Examining the ‘Good Faith’ Requirement of Light-Duty Job Offers
The “good faith” requirement of a light-duty offer was just examined by the 10th District Court of Appeals and the Ohio Supreme Court with a somewhat surprising result. Light-duty job offers can be a good way for employers to minimize the payment of temporary total disability compensation and bring injured workers back to the workforce. However, these job offers must conform to very specific requirements under the Ohio Administrative Code. To be valid, a written job offer shall identify the position offered, include a description of the duties required of the position, and clearly specify the physical demands of the job. Additionally, the light-duty job offer must be made in good faith, be of suitable employment, and within a “reasonable proximity” of the injured worker’s residence.
In the recent case of State ex rel. Pacheco v. Industrial Commission, the Ohio Supreme Court reviewed a job offer extended to an injured worker. Specifically, the claimant in the Pacheco case sustained foot and ankle injuries. The employer offered a light-duty position, which the claimant accepted and worked in for three weeks. The light-duty job primarily required the claimant to perform web-based trainings on a laptop computer and sort paperwork. These duties were performed in the company cafeteria. After three weeks, the claimant returned to a new doctor who completed a report indicating the claimant was not released to work. However, the restrictions provided by the new doctor were similar to those under which the claimant had accepted the light-duty offer. The claimant requested temporary total disability compensation and the Industrial Commission denied the request based on the claimant’s abandonment of the light-duty position. After various appeals between both parties, the 10th District Court of Appeals found the light-duty offer was within the claimant’s medical restrictions. However, the court then went on to make a finding that the job offer was not made in good faith. Subsequently, the case was appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.
As for the light-duty job itself, the claimant alleged the employer sat him in the company cafeteria with essentially nothing to do to serve as a warning to other company employees. The employer argued the claimant was placed in the cafeteria to put him in close proximity to the parking lot and restroom, in accordance with his work restrictions. The employer also argued the claimant was barred from arguing the validity of the light-duty offer since he had already accepted the offer. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and held the Industrial Commission must be first to determine whether a light-duty job offer is made in good faith. The court also rejected the proposition the claimant could not argue the validity of the job offer merely because he had previously accepted the offer.
The Pacheco case serves as a good reminder that the “good faith” requirement of light-duty job offers cannot be overlooked. Cases that have reviewed whether a job offer was made in good faith have included an examination of the hours of the offered job, proximity of the job to the claimant’s original work location, etc. However, it is reasonable to conclude (especially given the findings of the Court of Appeals in this case) employers must also consider whether the job duties (or lack of job duties) can be perceived by an injured worker or their co-workers as a punishment or warning. This can be a challenging tightrope for employers to walk given many companies do not have “light-duty” positions readily available and, as such, often attempt to create positions that conform to a claimant’s work restrictions. The lesson for employers here is to keep in mind that providing employees with menial tasks or requiring them to watch training videos for the majority of their shifts could fail the “good faith” requirement of a light-duty job offer.