ReEmployAbility, the largest national provider of specialty return-to-work (RTW) services and transitional employment programs, played a major role in establishing return-to-work precedent in a recent Virginia workers’ compensation case. The Virginia Worker’s Compensation Commission issued a full board decision that employers can use nonprofit organizations to accommodate light duty work when an employee is recovering from a workers’ compensation injury.

In this case, ReEmployAbility secured a position for the Claimant in July 2013 at the local YMCA via its Transition2Work program. The program places injured workers in nonprofit modified duty assignments when the pre-injury employer cannot accommodate the employee’s medical restrictions on-site. The transitional work assignment would require the Claimant to perform light duty tasks such as folding towels, wiping down machines, monitoring the gym, and handing out basketballs to members in return for their keys and membership cards. However, the Claimant, alleged his employer, Safelite Group, was forcing him to accept “subsidized light-duty employment,” a mundane job that has no restorative rehabilitative value, which he asserted violated the Commission’s Guidelines for Vocational Rehabilitation.

“Our company successfully uses Transition2Work for nonprofit transitional work assignments across the US as part of its Return to Work program. It has allowed us to provide modified duty to match workers’ restrictions that we otherwise would not be able to accommodate with our options in-house. It is a beneficial program that has helped many of our employees and we believe our personnel in Virginia should be afforded the opportunity to participate,” said Nathan Hughes, Manager of Risk and Claims, Safelite Group.

In August 2013, the Deputy Commissioner denied the claimant’s motion, reasoning that he “did not consider the job to be in a “sheltered workshop” or with an organization that is “subsidized by employers/carriers” and that the assignment was not vocational rehabilitation but rather “light-duty employment that was temporary and appropriate.” In October, the Commission upheld this earlier decision.

ReEmployAbility worked with employer’s counsel, providing documentation and case law from other states to support the position that the offered transitional work assignment at the YMCA should be considered part of the employer’s return-to-work program, and is intended to be temporary until the employer can accommodate the claimant’s work restrictions.

“Our return-to-work service is an innovative concept utilizing non-profits for transitional duty,” stated Frances Ford, ReEmployAbility’s co-founder. “Because this approach is innovative, many courts do not have precedental case interpretations. Performing valuable community service as an option when the employer cannot provide on-site light duty provides productive employee benefits. It helps the injured worker become reacquainted with a daily work routine while earning a pay check and making a positive contribution to the community. It also helps employers retain their talent until the injured worker is capable of returning to full duty. Return to Work programs such as Transition2Work provide a myriad of benefits to all parties involved and we are pleased the Virginia Worker’s Compensation Commission’s ruling support this valuable program. We consider this ruling to be an important victory for Virginia employers and employees.”

Virginia’s Workers’ Compensation Act encourages employer to procure employment suitable to partially incapacitated employees (Code § 65.2-510).  The unjustified refusal to accept the job offer will jeopardize the employee’s temporary workers’ compensation benefits.