Ohio Supreme Court Reaffirms Voluntary Abandonment Defense

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Ohio Supreme Court Reaffirms Voluntary Abandonment Defense

In two distinct rulings, Ohio’s Supreme Court has reaffirmed the right of employers to bring an affirmative defense of voluntary abandonment in cases where injured employees request temporary total benefits. Case law on the topic was thrown into confusion after House Bill 81 was signed into law earlier this year. Though the law created a statutory basis recognizing voluntary abandonment, it also vacated all previous case law on the topic.

As a result of this law, there has been a great deal of disarray, and the Industrial Commission (IC) has struggled with administrative hearings on the topic. However, this ruling now affirms once again that employers are capable of overcoming claims for temporary total benefits should they make a good faith alternative offer of a job that is within an injured employee’s medical restrictions. This same ruling also clears up any confusion on whether an injured employee’s own denial, if made in good faith, may be considered in the IC’s analysis. 

In the first of these cases, the Ohio Supreme Court found that no other factors will permit injured workers to collect temporary total compensation if they refuse an employer’s good faith offer of alternative employment that is suited to their medical restrictions. Further, the court found that the state’s law provides no independent basis upon which an injured worker may be justified compensation even should they deny the offer in good faith.

The plaintiff, in this case, had suffered a workplace injury while working a night shift position. The injury resulted in the employee being restricted to only light duties. The employer offered a day shift position that would only require light-duty, but the employee refused this offer due to schedule conflicts arising from childcare. The court found that though the plaintiff may have refused the offer in good faith, it cannot be used as a basis in claiming temporary total compensation.

In the second case, the court found that the revised law applied prospectively, and therefore, any cases involving voluntary abandonment would be controlled by prior case law. This is good news for employers, and pertinent to this case establishes that should an employee voluntarily separate themselves from their employment for reasons other than the workplace injury, they are not entitled to total temporary disability. 

In this case, an employee had suffered a workplace injury days after submitting their two-week separation notice to their employer. The employee did not return to work and requested temporary total compensation. Though this request was initially granted, this was ruled against on appeal. The state’s Supreme Court reaffirmed that workplace injury must be the direct cause of any loss of earnings.