Massachusetts Court Discusses Due Process in Workers’ Compensation Cases

People who suffer injuries at work can often recover workers’ compensation benefits. In some instances, though, an employer will take adverse action against an employee to avoid paying them such benefits. In such instances, the employee can pursue civil claims against the employer. In a recent Massachusetts workers’ compensation case, the court discussed an injured employee’s right to due process. If you were hurt at work, you may be owed benefits, and you should speak to a Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer promptly.

Case Setting

It is reported that the plaintiff began her employment as an ESL teacher at the defendant high school during the 2012-2013 school year. In March 2015, the plaintiff applied for a long-term leave of absence and used her paid sick time while awaiting approval. Her request was granted for the period from March 23, 2015, to June 30, 2015. She returned to work for the 2015-2016 school year. In early November 2015, the plaintiff was observed in her classroom by the head of her department and other administrators. Following these observations, the plaintiff met with the school’s headmaster and others, after which she left work early due to emotional distress and sought medical treatment. She subsequently applied for workers’ compensation benefits, claiming anxiety, depression, and PTSD triggered by the observations and the meeting.

Allegedly, the plaintiff submitted an occupational injury report to the headmaster, requesting his signature to process her workers’ compensation claim, which was denied due to the lack of a signed form. The plaintiff did not return to work and exhausted her paid sick time by December 2015. She inquired about her eligibility for benefits under the paid sick leave bank but was told she was ineligible as she was not on an approved leave of absence. In January 2016, the headmaster notified the plaintiff that her continued absence would be considered a resignation if she did not report to work or obtain an approved leave of absence by a specified date. The plaintiff expressed confusion over the return-to-work date and reiterated her intention to return to work in a modified capacity.

Reportedly, despite applying for leave, she did not submit the required medical documentation on time. The plaintiff was eventually marked as absent without leave, and her employment was terminated effective January 26, 2016. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination, retaliation, and procedural due process violations. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on some claims, and the jury ruled in favor of the defendants on the remaining claims. The plaintiff appealed the summary judgment decision regarding her due process claim.

Due Process in Workers’ Compensation Cases

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that her due process rights were violated when she was terminated without proper notice, and the defendants failed to follow their own AWOL policies. The court noted that when a public school teacher with professional teacher status is terminated, the school must provide written notice, grounds for dismissal, and related documents, allowing the teacher an opportunity to respond and seek arbitration. The court found that the plaintiff did not receive proper notice of her termination, as the defendants’ letters only mentioned treating her absence as a resignation without detailing the grounds for dismissal. This lack of notice deprived the plaintiff of the opportunity to file a timely petition for arbitration.

The court rejected the defendants’ argument that the plaintiff’s failure to report to work constituted a voluntary resignation. The court emphasized that the defendants could not unilaterally determine a resignation based on the plaintiff’s inaction, especially given her explicit communication of intent to return to work. The court concluded that the plaintiff’s procedural due process rights were violated as the defendants failed to provide the required notice and opportunity to be heard.

Consequently, the court vacated the summary judgment in favor of the defendants on the due process claim and remanded the case for a new judgment in favor of the plaintiff, while affirming the judgment on all other claims.

Speak with a Skilled Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Attorney

Massachusetts employers must provide workers’ compensation benefits to employees injured on the job, no matter who is at fault. If you were injured at work, it is prudent to speak with an attorney about your rights. Attorney James K. Meehan is a skilled Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer with considerable experience in defending the rights of injured workers. To get in touch with Attorney Meehan, you can fill out our online form or call him at 508-822-6600 to set up a confidential meeting.