Court Rules Light Duty Work Not Sheltered Employment in Florida Workers’ Compensation Case

In Moore v. Servicemaster Commercial Services, a commercial housekeeper apparently hurt her right shoulder at work. As a result of her workplace harm, the woman underwent surgery. Following her surgical procedure, the housekeeper was authorized to return to work with restrictions after about one week of recovery time. The woman’s doctor also recommended that she undergo three weeks of physical therapy. Although the woman’s employer offered to place the woman in a light-duty position, the housekeeper stated she was experiencing significant pain and refused to return to work until after she underwent physical therapy. About one month later, the housekeeper was terminated by her employer for failure to return to work or call in.

Approximately two months later, the housekeeper completed the physical therapy that was recommended by her physician. After that, her treating doctor determined the housekeeper obtained maximum medical improvement. In addition, the physician assigned the housekeeper a permanent impairment rating. Prior to completing physical therapy, the worker obtained a new job that began about six weeks later.

Next, the housekeeper filed a request for temporary partial disability benefits, beginning on the date she was released for light-duty work and ending on the date she secured a new job. In response, the woman’s employer denied her workers’ compensation request and stated she voluntarily opted to limit her wages.

At a hearing before a judge of compensation claims (“JCC”), the housekeeper argued her refusal to return to work was justified, the job offered by her employer was “sheltered employment” in the context of Section 440.15(6) of the Florida Statutes, and her termination prevented the woman from refusing work with regard to her former employer. The JCC ruled that the employer’s light-duty offer was both legitimate and suitable. As a result, the JCC said it was not sheltered employment under Florida law. The JCC ultimately denied the housekeeper’s disability benefits request due to her unjustified refusal of suitable work and the employer’s affirmative defense under Section 440.15(6) of the Florida Statutes.

On appeal, Florida’s First District first dismissed the woman’s claim that the job duties offered by her former employer constituted sheltered employment. The appellate court stated the JCC correctly ruled that the return-to-work program was legitimate work and did not constitute bad-faith gamesmanship on the part of her employer. According to the court, there was no legislative purpose in penalizing a Florida employer that implemented such a return-to-work program, even if the program helped the employer reduce or eliminate its workers’ compensation costs. Additionally, the First District stated that no legitimate purpose would be served by allowing an injured worker who refused to accept such employment to recover workers’ compensation benefits simply because the job duties offered were too easy. Because of this, the Court of Appeal affirmed the JCC’s ruling with regard to the housekeeper’s sheltered employment argument.

Next, the appellate court affirmed the JCC’s order regarding the housekeeper’s refusal of suitable employment. Despite this, the First District Court of Appeal reversed and remanded the JCC’s decision regarding the period of time following the woman’s completion of physical therapy but before she resumed working for further findings of fact.

If you were injured in a South Florida workplace accident, you should discuss your rights with a seasoned personal injury lawyer. To speak with a hardworking Miami workers’ compensation attorney, do not hesitate to call the experienced advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. at (305) 448-8585 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:

Moore v. Servicemaster Commercial Services, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 1st Dist. 2009

More Blog Posts:

Florida Appeals Court Examines Apportionment Due to Preexisting Injuries in Workers’ Compensation Case, November 13, 2015, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

Appeals Court Orders New Trial in Florida Car Accident Case, November 10, 2015, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

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