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.