a Missouri appellate court case that said that “misconduct” did not depend on intent. Instead, it only required a “knowing violation” of the employer’s standards.
However, the cases and statutes used by the LIRC to support their decision were not workers’ compensation cases. They were cases and statutes dealing with unemployment law, which has completely different goals and policies that often contradict those of workers’ compensation law.
The impact of the LIRC’s ruling, though, could be staggering if not overturned. Employers – and their workers’ compensation insurance companies – can now reduce their financial obligations to hurt workers by terminating them as soon as they make a mistake. The workers who are most likely to suffer this way are those who have been seriously hurt and are owed the most in temporary disability benefits.
St. Joseph Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office
The personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys at the Smith Law Office strive to legally represent people who have been hurt at work. Contact them online or call their law office at (816) 875-9373 for help in St. Joseph, Kansas City, Springfield, or the rest of western Missouri.