Injured workers should use extreme caution when returning to work after any North Carolina workers’ compensation injury. Workers need to make sure they do not exhibit behavior that would result in termination of their employment.
It is possible that if a worker is terminated the court will construe the conduct which led to the termination to have been a constructive refusal to return to work. In that case, you would not only be out of a job, but may not be able to resume collection of workers’ compensation benefits even if your injury prevents you from returning to your full duties.
One example of this risk is the case of a lady who returned to light duty work and was fired for alleged gross misconduct after she exposed her buttocks to two female co-employees. The court held that because of this silly conduct she, in effect, refused suitable employment and was denied any further workers' compensation benefits.
If the employer can show that an employee was legitimately terminated and that a non-disabled employee ordinarily would have been terminated under the same conditions, then the employer has created a rebuttable presumption that the employee’s misconduct constituted a constructive refusal to perform the work provided. Unless the worker can rebut that presumption, workers’ compensation benefits will not be payable.
However, the employee can rebut that presumption by showing that the inability to find or hold other employment is due to a work-related disability. Do not count on this, it will not be easy.
The safest course is for the worker to behave themself in the first place and keep from doing anything that will give their employer cause to fire them.
Are you getting ready to go back to work? Learn about important return to work documents you will need as you navigate your workers' comp claim in North Carolina.