The Iowa Court of Appeals filed a Decision on November 8, 2017 in the case of Norton v. Hy-Vee, Inc. which addresses the Iowa law on the effect of accommodations to an employee after a work injury.   In the Norton case the Claimant was a pharmacy tech that suffered a soft tissue neck injury.  No surgery was required for the neck injury.  The Claimant and the employer both agreed that it was a permanent injury and that the Claimant’s ability to work had been reduced from 40 hours a week to 30 hours a week because of pain.   Hy-Vee did accommodate the worker’s limitations and allowed her to work 6 hours a day and 5 days per week.

The case also involved a disputed mental health claim.  The Claimant argued that she developed depression and anxiety from the injury.  The employer argued that the depression and anxiety were caused by stressors in her personal life.

The Claimant was injured prior to July 1, 2017 and therefore the traditional Iowa law on workers’ compensation damages applied.  (See here for an explanation of damages in post-July 1, 2017 Iowa work comp injuries).

Iowa law provides that for a pre-July 1, 2017 injury the worker’s industrial disability is based on their present ability to earn in the competitive job market – without regard to the accommodations furnished by the worker’s present employer.  In other words, how much has the injury hurt the worker’s ability to get a new job?

Based on this legal principle, the Claimant argued that no one else would allow her to work shorter shifts as a pharmacy technician, and therefore she should be awarded permanent total disability benefits.

Hy-Vee argued that while the Claimant could only work 6 hours a day and 5 days a week, she was still considered to be a very exceptional and valuable employee.  Hy-Vee argued that since the Claimant’s ability to work had been reduced by 25% of her previous hours, her industrial disability should be no more than25%.

The Iowa Court of Appeals reviewed a number of prior cases, and approvingly quoted the following standard:

We think the proper rule should be that an employer’s special accommodation for an injured worker can be factored into the award determination to the limited extent the work in the newly created job discloses that the worker has a discerned earning capacity.  To qualify as discernible, it must appear that the new job is not just ‘make work’ provided by the employer, but is also available to the injured worker in the competitive market.”

Based on this standard the Iowa Court of Appeals found that the Claimant was entitled to 70% industrial disability which works out to be worth 350 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits.

If you have any questions about work accommodations or other issues in Iowa work comp law, please contact our office.