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COA Rules that Light-Duty Role Offered to Injured Officer is Too Risky

What if the doctor has approved me for light-duty work, but there's a risk I would have to do something that would violate my work restrictions? 

In Yerby v. N.C. Dep't of Pub. Safety, plaintiff juvenile justice officer Connie Yerby fell at work, injuring her neck, back, and right arm.  The Department of Public Safety (DPS) paid Yerby continuation benefits and referred her to a doctor.  The doctor approved Yerby for light-duty work, as long as she wasn't required to lift anything with her right arm. 

DPS offered Yerby a light-duty job where Yerby would have to supervise violent juvenile offenders.  Yerby rejected the offer because she was concerned that she would not be able to defend herself if a violent juvenile resident attacked her.  When Yerby failed to return to work, DPS terminated Yerby's salary continuation.   DPS also denied Yerby's requests to not have to be in direct contact with juvenile residents. 

At the Industrial Commission hearing, a vocational rehabilitation expert testified that Yerby would not be able to properly defend herself if a resident attacked her, and that the job DPS offered would create a "constant element of danger due to the chance of being put in direct contact with students."  The Industrial Commissioner concluded that Yerby was entitled to reinstatement of her salary.  The full Industrial Commission concluded that the light-duty role DPS offered was not properly assigned because it put Yerby at a "heightened risk of harm." 

On March 1, 2016, the Court of Appeals held that it was improper for DPS to assign Yerby to a light-duty role that put her in contact with violent juvenile offenders because she would be unable to defend herself.  The court noted that Yerby had never been assaulted by a student before, but her job required her to be able to restrain a violent offender if it became necessary.

Therefore, even if a juvenile officer can perform certain duties during a normal work day, "other factors - such as the risk that the normal circumstances unexpectedly devolve into violent confrontations with juvenile offenders - may compel the Industrial Commission to conclude that those duties are not ones to which the officer may be assigned."

Contact Miller Law Firm if you have been provided a light-duty role following a workers' compensation claim, but have questions about it meeting the necessary restrictions.

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