Reasonable Commute Becomes Not So Reasonable

trafficFrom a Workers Compensation perspective, employers may (arguably) return injured workers to light duty at a different job, wage, schedule and location. Any light duty job offer must be within a reasonable commute.

Common sense says a long commute might be reasonable for a high-paying job, but not so reasonable for a minimum wage job. After taxes, $4 a gallon gas and automobile wear and tear, an injured worker may end up losing money. Many injuries limit a worker’s ability to drive or sit in a car. Consequently, a worker may frequently need to stop and stretch or lay back in the seat, thereby doubling the commuting time.

My partner, Wayne, recently litigated a case where the Department determined that the injured worker could reasonably commute from Rochester to Renton, to work as an electronic assembler. This would be a 134 mile round-trip commute. The Department’s own IME acknowledged that the worker could only sit up to a half-hour at a time. The worker would have to pull over at least once, each way.

In reversing the Department’s determination, the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals explained that “a commute that is reasonable for one with a healthy back can easily become unreasonable post–injury.” The Board agreed with Wayne, finding the injured worker was not employable as an electronic assembler and granted him life time pension benefits.

Dane D. Ostrander
Williams, Wyckoff & Ostrander, PLLC

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