The importance of documenting employee files: Yet another example

Last week the Maine Workers’ Compensation Board Appellate Division issued a decision that should serve to remind Maine employers of the importance of documenting personnel files whenever accommodating an injured employee in a light duty position.

The case, Tremblay v. L.L. Bean, dealt with a former L.L. Bean employee who sustained gradual work injuries to both Achilles tendons. The employer accommodated her in various light duty work positions over the years. The employee left the last light duty job in the first aid department after just three days, resigned, and took a severance package.

The employee then brought a workers’ compensation claim. She testified at hearing that she left the job because it was physically too hard due to her work injuries. Her supervisor testified that the employee did not mention any physical problems at the time and had resigned because she felt she was not qualified for the job. The supervisor also testified she had told the employee the employer was willing to provide training. Importantly, the supervisor’s contemporaneous notes supported this testimony.

The Board’s decision denied lost time benefits because the evidence showed she had resigned from suitable employment without good and reasonable cause. The hearing officer found the supervisor’s testimony credible and specifically noted that the contemporaneous notes in the personnel file supported her testimony. Last week the Appellate Division agreed and upheld the denial.

This decision serves as a reminder of how important it is for employers to document all exchanges with injured employees regarding their restrictions and light duty work. One of the main reasons for the employer’s favorable result in this case was likely the availability of the supervisor’s contemporaneous notes of her conversations with the employee. Those notes showed the employee made no complaint that the job was too physically demanding and instead resigned because she felt unqualified for the position, despite the employer’s offer to provide training.

We will never know if the hearing officer in this case would have found the supervisor’s testimony credible without the supporting notes from the personnel file. But the notes were clearly an important factor for both the hearing officer and the Appellate Division. So as we often like to say here at Tucker Law Group, “When in doubt, write it out!”

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