Supreme Court Says Workers’ Compensation Multiplier Statutes Do Not Distinguish Between Temporary and Permanent Employees

January 22, 2013

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that an employee of a temporary agency who is injured on the job, but not returned to work by the temporary agency at a wage equal to or greater than the pre-injury wage, may obtain workers’ compensation benefits up to six times the medical impairment rating, as would a permanent employee in the same circumstances.

In Timmy Dale Britt v. Dyer’s Employment Agency, Mr. Britt was employed by Dyer’s Employment Agency and assigned to work at Mark IV in September 2008. Mr. Britt became injured on the job and sought medical care for carpel tunnel syndrome that resulted in surgery. The doctor determined Mr. Britt had a 4% permanent medical impairment. Mr. Britt’s assignment at Mark IV ended shortly after the injury and Dyer’s terminated his employment consistent with its business routine when temporary assignments ended.

In awarding workers’ compensation benefits, the trial court looked to statutes limiting awards either to 1) one and one-half times the medical impairment rating, if an injured worker returns to work for the pre-injury employer at a wage equal to or greater than the pre-injury wage, or 2) six times the medical impairment rating if the injured worker does not return to work for the pre-injury employer.  Although Mr. Britt did not return to work, the trial court applied the lesser multiplier based on the temporary nature of Mr. Britt’s employment arrangement.

In its Opinion, the Supreme Court determined that the statutory language does not distinguish between permanent and temporary employees nor require consideration of business practices.  The Supreme Court held that because the employer neither returned the employee to work, nor offered him an opportunity to return to work, nor terminated his employment for misconduct, the statute authorizing benefits up to six times the medical impairment rating applies.  The Supreme Court returned the case to the trial court to re-consider the award under the appropriate statute.

To read the Timmy Dale Britt v. Dyer’s Employment Agency opinion, authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark, visit the Opinions section of TNCourts.gov.