In a very significant Iowa Workers Compensation law decision, and a big decision for truck drivers, the Iowa Supreme Court established a precedent that prevents various Iowa Transportation Companies and others from engaging in various shenanigans designed to get injured workers to quit employment. Under the Iowa compensation laws, when an injured worker is placed on restrictions, the employer has two options; 1) pay the injured worker weekly healing benefits while the worker is off work, or 2) provide work within the injured worker’s restrictions. Most of the time the injured work benefits from being provided work as it is normally at their full wages. Sometimes, though, the work provided is to get the injured worker to quit.
Various Iowa Workers’ Compensation decisions have held that offering unreasonable work is not offering suitable work within the restrictions, and accordingly have allowed the injured worker to receive weekly healing benefits when the worker refuses the light duty position. Some decisions have held that an offer to accommodate restrictions and provide work bars the injured worker from receiving weekly healing benefits if the employee refuses. As a matter of practice, if an injured worker refuses light duty work, the insurance carrier will not pay weekly benefits during the period of refusal.
The problems that existed were mostly prevalent in the truck driving area. Through various jurisdictional methods, a large portion of Iowa Trucking Companies mandate to their employees upon acceptance of employment that Iowa Workers’ Compensation law controls work injuries. This is normally allowable. However, certain employers use it to get the injured worker to quit. There are several large trucking companies in Iowa that offer light duty work to injured over-the-road drivers. Those offers are designed to punish the injured worker and get them to quit. It is not uncommon for a trucking company to have an injured worker who lives several states away a serious injury and be placed on restrictions. The trucking company will then require the injured worker to come to Iowa to stay for a several week period doing demeaning or worthless work. While the injured worker is in Iowa, and away from their family, the trucking company will provide living quarters in a rundown motel, or worse, a bunkhouse at the company’s terminal. The conditions are simply not acceptable to anyone, and a large portion of those injured workers who are placed into this situation quit and are deprived of weekly compensation benefits. Often times the injured worker who quits, also wrongly believes they lose their right to other workers’ compensation benefits including medical care.
Finally, the Iowa Supreme Court has fixed the problem. On March 2, 2012 the Court issued a decision in Tim Neal vs. Annett Holdings, Inc. In the case, Neal was an over-the-road driver for Annett Holdings (TMC Transportation). Neal, a Grayville, Illinois resident with a wife and three kids sustained a serious injury. TMC Transport offered to provide Neal with a motel room and light duty work 387 miles from his home and offered to pay for Neal to return to his home every other week. Neal, like any reasonable person refused the light duty offer, as a result TMC refused to pay weekly healing benefits. The Supreme Court ruled that suitable work has to take into account geographic location of the light duty offer, meaning distance from the employees residence. The Supreme Court noted that the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner was correct in opining “Being away from the support of your wife and family, especially while recovering from a serious work injury, is not an insignificant matter.”
This case should put a stop to these trucking companies attempts to put the injured worker through a time period which no one would tolerate. My guess is that the practice continues, at least until these companies get hit with cases of bad faith and penalty. For now, though, the Supreme Court issued an outstanding decision that will have real benefit to those who need it the most.