Salvador Corona was a warehouse worker employed by California Walls, Inc. dba Crown Industrial Operators. He injured his knees on the job in February 2020. He was placed on modified work and did return to work.
On 03/16/2020 the employer sent all employees home due to the state and local emergency orders related to COVID-19. Applicant did not work for the employer from 03/17/2020 through 05/10/2020, and did not receive any state or federal COVID-19-related benefits.
There was no dispute that the employer did not offer modified or alternate work for the period 03/17/2020 through 05/10/2020, that his condition was not yet permanent and stationary, and that he was available to work.
Applicant sought TD indemnity from Defendant due to the employer not offering modified work during the period 03/17/2020 through 05/10/2020. The employer and Defendant carrier denied those benefits due to COVID-19.
The WCJ awarded the TD benefits and a petition for reconsideration was denied in the panel decision of Corona v. California Walls, Inc. dba Crown Industrial Operators.
The employer contended that its obligation to pay temporary disability ended when applicant returned to work with modified duties and that applicant’s inability to work was caused by the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders and not the industrial injury.
“Here, we have the unprecedented circumstance of applicant returning to work with restrictions, which the employer accommodated for approximately one month until the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, which placed all the employees out of work, including applicant. Applicant was left temporarily disabled with no employment for approximately two months. The issue is whether defendant owes applicant temporary disability benefits for this two-month period.”
Here, applicant’s termination from employment was not for cause, or due to his own misconduct, but was due to COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders. As a result, defendant has not met its burden to show that it is released from paying applicant temporary disability benefits during the period in question.
The fact that it was impossible for defendant to offer modified duties to applicant because of the COVID-19 orders is inconsequential.
In Dennis v. State of California (April 30, 2020) 85 Cal.Comp.Cases 389, 406 [2020 Cal. Wrk. Comp. LEXIS 19] (Appeals Board en banc), the WCAB explained that an employer’s inability to offer regular, modified, or alternative work does not release an employer from its obligation to provide a supplemental job displacement benefits voucher.
Similarly, an employer’s inability to accommodate a temporarily disabled employee’s work restrictions does not release it from its obligation to pay temporary disability benefits. “Labor Code section 3202 requires the courts to view the Workers’ Compensation Act from the standpoint of the injured worker, with the objective of securing the maximum benefits to which he or she is entitled.”
Here, applicant was temporarily disabled due to an industrial injury and there is no misconduct on the part of applicant to justify the termination of temporary disability benefits. Therefore, applicant is entitled to temporary disability benefits regardless of whether defendant is able to provide modified work.
That defendant is not able to release itself from paying temporary disability benefits because of its inability to provide modified work is inconsequential.