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Workers’ Compensation Claims Causing Disability in Massachusetts

If you are seriously injured and disabled at a workplace in Massachusetts, it is important to consult with a workers’ compensation attorney. Some employers have internal policies and practices that ask you to deviate from standard workers’ compensation rules. A knowledgeable Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney can help make sure that the appropriate procedures are followed so that your rights under the law are not compromised.

In a complicated 2010 case, the plaintiff had worked for a newspaper company for over 20 years, starting as a substitute newspaper handler and eventually becoming an assistant press foreman. In January 2002, he slipped on oil on the printing floor and was badly hurt. He couldn’t work for nearly 1 1/2 years and had to undergo several surgeries. The newspaper continued to pay him his salary, pursuant to their internal policies, and asked him to give him all the workers’ compensation payments he got in connection with his injuries.

He came back to work in 2003, though he was still in pain and his physician did not want him working more than five hours at a time. The foreman did not permit him to follow the physician’s request and another assistant press foreman tore up the letter. He worked for a month, but was in too much pain not to leave early or be absent from work for several days a week. His requests to leave early were honored. His injuries got worse and he took another leave of absence under the workers’ compensation act.

Next month, he was asked about the workers’ compensation checks, which he hadn’t been signing over to his employer pursuant to the internal policy. A workers’ compensation insurer’s physician examined him and found he was unable to work at all. He was told that his employment was terminated because he hadn’t returned the workers’ compensation payments.

The plaintiff had to have further knee surgeries. In late 2004, the workers’ compensation physician advised that if he continued to get better, he could return to work full-time. The plaintiff wrote to the newspaper asking for an accommodation to return to work (even though he had been terminated. The newspaper would not give him a position.

The plaintiff filed a complaint before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination but it was dismissed. The plaintiff filed a complaint claiming unlawful discrimination, failure to give preference in hiring, unlawful discrimination, defamation, wrongful termination and invasion of privacy.

A judge granted the newspaper’s motion for summary judgment. An appellate court vacated the judge’s decision with respect to the unlawful discrimination claims, but affirmed the rest of the decision. The Supreme Judicial Court reviewed the decision with respect to the unlawful discrimination claims.

The plaintiff argued that he is a handicapped person because of his workplace accident and that he was entitled to a reasonable accommodation when he first returned to work in 2003. He further claimed that because he was not offered a reasonable accommodation, he had to take another workers’ compensation leave and was terminated without a discussion of accommodations.

The newspaper argued that the plaintiff was not a qualified handicapped person and that he had not terminated the plaintiff for being disabled or because he filed for workers’ compensation, but because he didn’t return the workers’ compensation checks as required by their policy.

The court explained that even if the foreman ripped up the letter, in effect, the plaintiff got the accommodation he wanted without demonstrating he was a handicapped person. The court further explained that the plaintiff’s condition had worsened by the time of his termination. The plaintiff couldn’t climb the presses, which was an essential duty of the position.

The court explained that elimination of an essential duty, assignment to an unrelated position, and creating a new position were not reasonable accommodations. It noted that if the newspaper had a policy of creating light-duty positions for hurt employees, the ruling would be different, but that was not the case here.

If you are hurt at work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. An experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney can evaluate whether you have a sound claim and fight to make sure your employer and its insurer follow the rules. Contact us by calling 800-367-0871 or using our online contact form.

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