Temporary Benefits Not Available to Employee Terminated While on Light Duty

Is an employee working light duty entitled to temporary disability benefits after being fired for reasons unrelated to the work injury? The Appellate Division recently said no, expanding the principle established in Cunningham v. Atlantic States Cast Iron Pipe Co., 386 N.J. Super. 423 (App. Div. 2006), that a claimant must prove that he was not only able to work, but that he would have been working but for the disability, in order to receive temporary disability benefits.

In Katzenstein v. Dollar General, A-1131- 13T3 (App. Div. January 22, 2016), the injured worker was placed on light duty, and he was subsequently terminated for violating a company policy. He applied for unemployment benefits, but was denied due to the nature of his termination. The authorized treating physician then placed the claimant out of work due to his work injury, and the petitioner applied for temporary disability benefits relying on the doctor’s opinion. The judge of compensation denied the petitioner’s motion because the petitioner was unable to show that he was out of work due to the work injury. He had not shown that there was a prospect of work that he had to turn down due to his disability. Rather, the claimant was out of work due to violating company policy. The Appellate Division upheld the judge of compensation, holding that under Cunningham, the injured worker failed to show a causal link between the disability and the subsequent unemployment.

This decision illustrates that temporary disability benefits are not always guaranteed to claimants. It is important to quickly convey information about terminations to defense counsel, and to make a determination regarding whether the claimant is entitled to temporary benefits going forward.