Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pa. court to police officer: No sense of smell, no job

I read an interesting article in the Associated Press regarding a Pennsylvania Appellate Court holding that police officers who lose their sense of smell might also risk losing their jobs.

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that a suburban Pittsburgh township had the right to terminate one of its police officers after he lost his sense of smell in an off duty motorcycle accident. The reasoning for the termination was because police officers must be able to detect drugs, alcohol, hazardous materials, natural gas and other substances.

Obviously, if the loss of smell was related to a work related injury then the officer could still be fired, but his workers' compensation weekly wage benefits would have to be paid. Unfortunately for this officer, the accident was not work related.

You can see the article here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

No Work Jobs

Every once in awhile I have a case where the employer offers a sedentary job to one of my clients but the job is really not a “job.” It is referred to as a “no work” job where the claimant merely shows up and sits there and basically does nothing. But, the injured worker gets paid his normal wage for his time.

You may ask why would an employer do this, basically pay someone their normal wage for producing no work? In many instances there are unseen costs of having the employee out of work and receiving workers’ compensation wage benefits. Some employers want to keep the employee at the job site so they can keep an eye on him/her. Some employers think it is too expensive to have a wage claim open with their insurance company because their workers’ compensation premiums will rise. Other employers merely want to set the employee up for failure so that they can fire the employee and stop his workers’ compensation benefits.

In a new case from the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, Channel Lock, Inc. v. W.C.A.B. (Reynolds), the Court addressed one of these “no work” jobs. The court ultimately held that the job was not within the injured employee's physical capabilities.

The facts are pretty simple. The injured employee was offered a job where he basically came in to work and sat there. The employee actually tried to do this but fell asleep one day because the medication that he was taking made him drowsy. The employer threatened to fire him if he did it again. At that point, the employee’s attorney filed a petition to allege that the job was not available within his physical restrictions. During the hearing process, the claimant’s doctor testified that the medication could cause drowsiness and the claimant himself testified that every time he took this prescribed medication he became sleepy.

Ultimately, the Commonwealth Court held that the job was not within the claimants physical restrictions due to the fact that he could easily fall asleep while performing these “no work” jobs.

I believe that the underlying lesson in this case is that the courts do not look kindly on these “no work” jobs and, if possible, will always rule on the side of the claimant if they believe that there are other motives that the employer has offered these sham jobs.