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  • Florida Appellate Court Upholds JCC Determination Regarding Denial of Sheltered Employment Claim

Florida Appellate Court Upholds JCC Determination Regarding Denial of Sheltered Employment Claim

In Moore v. Servicemaster Commercial Services, a housekeeper who worked for a commercial company sustained injuries to her right shoulder while working, requiring the woman to undergo surgery to address the injury. Approximately one week after the operation, the woman was cleared to return to her occupational schedule, subject to some limitations. The surgeon also recommended that the woman undertake three weeks of physical therapy to address the remaining impact of her injury.

While the employer made an offer to the woman to place her on light duty, she informed her employer that she was experiencing substantial pain in her arm and did not return to work until after she completed the three weeks of physical therapy. Roughly 30 days later, her employer notified her that she was being terminated for failing to return to her position or to call in. The housekeeper attempted to return to work roughly two months later, when she finished her physical therapy course, and her treating physician determined that she had achieved maximum medical improvement. The physician also determined that the woman was permanently impaired. Also, before she had completed physical therapy, the woman had secured a new position that started roughly six weeks later. 

The woman then filed a request seeking a determination that she was eligible for temporary partial disability benefits, extending from the date that she was approved to return to light duty work to the date she obtained her new employment.  The employer’s insurance carrier denied the request, arguing that the woman voluntarily chose to limit her wage amounts.

During the hearing before the judge of compensation claims (“JCC”), the woman claimed that her decision to not return to work was justified, that the light duty employment offer should be deemed “sheltered employment” pursuant to Florida Statutes Section 440.15(6) of the Florida Statutes, and that her termination from employment with her original employer put the woman in a position where she was unable to refuse work from the new employer.

In responding to the woman’s claims, the JCC concluded that the light-duty assignment from the original employer was both appropriate and reasonable, and he denied the woman’s request to classify the light duty work as “shelter employment.” Ultimately, the JCC denied the woman’s claim for temporary disability benefits on the basis that she refused to accept suitable work, and he ruled that the original employer had a suitable affirmative defense to the claim for benefits under Florida Statutes Section 440.15(6).

The woman appealed to the First District of Florida, who first rejected the woman’s contention that the original employer’s offer of light duty work satisfied the definition of sheltered employment. Upholding the JCC’s determination, the appellate court ruled that the offer of light duty was an appropriate return-to-work program, and it was not rooted in bad-faith gamesmanship, as the woman contended. Ultimately, the court determined that the woman had refused suitable employment, but it reversed and remanded the JCC’s ruling after concluding that there remained questions of fact regarding the period of time between when the housekeeper finished physical therapy and when she attempted to take on the light duty work.

If you suffered injuries on the job, you may be entitled to benefits. At The Hoffman Firm, we have helped many South Florida employees bring a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. One of the most difficult aspects of making a claim is navigating the system and negotiating with your employer’s insurance carrier. We will fight for your rights along every step of the way and ensure you receive the benefits you deserve. Call us now at (800) 223-1866 or contact us online to set up your free consultation now.

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Evan A. Hoffman

Evan A. Hoffman

Mr. Hoffman’s philosophy is "our knowledge and experience is your best defense." He has been a featured author on criminal law issues such as driving under the influence, domestic violence and illegal searches.

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