Visitor Question

Can I be terminated for refusing light duty work after work injury?

Submitted By: Trivion (HEMET, California)

I started a job through a temporary agency and I was injured on the job.  I hurt my shoulder on down to my fingertips on my primary hand.

I was then offered a workers comp doctor. The doctor they sent me to advised me not to use my right hand but said I could do modified work. The agency insisted that I drive 45 minutes to the location that had modified work.

I explained to them before that it was an inconvenience driving to that location. That’s why I didn’t accept work out there before I was injured.

I eventually refused the light duty work.  Now they’re trying not to properly compensate me for the days I was out of work due to the injury. Don’t they have to pay me wages for the days I missed because of my work injury?  Can they fire me? Thanks in advance for anything you can tell me.

Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.

Answer

Dear Trivion ,

These are all excellent questions. Let’s answer them in order.

Payment for lost wages

Whether or not you’re entitled to payment for lost wages depends on your state’s workers’ compensation coverage.

Most employers in the United States have to carry some type of a workers’ comp plan to pay employees who’ve suffered a job-related illness or injury. The benefits available under these insurance policies vary from state to state.

Assuming the temporary agency had workers’ compensation insurance, then any potential claim you have for lost wages begins with California’s Department of Industrial Relations.

The good news is that the Department provides temporary disability (TD) benefits. TD benefits are payments workers get if they lose wages because a work-related injury prevented them from doing their usual job.

According to Industrial Relations:

“Temporary disability pays two-thirds of the gross (pre-tax) wages you lose while you are recovering from a job injury…TD payments begin when your doctor says you can’t do your usual work for more than three days or you get hospitalized overnight.”

Based on the rules for temporary disability, it appears first-off that you are eligible for payment of your lost wages. You are eligible so long as your doctor ordered you to avoid doing your usual work for more than three days because of the injury to your arm.

Further, you might also receive wage benefits if the employer paid you at a lower rate for the modified work. The wage benefits would be payment of the difference between the pay rate for your regular job and the pay rate for the modified work.

A limitation here is that you refused the light work assignment. Refusal is a problem because the law says that an employee must return to work when a doctor says that person is capable of working. If a person fails to do so or refuses an assignment, the worker may lose any workers’ comp benefits.

Even though your doctor placed you on a modified work schedule, he or she still said you were good to go for that type of work. The best idea now is to see if you can get the light-duty job back so that you don’t lose any coverage for the lost wages.

Can You Be Fired After a Work Injury?

An employer can fire an employee after a work injury. It’s crucial for workers to know this before returning to work.

There are times when an employer can’t give returning employees their previous job. In these situations, an employer may have no other option than to let the employee go.

Given your particular situation, the temporary agency can refuse to employ you if you cannot perform the work you completed before your injury. It can also let you go for refusing to perform the light-duty assignment.

The 45-minute drive to perform the light-duty work is an inconvenience, but may not be unreasonable if it’s the agency’s only option to keep you employed.

California law allows employers to offer modified work within a reasonable commuting distance: 

“Modified work means regular work modified so that the employee has the ability to perform all the functions of the job and that offers wages and compensation that are at least 85 percent of those paid to the employee at the time of injury, and located within a reasonable commuting distance of the employee’s residence at the time of injury.” 

Employment cases are often complicated, and your particular situation poses some difficulties. Given this, it makes sense to contact a local attorney for help.

A consultation with an experienced employment lawyer can help you understand your options and any obstacles to recovery you may face.

Learn more here: Suing for Wrongful Termination

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from a licensed attorney.

Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call 888-972-0892.

We wish you the best with your claim,

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