On March 31, 2014 the Court of Appeals issued a decision in the case of Technical College System of Georgia v. McGruder. While this case offers nothing particularly groundbreaking, it does serve as a good reminder of something that may not be all that obvious. Getting straight to it, if an employee quits working within 15 days of returning to light duty WC-240 work, and can no longer continue, it is an employer’s responsibility to resume payment, regardless of the cause of the inability to continue on light duty. If an employee ceases to work during this period because of a car wreck, dog attack, meteor strike, or anything else, benefits are to be recommenced. The idea behind this is that by putting the claimant back on weekly benefits, the employer is in no worse position than they were before they had offered light duty work. The appropriate action next is to seek Board approval for ceasing benefits.
In the McGruder case, an employee for the Augusta Technical College (“ATC”) sustained a compensable back injury in June 2009. Following this injury, TTD benefits commenced. In September of that year, the employee returned to light duty work pursuant to OCGA § 34-9-240. After nine days of light duty work she provided her employer with a letter stating that she would be unable to work in any job due to reasons not related to her work injury. At this point the employer failed to resume paying TTD benefits. The Court of Appeals granted an application for discretionary review.
The Court of Appeals ultimately held that, “pursuant to the plain language of OCGA § 34-9-240 (b) (1), which contains no exceptions, ATC was required to immediately reinstate McGruder’s TTD benefits. The fact that she stopped working the light-duty position for reasons unrelated to her injury did not relieve ATC from paying TTD benefits. Pursuant to Rule 240 (3) (c) (i), ATC’s failure to immediately reinstate McGruder’s TTD benefits resulted in a waiver of its defense of suitability of employment.”
Again, this isn’t new but often matters can be complicated by actions uniformed of this standard. So what’s to be done when you have a worker that quits working during this 15-day window and you’ve ceased the payment of benefits? The best option is probably to pick to claimant back up, pay the penalties for late TTD, and request a hearing. Sometimes it’s just better to beg the Judge than jump the gun.