A recent decision of the Minnesota Supreme Court underscores the importance of reviewing and challenging the scope of vocational rehabilitation plans recommended by the vocational experts assigned to an injured worker’s file.
In the May 3, 2017, decision of Gilbertson v. Williams Dingmann, et al, the Supreme Court affirmed a decision of the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals (WCCA) that prevented a date of injury employer from offering employment to its employee when a return to work with that employer was not part of the agreed-upon rehabilitation plan.
In Gilbertson, the employee was a licensed mortician with the employer who sustained an admitted low back injury during the course of her employment. Shortly prior to the injury she had told her employer that she was resigning her position due to scheduling issues. Following her injury, she was given permanent restrictions and a rehabilitation plan was created by the assigned QRC. The QRC completed the necessary state forms within which “return to work different employer” was chosen over the option of “return to work same employer.” All parties agreed to the plan.
The employer subsequently offered the employee a light duty position. After consulting with the QRC, the employee refused the job offer. The insurer sought to discontinue Temporary Total Disability benefits on the basis of a refusal of an offer of gainful employment. A compensation judge agreed with the discontinuance and the matter was appealed to the WCCA.
In reversing the decision of the compensation judge, both the WCCA and Supreme Court cited the plain language of Minn. Stat. 176.101, subd. 1(i), noting that the rehabilitation plan agreed upon by all parties was to return the employee to work elsewhere and therefore it was irrelevant that the employee refused an offer of gainful employment as the real issue was whether the employee refused a position consistent with the approved rehabilitation plan.
The Supreme Court concluded that returning to a job related to the employee’s former employment does not necessarily require the employee to return to the date of injury employer. Therefore, it concluded that the statute cannot be read so broadly as to allow for a discontinuance based upon the broad understanding of rehabilitation (return to work), as opposed to the specific statutory language.
Employers and Insurers should carefully consider whether to agree upon a narrowly tailored rehabilitation goal that does not include a potential return to work with the date of injury employer as one of the stated rehabilitation goals if a potential offer may be considered.
The attorneys at Hansen Dordell are available to discuss your specific vocational rehabilitation issues and goals.