Grillette v. Alliance Compressors, 05-982, 923 So.2d 774 (La. App. 3rd Cir. 2/1/06) and Palmer v. Alliance Compressors, 05-478 (La. App. 3rd Cir. 11/2/05).
When (1) an employee with physical restrictions as a result of a job accident returns to work with no wage loss, and (2) the employee is fired for cause, the employee is not entitled to SEB.
Grillette: Yvonne Grillette worked for Alliance Compressors for two years, almost to the day. During those two years, she had three job accidents. On May 6, 2001, approximately one month after she was hired, she injured her right foot in a forklift accident. On January 18, 2002, she injured her back and developed carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of a lifting accident. On January 4, 2003, she aggravated her back and carpal tunnel syndrome in a slip and fall at work. On March 31, 2003, Alliance Compressors terminated Grillette’s employment. Grillette stipulated that she was fired for cause.
Palmer: Tina Palmer was injured on August 21, 2002, while working for Alliance Compressors. She missed no time as a result of her accident. She was released immediately to return to work with light duty restrictions, and Alliance Compressors accommodated those restrictions. On December 11, 2002, Palmer was terminated for attempting to conceal a violation of the company’s attendance policy. Palmer stipulated that she was fired for cause unrelated to her job accident.
The dispute was the same in both cases. The employee contended that, regardless of the reason that she was fired, she was still restricted to light duty work when she was fired, and, therefore, she was entitled to SEB. Alliance Compressors contended that the employee was not entitled to SEB because she was fired for cause.
The Trial Court Decision
Grillette: The Trial Court awarded Grillette SEB beginning on the date that her employment was terminated.
Palmer: The trial court denied Palmer’s claim for SEB. The court held that it would be contrary to public policy to award SEB to an employee who was fired for cause.
The Appellate Court Decision
In both cases the appellate court denied the employee’s claim for SEB. An employee who is terminated for cause is no different than an employee who refuses available employment. In either case, the employee’s wage loss is caused by their actions, not by their job injury. Therefore, when an employee is fired for cause, the employee is not entitled to SEB unless the modified employment paid less than 90% of their pre-injury wage. In both Grillette and Palmer, the employee was working with no wage loss before her termination. Therefore, she was not entitled to SEB after she was terminated.
The court distinguished previous cases involving terminated employees. Termination of employment does not automatically end entitlement to SEB. If the court finds that termination was not justified, the employee will be entitled to SEB. In both Grillette and Palmer, however, the employee stipulated that she was fired for cause. Therefore, she was not entitled to SEB. In Palmer, the court summarized its holdings on this issue as follows:
“An employer cannot create a job accommodating the restrictions placed on the injured employee and then fire that employee, without cause, to avoid paying benefits. On the other hand, an injured employee cannot refuse to accept the employment or blatantly violate company policy without the possibility of recourse by the employer.”