Workers who suffer a job injury need to understand that if they voluntarily leave their job, they may no longer be entitled to collect disability. In some cases, employers have argued voluntary abandonment of the job, even when the worker was terminated.
It’s important for a worker in this situation to consult with an experienced lawyer because companies too often improperly label an employee departures in an effort to avoid providing workers disability benefits they are otherwise due.
This is what reportedly happened in the case of State ex rel. Viking Forge Corp. v. Perry, where a worker suffered an on-the-job injury but did not seek temporary total disability benefits until after he’d been fired for violation of work rules. Although the state industrial commission approved his award of temporary total disability benefits, the employer sought to have that ruling thrown out. However, the Ohio Supreme Court ultimately affirmed.
According to court records, worker suffered severe injury to his thumbs while on-the-job in the fall of 2008. The same day as the accident, a surgeon was forced to partially amputate one thumb and repair the other. The worker was initially granted a period of temporary total disability, though he returned a couple months later to light duty. A few months after that, he was allowed to return to his former post with no medical restrictions.
The doctor at that time indicated he was doing well enough he was discharged from active care. The physician indicated a prosthesis may be needed at some point, and that would be done through an occupational therapist.
The following month, the worker was fired for “violation of work rules.” The doctor then changed his physician of record (because he no longer needed surgery) and was subsequently placed on an additional period of temporary total disability, which began a month after he was fired.
The company argued against the award, saying the worker had voluntarily left his job (via termination) and thus was not entitled to benefits.
A hearing was held, and the hearing officer considered extensive testimony regarding the incident that led to worker’s termination. It was determined that the incident for which he was terminated wasn’t actually the worker’s fault, but rather that of a co-worker. As such, the hearing officer ruled, the worker hadn’t voluntarily abandoned his employment. Further, the hearing officer found merit in the new doctor’s assertions the worker suffered increased pain, loss of sensation and hypersensitivity.
Employer appealed, arguing the hearing officer abused discretion.
Although the Ohio Supreme court noted the onset of a disability coinciding with termination of employment is inherently suspect, there was medical evidence to support the assertion here that worker’s condition had worsened.
Further, although there was dispute as to the cause of the termination, the hearing officer was entitled to give greater weight to some facts than others, which is exactly what he did in finding the infraction for which worker was fired was in fact the the fault of a co-worker.
Thus, he hadn’t voluntarily left his job and because there was evidence to support his work-related injury had worsened, he was entitled to ongoing benefits.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
State ex rel. Viking Forge Corp. v. Perry, March 18, 2015, Ohio Suprem Court
More Blog Entries
Bike v. Johnson & Johnson Health Care – Workers’ Comp Benefits in Spite of Underlying Injury, March 28, 2015, Charlotte Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog