Department of Amplification: Clarification on the Improper Use of Modified Duty

July 23rd, 2007 by

Back in June we blogged the interesting case of Tony Boyle, who was awarded over $600,000 for wrongful termination after his employer, Weyerhauser, put him in a modified duty job that aggravated his work-related condition. I half expected to hear from the employer, defending their modified duty program. Instead, I am on notice from Mr. Boyle’s attorney that we have defamed his client.
The point of contention was my conjecture (and it was a conjecture), that Boyle had been prescribed narcotic pain medication for his serious lower back injury (two herniated discs). After all, such drugs are the most frequently prescribed medications in the workers comp system (see prior blog here.) Attorney Richard Yaskin asserts that there is no evidence for the claim that Boyle “failed a company drug test.” He further asserts that Boyle was taking anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxers.
As a blogger, I rely on a variety of sources: in this case, two newspaper articles. Renee Winkler wrote in the Courier-Post that “when (Boyle) was terminated, company officials said he was violating the substance abuse policy.” I (mis)interpreted that to mean he had failed a drug test. In the other source, Pete McCarthy wrote in the Gloucester County Times that Boyle “was prescribed two painkillers by the company’s workers’ compensation doctor, and told to work light duty…Within two months, Boyle was fired. He had been accused of violating company policy by taking prescription medication while operating machinery.”
So here’s where my reading of the articles led me astray: both articles refer to violation of the company substance abuse policy. McCarthy referred to painkillers (which frequently involve narcotics). I was wrong to assume that the violation involved prescribed narcotics and also mistakenly assumed that the violation involved a failed drug test. Indeed, the situation is even more bizarre than I originally had thought: Boyle was fired for operating equipment while taking anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxers, both necessitated by his work-related injury.
So in the interest of keeping the Insider outside of the courtroom, we publish the following retraction:

LynchRyan and reporter Jon Coppelman regret the erroneous statements concerning Mr. Tony Boyle of Washington, Twp., NJ in the Workers’ Comp Insider welog of June 26, 2007. The posting inaccurately states that Mr. Boyle was taking prescribed “narcotics” and that: “…he failed a company drug test.”
Indeed, Mr. Boyle’s prescribed medications, Soma (Carisoprodol) and Celebrex, are not “narcotics.” Further, Mr. Boyle never failed a drug test in connection with his Weyerhauser employment.
LynchRyan regrets any misunderstanding caused by publication of the original Weblog.

Our sympathies in this situation clearly remain with Mr. Boyle. We had no intention of defaming him. In fact, given the severity of his injury, a short-term prescription for a narcotic medication would have been medically appropriate. Good for him that he worked through the pain and the injury with non-narcotics, and good for him that he is back to productive employment. And thanks to Attorney Yaskin for helping to clarify the situation.