Stealing is always a bad idea.  Stealing from your employer will usually cost you your job, and also has a negative effect on Iowa work comp claims.

If a worker is injured in Iowa before July 1, 2017, and has not yet reached maximum medical improvement, the employer needs to either provide appropriate light duty work for the injured worker, or pay weekly healing period benefits.

Sometimes an employer will terminate an injured worker before that worker reaches maximum medical improvement.  If the employer terminates the injured worker before the worker has reached maximum medical improvement, the worker must pay the terminated employee healing period benefits unless the worker was terminated for misconduct that is:

  • Tantamount to a refusal to perform offered work.
  • Of the type that would cause any employer to terminate any employee.
  • Such that it will have a serious adverse impact on the employer.
  • More than the type of inconsequential misconduct that employers typically overlook or tolerate.

An employee working with restrictions is not entitled to act with impunity towards the employer and the employer’s interest.  Nevertheless, not every act of misconduct justifies disqualifying an employee from workers’ compensation benefits even though the employer may be justified in taking disciplinary action.

A number of Iowa workers’ compensation cases have dealt with situations where injured workers were terminated for tardiness, or violation of company policies where if the worker missed a certain number of days they were automatically terminated even if they had a good excuse.  In these situations the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner has consistently found that the employer was required to pay the terminated workers healing period benefits for the time between their termination and when they eventually reached maximum medical improvement.

On October 31, 2017 the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner issued an appeal decision in the case of Reynolds v. Hy-Vee, Inc. and EMC Property & Casualty Insurance Co.  The Commissioner found that Mr. Reynolds suffered a severe right shoulder injury and he was entitled to an award of 45% industrial disability which equals 225 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits.

A portion of the case dealt with Hy-Vee’s termination of the worker after his shoulder surgery, but before he reached maximum medical improvement.

The employee was terminated on November 8, 2014 for stealing a package of cupcakes, some Gatorade from a fountain machine, and a couple packs of cigarettes.  The Claimant did not reach maximum medical improvement for his shoulder injury until 43.57 weeks later on September 8, 2015.

Hy-Vee paid the Claimant weekly benefits during this 43.57 weeks, but argued that those payments should be considered a credit towards the permanent partial disability award of 225 weeks.

The injured worker argued that since he was terminated prior to reaching maximum medical improvement, that 43.57 weeks should be treated as healing period benefits, and therefore Hy-Vee still owed him a full 225 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits.

The Commissioner found:

“I find Claimant’s misconduct and stealing the items in question from Defendant-Employer was tantamount to a refusal to perform light duty work.  I find Claimant’s conduct was serious and it was the type of conduct that would reasonably cause any employer to terminate any employee.  I find Claimant’s conduct had a serious adverse economic impact on the Defendant-Employer by depriving Defendant-Employer of revenue.  I find Claimant’s conduct was more than the type of inconsequential misconduct that employers typically overlook or tolerate.”

Consequently, the 43.57 weeks of benefits that Hy-Vee had paid the Claimant between his termination and his reaching maximum medical improvement were found to be permanent partial disability benefits.  Therefore, the award of 225 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits was already satisfied to the extent of 43.57 weeks and Hy-Vee only had to pay an additional 181.43 weeks.

Contact our office if you have any questions about the transition from healing period benefits to permanent partial disability benefits, or any other issues in Iowa work comp cases.