In Tennessee Workers’ Compensation claims, whether the injured worker has made a “meaningful return to work” after the injury is often a crucial factor in determining how much disability the workers is entitled to. When a worker voluntarily resigns, employers and insurance companies want to limit the recovery to 1 and 1/2 times the appropriate medical impairment rating. However, as pointed out in the recent case of Kyle v. Volunteer Home Care of W. Tenn., Inc., 2014 Tenn. LEXIS 599, 2014 WL 3943101 (Tenn. Workers’ Comp. Panel Aug. 7, 2014), a resignation does not always limit the employee’s recovery.
In Kyle, the employee sustained a work-related injury to her back working as a nursing assistant for Volunteer Home Care on October 28, 2009. Id. at 1-2. Ms. Kyle remained off work for several months receiving medical treatment. Id. at 2. In March of 2010, Ms. Kyle was allowed to return to work full-duty and she continued to work for two years until March of 2012 when she resigned. Id. Ms. Kyle testified that she resigned due to her persistent back pain and went to work for another home healthcare group where her work was less strenuous. Id. at 3-4. She further testified that her back pain is less frequent since resigning from Volunteer. Id at 4-5.
The trial court found Ms. Kyle to be a credible witness and held that she did not have a meaningful return to work because she continued to have back pain that caused her to resign, she complained about that pain to her supervisor, and the employer took no action to address the complaints. Id. at 10. The employer appealed asserting Ms. Kyle voluntarily resigned after a meaningful return to work. Id.
The Workers’ Compensation Special Panel analyzed the case with the factors set out in Tryon:
(1) whether the injury rendered the employee unable to perform the job;
(2) whether the employer refused to accommodate work restrictions arising from the injury; and
(3) whether the injury caused too much pain to permit the continuation of the work.
The Special Panel found the trial court determined Ms. Kyle continued to have back pain due to her injury, that she attempted to work for two years, but the work caused persistent pain. Id. at 11. The Panel concluded that “we are unable to conclude that the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s finding that Ms. Kyle did not have a meaningful return to employment.” Id at 11-2.
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