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The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals recently released an opinion in In re: Laura Register v. Outdoor Aluminum, Inc. wherein it reversed summary judgment in favor of the employer in a retaliatory discharge case. While the decision itself did not create any new legal precedent, or narrow, or expand prior holdings, it did highlight the importance of communication between the employer and the workers’ compensation claim handler.
In Register, the non-retaliatory reason asserted as the basis for the termination was absenteeism. In the usual case, assuming the employee was absent more than what would typically be allowed, such a reason would be considered legitimate and not pre-textual. In Register, however, since the employee had not yet been medically released to return to work, the Court of Appeals determined that there was a contradiction between the work status and the alleged absenteeism. As such, the Court held that there were material issues in dispute that needed to be decided by a jury.
My Two Cents: As the prison captain said to Paul Newman’s character in Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” The effective handling of a workers’ compensation claim involves a partnership between the employer and the claims handler. As with any good partnership, communication is the key to success. In many cases, years of litigation and the time and expense associated with it can be avoided with a single e-mail or phone call.
This blog submission was prepared by Karen Cleveland, an attorney with Fish Nelson & Holden, LLC, a law firm dedicated to representing self-insured employers, insurance carriers, and third party administrators in all matters related to workers’ compensation. Fish Nelson & Holden is a member of the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. If you have any questions about this submission or Alabama workers’ compensation in general, please contact Cleveland by e-mailing her at email@example.com or by calling her directly at 205-332-1599.