- Worker's Compensation News -
If an employee proposes that the employer participate in a scheme to fraudulently obtain worker’s compensation benefits, can the employer reasonably refuse to rehire him?
According to the recent Court of Appeals decision in Advanced Transmission Service, LLC v. Labor and Industry Review Commission and Bradley J. Woodford, an employer is not reasonable in refusing to rehire an employee who proposed that the employer participate in a fraudulent scheme if the fraudulent proposal is not the actual motivating factor for the refusal to rehire.
In this case, Bradley Woodford injured his right elbow while working as an automobile repair technician in January of 2008. Mr. Woodford went off work in mid-January and began receiving temporary total disability benefits. ATS then hired another technician to replace Mr. Woodford in March of 2008.
Mr. Woodford was released to work without restrictions in July of 2008. When he returned to work on July 21, 2008, his employment was terminated because ATS claimed they did not have enough work to employ both Woodford and the replacement technician. ATS advised that Mr. Woodford would be contacted if a position became available in the future. A position did come available later that year, but ATS did not contact Mr. Woodford, and instead hired someone else.
ATS claims that Mr. Woodford was not contacted when a position became available in November of 2008 because of a conversation Mr. Woodford had with ATS’ owner, John Effertz, on July 24, 2008. According to Mr. Effertz, Mr. Woodford had asked that ATS allow him to come back to work for a week and then he would claim that his arm still hurt so he could go back on worker’s compensation. Mr. Woodford admitted to the conversation, but testified that his elbow still hurt and that he had to convince his physician to release him to work without restrictions. He testified that he was not trying to do anything fraudulent, but that he simply thought he needed to go back to work in order to reinstitute his existing claim.
The court found that the Commission and ALJ reasonably concluded that ATS lacked reasonable cause for refusing to rehire Woodford. The Commission concluded that Mr. Woodford did not intend to propose any sort of fraudulent scheme and did not credit Mr. Effertz’s testimony that he refused to rehire Woodford because of the allegedly fraudulent proposal. Because the Commission determined that Mr. Woodford’s allegedly fraudulent proposal was not the actual reason for the refusal to rehire, and ATS did not present any alternative reason for the refusal the Court upheld the Commission’s decision that ATS unreasonably refused to hire Mr. Woodford.