Termination for Cause in a Virginia Workers Compensation Case

What is the impact of termination of employment for cause on a Virginia Workers compensation case?

The case law in Virginia generally holds that an employee who is terminated for cause from employment provided or procured by the employer responsible for the work accident is not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. However, exceptions exist, such as when the termination is not “justified” or when the employee’s wage loss is not attributable to their wrongful act.

Analysis

In the realm of Virginia workers’ compensation, the impact of termination for cause is a subject well-covered by legal precedent. Notably, cases like Barton v. Allied Waste Indus., Inc. and Pier 1 Imports, Inc. v. Wright establish that benefits can be revoked if the wage loss is directly attributable to an employee’s wrongful act and if they bear responsibility for that act. However, there are exceptions as demonstrated in Artis v. Ottenberg’s Bakers, Inc. where even with wage loss attributable to a wrongful act, the termination must still be justified to bar benefits.

Patterson Brothers v. Lacy reaffirms the importance of a two-pronged test: determining whether the termination is attributable to the employee’s wrongful act and whether they are responsible for it. Richfood, Inc. v. Williams, conversely, emphasizes that a termination for cause may not preclude benefits if the wage loss is unrelated to the wrongful act. Furthermore, Shenandoah Motors v. Smith clarifies the necessity of an “actual bona fide job offer” in establishing a constructive refusal of selective employment under Code § 65.2-510, which can impact eligibility for post-termination partial disability benefits. In summary, Virginia’s workers’ compensation case law generally disqualifies employees terminated for cause but acknowledges exceptions based on justification and attributability.

If you have been terminated for cause, we strongly suggest contacting a Virginia Worker’s Compensation lawyer.  Our firm has a strong track record of success.  We handle Virginia worker’s compensation cases throughout Virginia, including Lynchburg, Roanoke, Danville, Bristol, Richmond, Fairfax, Harrisonburg, Virginia Beach, and every town, city, and county in between”

Many cases have been decided before the Virginia Workers Compensation Commission and before the Virginia Court of Appeals and Virginia Supreme Court. While the list below is far from exhaustive, you can get a sense of the way that the Courts in Virginia handle this issue:

Barton v. Allied Waste Indus., Inc., Record No. 2215-12-4 (Va. Ct. App. Jul. 23, 2013)

This case directly addresses the impact of termination for cause on a Virginia workers’ compensation case, specifically holding that the “firing for cause” doctrine can result in the termination of benefits.

“The deputy commissioner found that claimant was terminated from his employment for justified cause, in this case, dishonesty, thereby extinguishing his right to receive temporary partial disability benefits. The deputy commissioner discredited the claimant’s explanations for failing to report his overpayment and found that the claimant “was fully aware that he was receiving wage loss benefits from the carrier in error.”

“Applying Code § 65.2-510, the commission held that the employer terminated the claimant’s employment for justified cause, and, as a result, the claimant had forfeited his right to compensation benefits. This appeal followed.”

“We hold that the commission did not err in applying Code § 65.2-510 and the firing for cause doctrine in this case.”

“Therefore, the commission did not err in applying Code § 65.2-510 and the firing for cause doctrine in the case at bar.”

Pier 1 Imports, Inc. v. Wright, Record No. 2193-11-4 (Va. Ct. App. May. 29, 2012)

This case discusses the circumstances under which an employee terminated for cause is not entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits in Virginia.

“An employee “who is terminated for cause and for reasons not concerning his disability is not entitled to receive compensation benefits.” Chesapeake & Potomac Tel. Co. v. Murphy, 12 Va. App. 633, 637, 406 S.E.2d 190, 192, aff’d en banc, 13 Va. App. 304, 411 S.E.2d 444 (1991). All that is required to justify a termination for cause and forfeiture of compensation benefits “is a showing: (1) that the wage loss is ‘properly attributable’ to the wrongful act; and (2) that the employee is ‘responsible’ for that wrongful act.” Artis, 45 Va. App. at 85, 608 S.E.2d at 518 (quoting Reese, 24 Va. App. at 336, 482 S.E.2d at 97).”

Artis v. Ottenberg's Bakers, Inc., 45 Va. App. 72 (Va. Ct. App. 2005)

This case from the Virginia Court of Appeals discusses the impact of termination for cause on a worker’s compensation claim, specifically addressing whether the claimant’s wage loss is attributable to his wrongful act or disability.

“The deputy commission further held, however, that the employer’s termination of the claimant on June 29, 2000, based upon his fabrication of a robbery and the filing of a false police report, was for justified cause sufficient to permanently bar the claimant’s entitlement to partial wage loss compensation thereafter. . . . We further conclude that the claimant’s wage loss after June 29, 2000, is properly attributable to his own conduct and not to any disability resulting from the October 2, 1999 injury by accident. We reach this conclusion notwithstanding Dr. Harris’ opinion that on June 29, 2000, the claimant remained “actively traumatized” by the events of October 2, 1999 and that his action in feigning the robbery attempt was “one of symbolically regaining his loss of control.””

“The sole issue on appeal is whether the commission erred in concluding that Artis’ misconduct justified a forfeiture of his disability benefits. Artis argues that his misconduct did not justify forfeiture because his compensable disability caused it.”

“It is well settled that, “where a disabled employee is terminated for cause from selective employment procured or offered by his employer, any subsequent wage loss is properly attributable to his wrongful act rather than his disability.”

PATTERSON BROTHERS v. LACY, Record No. 0436-07-3 (Va. Ct. App. Jan. 15, 2008)

This case discusses the impact of termination for cause on a worker’s compensation claim in Virginia, specifically addressing the two-prong test that must be applied to determine whether the claimant’s termination was attributable to his wrongful act and whether the claimant was responsible for his misconduct.

“Patterson Brothers Paving, Inc. and its insurer (hereinafter referred to as “employer”) appeal a decision of the Workers’ Compensation Commission finding that Thomas Edward Lacy (claimant) was terminated for justified cause but not such as to warrant a permanent forfeiture of his disability benefits. For the following reasons, we reverse the commission’s decision and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

“In Artis, a majority of this Court recognized as follows: It is well settled that, “where a disabled employee is terminated for cause from selective employment procured or offered by his employer, any subsequent wage loss is properly attributable to his wrongful act rather than his disability.” Thus, an employee “who is terminated for cause and for reasons not concerning his disability is not entitled to receive compensation benefits.” As we have noted, “A justified discharge . . . does not simply mean that the employer can identify or assign a reason attributable to the employee as the cause for his or her being discharged.”

Richfood, Inc. v. Williams, 457 S.E.2d 417 (Va. Ct. App. 1995)

This case discusses the impact of termination for cause on a Virginia workers’ compensation case, specifically holding that “because such termination was for cause, any subsequent wage loss was due to Williams’s wrongful act rather than his disability, and thus, was not Richfood’s responsibility.”

“We find that Williams’s employment with Richfood, Inc. was terminated because of his failure to pass a drug screening as a condition of employment pursuant to a written agreement, and we hold that because such termination was for cause, any subsequent wage loss was due to Williams’s wrongful act rather than his disability, and thus, was not Richfood’s responsibility.”

“In Murphy, we held that “where a disabled employee is terminated for cause from selective employment procured or offered by his employer, any subsequent wage loss is properly attributable to his wrongful act rather than his disability. The employee is responsible for that loss and not the employer.”

Shenandoah Motors v. Smith, 53 Va. App. 375 (Va. Ct. App. 2009)

This case discusses whether a termination for cause bars an employee from receiving post-termination partial disability benefits under Virginia law. Specifically, it addresses whether an “actual bona fide job offer” of selective employment is necessary to establish a constructive refusal of selective employment under Code § 65.2-510.

“In reaching that decision, the commission concluded that claimant’s post-injury termination from full-duty employment with employer, even if that termination was for cause, did not bar her, under Code § 65.2-510, from receiving post-termination partial disability benefits, because employer made no “actual bona fide job offer” of selective employment during claimant’s period of partial disability and the conduct of claimant that led to her termination was not “criminal or sufficiently egregious” to waive that requirement. On appeal, employer contends the commission erred in holding employer did not establish a constructive refusal of selective employment under Code § 65.2-510, even though the evidence showed employer would have made suitable light-duty employment available to claimant during the period of her partial disability but for her prior termination for cause, and, alternatively, in finding claimant’s misconduct and poor sales performance at work insufficiently egregious to bar her claim.”

“On appeal, employer contends the commission erred in holding Code § 65.2-510 does not bar claimant’s receipt of temporary partial disability benefits from June 1, 2006, and continuing. Specifically, employer argues the commission erroneously concluded, in reliance on Presgraves, that claimant’s termination from full-duty employment, even if it was for cause, did not constitute a constructive unjustified refusal of selective employment barring her subsequent receipt of partial disability benefits under Code § 65.2-510, because employer made no “actual bona fide job offer” of selective employment to claimant after she became partially disabled.”

