In March 2006, the employee injured his back while at work for Re-Harvest. He was unable to work even light duty following the injury and less than 4 weeks later, he was terminated. It was more than a year later that the employee regained some work capacity and was able to secure full-time employment. The employer voluntarily paid total incapacity benefits during that period of time.
The employee filed a Petition to Remedy Discrimination which was granted by the Hearing Officer. He ordered the employer to pay the employee’s reasonable attorneys fees as well as the amount he paid out of pocket for health insurance while he was between jobs. Re-Harvest appealed.
The Court overruled the Hearing Officer’s decision. The Court acknowledged that a short period of time between a claim for workers’ compensation benefits and termination can be circumstantial evidence of discriminatory intent. However, the Court went on to note that there was no requirement that an employer retain an employee for long periods of time during which the employee is totally unable to work. In this case, there was no question that Lavoie was unable to perform any work functions for weeks after the injury and there was no indication that his health was likely to change in the near future. In fact, it was more than a year before Lavoie regained work capacity and returned to work for another employer. Unless there is some indication that the employee has a recoverable work capacity, there is no provision in the Workers’ Compensation Act that would require employers to maintain employees who are completely unable to work in their employment roles.