Job Abandonment Does NOT Entitle an Employee to Temporary Disability Benefits (Shocker!)
Workers’ compensation is not a catch-all. It is not meant to correct every ill or misfortune or unpleasant reality of life. Workers’ compensation is limited to the effects of industrial injuries.
Now that we have that news-flash out of the way, allow me to relate to you, my dear readers, the recently writ denied case of Alemnesh Haile v. Fair Oaks Estates. Haile worked as a patient caregiver, but then injured her right shoulder. She was returned to work after her employer was able to find a job for her within her work restrictions.
Unfortunately, Haile’s father fell ill and she purchased a plane ticket to visit him in Ethiopia. Compounding her misfortunes, her employer did not approve her requested leave of absence for the duration of the trip. Therefore, on what everyone knew would be her last day, she picked up her final paycheck, and flew to Ethiopia to be with her father.
The evidence seemed incontestable that her loss of employment was solely due to job abandonment, and had she shown up on her next assigned day, she would have still had a job.
At this point, it may be appropriate to repeat: workers’ compensation is not a panacea.
Applicant claimed temporary disability benefits, even though she had abandoned her job and a job within her medically-imposed work restrictions was available before she left.
Well, fortunately, the workers’ compensation Judge, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board and the Court of Appeal were little moved by applicant’s claim. The WCJ rejected applicant’s statement of the rule that “anything less than willful misconduct should not deprive an injured worker of temporary disability benefits,” noting that adopting such a rule “would force the WCAB to (improperly) interfere with legitimate exercise of managerial discretion.”
For more on job abandonment as a shield to temporary disability benefits, see the panel decision in the case of Wilbert Lee v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. (2009) (“since the applicant refused modified work, and the defendant testified at trial that it offered – and would have continued to offer – modified work within his restrictions, the applicant is not entitled to temporary disability indemnity”).
We’re all sympathetic to applicant, but neither the employer nor its insurer should have to pay for such trips – if you turn down available work, you’re not entitled to temporary disability benefits.