“While an injured employee is generally permitted to “cure” such an unjustified refusal of selective employment by subsequently accepting the selective employment procured by the employer or obtaining other selective employment, it is well settled that “an employee on selective employment offered or procured by the employer, who is discharged for cause and for reasons not concerning the disability, forfeits his or her right to compensation benefits like any other employee who loses employment benefits when discharged for cause.”

GRAY v. ATS SERVICE, Record Nos. 2441-95-4, 2271-95-4 (Va. Ct. App. Apr. 9, 1996)

This case discusses whether an employee terminated for cause is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. It ultimately concludes that the employee is not barred from receiving temporary total disability benefits.

“JUDGE SAM W. COLEMAN III Timothy Gray (claimant) appeals the commission’s holding that he was terminated from his employment with ATS Service/Accustaff, Inc. (Accustaff) for misconduct or cause that would justifiably bar his claim for compensation benefits.”

“Employees who are “terminated for cause from selective employment procured by [their] employer” are barred from receiving partial disability benefits.”

“Therefore, claimant challenges the commission’s finding that he was terminated for cause in order to preserve his future eligibility for partial disability benefits should he be released to return to work.”

“Therefore, credible evidence supports the commission’s finding that claimant was terminated for justified cause.”

“Credible evidence supports the commission’s finding that claimant was terminated for justified cause.”

Montalbano v. Richmond Ford, LLC, 57 Va. App. 235 (Va. Ct. App. 2010)

This case discusses the impact of termination for cause on a workers’ compensation claim in Virginia, specifically addressing the distinction between “justified cause” and “cause” and the circumstances under which benefits may be forfeited.

“On appeal, claimant advances a number of reasons why his termination was not “justified.””

“Artis v. Ottenberg’s Bakers, Inc., 45 Va.App. 72, 83, 608 S.E.2d 512, 517 (2005) ( en banc).”

“Timbrook v. O’Sullivan Corp., 17 Va.App. 594, 597, 439 S.E.2d 873, 875 (1994); see also Marval Poultry Co. v. Johnson, 224 Va. 597, 601, 299 S.E.2d 343, 345 (1983).”

“Eppling v. Schultz Dining Programs, 18 Va.App. 125, 128, 442 S.E.2d 219, 221 (1994).”

“We therefore conclude that claimant’s repetitive harassment of his subordinates through anger and abusive language was “justified cause” for his termination, thereby justifying a forfeiture of benefits.”

Centers v. Teel, Record No. 2143-14-1 (Va. Ct. App. May. 12, 2015)

This case discusses whether an employee’s termination for cause bars them from receiving workers’ compensation benefits, and ultimately concludes that the termination was justified and benefits should not be awarded.

“On appeal, employer contends the commission erred: (1) in affirming the deputy commissioner’s conclusion that claimant was not terminated for justified cause; (2) in addressing and reversing the deputy commissioner’s ruling that claimant refused selective employment and is therefore entitled to temporary total disability; and (3) in affirming the deputy commissioner’s conclusion that claimant established reasonable efforts to market his residual wage earning capacity during periods of unemployment. For the following reasons, we reverse the commission’s decision that claimant was not terminated for just cause.”

“Chesapeake & Potomac Tel. Co. v. Murphy, 12 Va. App. 633, 637, 406 S.E.2d 190, 192, aff’d en banc, 13 Va. App. 304, 411 S.E.2d 444 (1991).”

“”[A]ll that is required [to establish a termination for cause and a forfeiture of subsequent compensation benefits] is a showing: (1) that the wage loss is ‘properly attributable’ to the [employee’s] wrongful act; and (2) that the employee is ‘responsible’ for the wrongful act.””

“We conclude, as a matter of law, that claimant’s termination was for “justified” cause.”

World Color v. PELZER-PUGLIESE., Record No. 0059-00-4 (Va. Ct. App. May. 16, 2000)

This case addresses whether an employee’s termination for cause forfeits their right to workers’ compensation benefits, and ultimately concludes that the employee’s benefits should not be forfeited.

“PER CURIAM World Color Retail and its insurer (hereinafter referred to as “employer”) contend that the Workers’ Compensation Commission erred in finding that Bonnie Mae Pelzer-Pugliese (claimant) was not terminated for cause while on selective employment, and, therefore, did not forfeit her rights to compensation benefits. Upon reviewing the record and the briefs of the parties, we conclude that this appeal is without merit.”

“When a disabled employee is discharged from selective employment, the “inquiry focuses on whether the claimant’s benefits may continue in light of [the] dismissal.” An employee’s workers’ compensation benefits will be permanently forfeited only when the employee’s dismissal is “justified,” the same as any other employee who forfeits her employment benefits when discharged for a “justified” reason.”

“Accordingly, we affirm the commission’s decision. Affirmed.”