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Ohio court decides in favor of injured worker

Workplace injuries are especially scary when they hinder an employee's ability to work and make a living. Reassurance in the form of workers' compensation helps to alleviate these fears by paying for medical expenses and lost wages that stem from injuries at work. But sometimes these claims are not completely straightforward.

A recent Ohio court decision addressed a somewhat convoluted workers' compensation claim. The appellate court ruled that the employee at issue is eligible for benefits because her retirement from the company did not count as an abandonment of employment.

The claim came from an AT&T employee who slipped and fell on an icy dock in 2008 injuring her shoulder. Following surgery, the employee recovered temporary total disability compensation.

The employee worked at AT&T for 35 years and only one month prior to the fall she signed a form making her eligible for the company's buyout program. The program allowed employees to end their employment early in return for a payment. The employee here took advantage of the buyout following her injury.

A district hearing officer overheard the employee's requests for benefits in 2010 but denied the claim on the ground that she had "abandoned the workforce." Although the employee did accept the buyout, she testified that her reason for leaving was the shoulder injury, which prevented her from being able to perform her job. A hearing officer later reversed the finding on appeal and found the injury as the reason for retirement. The hearing officer decided that the employee's buyout was not voluntary.

On further appeal to the 10th Appellate District Court of Ohio, AT&T argued again to bar the workers' compensation claims because of voluntary retirement. But in a unanimous decision, the court found that the worker's retirement did not constitute a voluntary abandonment.

The holding is good news for those who subsequently retire following a workplace injury. The court's decision demonstrated the importance of workers' compensation for employees whose injuries subsequently prevent them from being able to work.

Source: Business Insurance, "Post-injury retirement is not 'abandonment of employment': Court," Robert Ceniceros, July 30, 2012

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