Canela V. Sky Chefs – How To Make A Light Duty Offer
On April 8, 2021, New York’s Appellate Division, Third Department, rendered a decision in Canela v. Sky Chefs. This decision sheds light on the issue of labor market attachment and on the importance of a well written light duty offer letter.
Recap - The attachment defense
Let’s start with a small recap of the attachment defense. In a New York workers compensation case, when a claimant is not working by reason of a work-related accident, and he has less than a total degree of disability, he has an obligation to remain attached to the labor market. In other words, if an injured worker is still able to perform some type of work, he is expected to look for employment within the limits of what he is capable of doing. To make sure that the claimant returns to work, and to reduce the weekly wage compensations (by the amount of the new salary), the employer can make “a light duty offer” to the claimant. If the claimant decides not to accept the work, the employer can stop paying benefits on the basis that the claimant voluntarily withdrew from the labor market.
Canela v. Sky Chefs – facts
In Canela v. Sky Chefs, claimant, a caterer, sustained a work-related injury to his back. Thereafter, he was awarded benefits at a temporary partial disability rate. His employer sent him an offer letter for light duty work, and he rejected it. His employer considered that rejection to be a withdrawal and raised the issue of labor market attachment to a workers compensation judge. The judge agreed with the employer’s position. Claimant filed an administrative appeal and the Board rescinded this decision. The employer’s insurance carrier then appealed to the New York State Appellate Division, 3rd Department.
Appellate Division decision and our tips
After reviewing the offer letter, the Appellate Division found that it was too vague, specifically, it did not describe any position that claimant could take within his medical limitations. So, how can an employer make a valid light duty offer? Simply by making the claimant an offer he cannot refuse. Below are a few recommendations.
- Always make sure your offer is in writing. Then send it through certified mail and e-mail if that is a typical method of communication. You do not want to give the opportunity to the claimant to say he never received the offer.
- You are permitted to communicate with the provider only regarding treatment and medical issues . If the claimant is represented, we recommend sending a work restrictions letter to the claimant’s doctor for them to complete, as well as a copy to claimant’s attorney and the Board.
- Make sure that the offer addresses exactly the roles and responsibilities of the employee. This includes the physical demands of the job. Otherwise you might expose yourself to the claimant saying it was too much for him.
- Include the following information:
- Job title
- Duration of assignment
- Department (name of supervisor)
- Start date
- Once/if the offer is accepted, make sure the work matches the offer, don’t ask too much of claimant.
If you have a light duty position, use the right light duty offer letter. If you don’t, the employee can reject your offer and you will not be able to raise the attachment defense.
Theodore Eder is a shareholder in the Segal McCambridge Singer & Mahoney New York office and serves as chair of the firm's Workers' Compensation Practice Group. He can be contacted at 212.651.7406 or email@example.com.
Marie-Victoire Wickers, an additional author of the article, is a temporary associate attorney for the Segal McCambridge Singer & Mahoney New York office. She can be contacted at 212.651.7440 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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