Las Vegas POA

Fire Captain’s Duties ‘Substantially Similar’ To Those Of Secretary

Written on 04/08/2021
Will Aitchison

Under a Nevada Statute, an em­ployer may offer temporary, light-duty employment to an injured employee in lieu of paying temporary total disability benefits to that employee. The statute provides that for a temporary, light-duty employment offer to be valid, the offered position must be “substantially similar” to the employee’s preinjury position in location, hours, wages, and benefits. Reaching a result that might seem surprising, the Nevada Supreme Court has held that the hours and job duties of a fire captain can be substantially similar to those of a secretary.

The case involved Vance Taylor, a fire captain for the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District. Taylor severely injured his shoulder during a training exercise. Taylor filed a claim for workers’ compensation and received temporary total disability benefits. While awaiting surgery, Taylor worked on a light-duty basis as a secretary.

After his surgery, the District offered Taylor temporary, light-duty employment in the same administrative position he filled prior to surgery. Tay­lor refused the light-duty employment offer, claiming that the offer did not comply with Nevada law as it changed his work schedule and required him to perform tasks and duties that are “humiliating and unlawful.” When the District responded by terminating his temporary total disability benefits, Taylor challenged the decision.

The Court upheld the decision to terminate Taylor’s benefits. The Court began by addressing Taylor’s argument that the 40-hour weekly schedule of five 0800-1700 shifts was not “substantially similar” to his preinjury shift of 48 hours on and 96 hours off. The Court held that “although the administrative schedule was not identical to Taylor’s firefighter schedule, it also did not re­quire him to work unusual hours or an atypical timetable. Both jobs required Taylor to work at least half of his shift during the day.

“While the light-duty job schedule was entirely during the day as opposed to the firefighter schedule’s 50-50 split between day and night, the adminis­trative position did not require Taylor to work in the evenings, which some might view as a more onerous burden. This, coupled with the fact that the temporary, light-duty job would have required Taylor to work fewer hours than his preinjury job but at the same rate of pay, suggests that the offer was a legitimate attempt to provide reason­able light-duty employment pending a return to full health. While perhaps not completely burden-free, Taylor has not demonstrated that the light-duty employment offer posed an unreason­able burden.

“Common sense also requires us to conclude that these schedules are substantially similar. To say that this administrative schedule is not sub­stantially similar to Taylor’s preinjury firefighter schedule would in effect preclude injured firefighters from ever receiving an offer of temporary, light-duty employment, since such nonfirefighter employment generally is not undertaken on a firefighter schedule. Thus, an offer of light-duty employment to injured firefighters often will naturally include some variation in schedule so as to provide the firefighters with an available job that falls within the physical restrictions placed on them by their treating physicians.”

The Court then turned to whether the secretarial job was “substantially similar” to that of a fire captain. Taylor argued that the temporary, light-duty employment offer was also unreasonable because it changed his duties, his chain of command, and effectively demoted him. He contended that although he was unable to perform “the difficult obligations of a firefighter, such as car­rying heavy equipment, he was able to perform many of the other functions of a firefighter. Instead, the District assigned him to be a secretary’s assistant and to perform menial tasks,” which he char­acterized as “humiliating, demoralizing, and degrading.”

The Court rejected Taylor’s argu­ments. The Court concluded that “the statute does not require that an employ­ee’s light-duty job have the same duties or chain of command as his or her preinjury position. Rather, it allows the employer to offer an injured employee work on a temporary basis which otherwise might not qualify as an acceptable offer if it was made for permanent employment. One of the purposes of temporary, light-duty employment is to get employees back to work as soon as possible. Thus, given this purpose and the short-term nature of the light-duty employment offer, a light-duty job that is menial or otherwise in a different capacity as the preinjury job is not unreasonable.

“We further reject Taylor’s conten­tion that the administrative position was demeaning or humiliating to him. Sec­retaries and their assistants perform the necessary everyday tasks that are required to run organizations and businesses. The mere fact that an employee feels that a position is beneath him or her does not make the offer unreasonable or invalid.”

Taylor v. Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District, 2021 WL 403948 (Nev. 2021).

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