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Termination After Work Injury

Effective July 1, 2017, anyone who is injured at work, but who keeps working for the same employer at the same level of earnings cannot recover as much for their work injury, unless they are terminated by the employer. The same rule applies if the employer offers a return to work, and the worker refuses. 

Section 85.34(2)v of the Iowa Code, as amended, says, “If an employee who is eligible for compensation under this paragraph returns to work or is offered work for which the employee receives or would receive the same or greater salary, wages, or earnings than the employee received at the time of the injury, the employee shall be compensated based only upon the employee’s functional impairment resulting from the injury, and not in relation to the employee’s earning capacity.” Later in that section, the statute says that higher compensation can be awarded if the person is later terminated, the injured worker may ask for a higher award. 

If the employer is to avoid paying a higher award, the employer must prove that the person 1) is still working for them, and 2) is receiving “the same or greater salary, wages or earnings” compared to the 13 weeks just before the injury. The statute is poorly written, since it does not define the time frame for comparing those earnings. For instance, if a worker is on seasonal layoff and has reduced earnings, can they file a Petition with the workers’ compensation agency, asking for higher compensation due to reduced earnings? If the hearing is held when the earnings have gone back up, can the injured worker receive the higher benefits? The statute does not say. 

The statute allows someone who is later terminated to ask the agency to review  “the award or agreement for settlement for benefits ,” to consider ordering the employer to pay more benefits, perhaps a lot more benefits. If the insurance carrier pays benefits based on the impairment rating, is that enough to keep the door open, or does the person have to have a hearing and an “award” or reach an agreement that shows how much the impairment rating is? The statute is so poorly written that there is no answer. Is the person limited to three years from the payment of benefits to reopen the case, or can they do so many years later? The statute is so poorly written that there is no answer. 

Further, the statute says that the injured worker can ask for a higher award if he or she is “terminated.”  Does that include an extended layoff, due to economic conditions? Does that include termination because the worker committed misconduct such as stealing? Does that include termination because the person simply stopped showing up for work, or is that considered tantamount to a resignation? The statute does not answer those questions, and so far, the agency has not been presented with a case that interprets those questions. Type your paragraph here.