New York Court Finds Worker’s Refusal of Light-Work Justified

A New York appellate court affirmed a decision of the state’s Workers’ Compensation Board that a claimant had not voluntarily withdrawn from the labor market by refusing a light duty position with the employer since there was a reasonable basis for the his refusal [see Jesco v. Norampac Mfg. Co., 2014 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 8850 (3rd Dept. 2014)]. The court noted that while claimant’s physician had generally released him to light-duty work, the employer, with only one day’s notice, directed claimant to report to its physician for an examination and to work for a light-duty assignment the following day. Under the circumstances, the refusal to comply with the employer’s demand was not unreasonable.

The court added that claimant notified the employer that he could not attend the employer’s physician’s appointment because he had a previously scheduled appointment with his own physician. Claimant had also been advised by both his doctor and the workers’ compensation office not to return to work until his medical clearance date. In spite of this, the employer suspended claimant immediately, informed him that any attempt to return to work would form the basis for trespassing charges, and subsequently terminated claimant’s employment.

The appellate court indicated that whether claimant’s failure to accept a light-duty assignment constituted a voluntary withdrawal from the labor market presented a factual issue for the Board, the resolution of which would be upheld if supported by substantial evidence. Here the employer conceded that it gave claimant only one-day’s notice of the appointment with its physician. Claimant testified he declined to report for a light-duty assignment because it was in conflict with his doctor’s medical advice and the employer produced no medical evidence contradicting that advice. Upon reaching his medical clearance date, claimant did not report to work because he was told by the employer that he would be arrested for trespassing if he did so. The court indicated substantial evidence supported the Board’s determination that claimant had not voluntarily withdrawn from the labor market.

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