Eppling v. Schultz Dining Programs Commonwealth of Va
In Eppling v. Schultz Dining Programs Commonwealth of Va., 18 Va. App. 125, 442 S.E.2d 219 (1994), the employee suffered a compensable injury and was subsequently returned to light-duty work.
The employee accepted the light-duty work, but after one month was terminated because of excessive absences caused by health problems unrelated to her compensable injury.
The commission found that because the employee was terminated for cause, she was permanently barred from receiving compensation benefits.
` held that the employee's inability to perform her selective employment because of unrelated health problems did not bar her from seeking reinstatement of her workers' compensation benefits.
However, the Court stated:
when a non-work-related disability prevents a partially disabled employee from returning to his or her pre-injury work or from accepting selective employment, for purposes of the Act, the unrelated disability is not justification for the employee to refuse or not to perform selective employment or to fail to market his or her residual work capacity.
Thus, the inability of a disabled employee to do selective work or to market his or her residual capacity due to an unrelated disability is equivalent to an unjustified refusal of selective employment.Eppling, 18 Va. App. at 130, 442 S.E.2d at 222.
The Court recognized that "although Eppling's employer had 'cause' for terminating her selective employment due to excessive absenteeism, her absences were due to health problems and not due to 'wrongful acts' that 'justified' her dismissal so as to permanently deprive Eppling of having her workers' compensation benefits reinstated." Id. at 129, 442 S.E.2d at 222.
Under Eppling, a discharge for "cause" related to excessive absenteeism, although not constituting a wrongful act that justifies permanent forfeiture of benefits, is sufficient to find an unjustified refusal of selective employment. See id. at 130, 442 S.E.2d at 222.
The Court ruled that not every discharge, even if supported by a reason, is a "justified" discharge. 18 Va. App. at 128, 442 S.E.2d at 221.
The commission is required "to consider the nature of the conduct," which is alleged to constitute the cause or to justify the dismissal. Id. at 129, 442 S.E.2d at 221.
Thus, the Court held that even if the employer can assign a reason for discharge, not every "type of willful conduct or misbehavior arises to the level that, upon termination, justifies a forfeiture of workers' compensation benefits under Murphy." 18 Va. App. at 130, 442 S.E.2d at 222.