Until recently it has been common practice for employer/insurers to require injured workers capable of performing “light duty” to travel distances for such duty. This has been especially true with respect to Iowa-based employers with employees who live outside the State of Iowa including truckers. Fortunately, the Iowa Supreme Court decided in Neal V. Annett Holdings, Inc., 814 N.W.2d 512 (2012) that the practice was not reasonable.
In that case, Annett, a national trucking company, required injured truck drivers living outside the State of Iowa to return to Iowa for light duty. In deciding the case, the Iowa Supreme Court determined whether the requirement of traveling such distances was not “suitable work” pursuant to section 85.33 (3). In reaching its decision, the Supreme Court looked at the issue in other states; the majority of which outlawed the practice.
The Iowa Supreme Court also examined and noted that in other travel cases the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner similarly favored not requiring an injured worker to travel long distances. Further, the Supreme Court noted that in Iowa’s unemployment law an employee’s right to unemployment compensation does not mandate an unemployed worker travel long distances which is consistent with respect to employment discrimination cases. The Iowa Supreme Court also rested its decision on learned treatises such as the Restatement (2nd) of Agency which takes a similar approach.
In deciding that travel was a factor in determining whether light duty was available, the Nealcourt found that a requirement to travel 387 miles taking the injured worker away from his family was unreasonable. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner’s decision not to require the injured worker to travel such a distance. Moreover, in its dicta, the Iowa Supreme Court even cited with approval a case that determined requiring an injured worker to travel 116 miles away from his residence was unreasonable.
If you are an injured worker and your employer has demanded that you travel long distance for light duty, please contact us at the Beattie Law Firm.