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Annals of Workers Comp: Hasta La Vista, Baristas!
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Annals of Workers Comp: Hasta La Vista, Baristas!

Antoneta Fetahaj worked as a Starbuck's barista in New York. Her supervisor asked her to empty a trash bin in the basement of the building. Accompanied by a co-worker, she suffered a head injury. She filed an accident report, stating that she was injured when the co-worker moved the trash bin while she was leaning against it. Her co-worker verified that this is what caused Fetahaj's injury.

Unfortunately for the two baristas, there was a surveillance camera in the basement. The video showed that the co-worker had grabbed Fetahaj by her legs and lifted her as she leaned against the bin. (You may well wonder why he did this, but the court is silent on the nature of the mysterious lift.)  In any event, the bin moved and Fetahaj fell backwards, hitting her head.

Based upon the false accident reports, both employees were terminated - the Starbucks handbook prohibits dishonesty. However, Fetahaj appealed the termination, alleging that she was fired in retaliation for filing the comp claim. A workers comp judge determined that the false injury report was adequate cause for her firing; the comp board upheld the denial; then the Appellate Division confirmed, noting that the employee was unable to prove that the termination was retaliation.

To Tell the Truth

Here's the irony: Fetahaj would have been better off the truth: that she and a co-worker had been playing around - involved in horseplay - and she had fallen. Even if Starbuck's had a written policy prohibiting horseplay, the claim report would have been truthful. Horseplay at Starbucks may be grounds for termination, but if the company did not consistently enforce - and document - its horseplay policy, the incident might not have resulted in termination. In other words, if the workers had told the truth, they might still be making latte macchiatos and bantering with the regulars. Instead, it's a matter of hasta la vista, baristas.

Jon Coppelman
Senior Workers Compensation Consultant

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