Ohio employers’ defenses to temporary total disability compensation continue to shrink. First, the legislature eliminated the doctrine of voluntary abandonment. Then, the Tenth District held that terminated employees may be eligible for temporary total disability compensation. Now, employees who voluntarily resign their employment may be entitled to compensation as well.
Recent employer appeal of temporary total disability compensation case
In State ex rel. Butler Vill. v. Indus. Comm. the Tenth District Court of Appeals held that an employee who voluntarily resigned their employment is entitled to temporary total disability compensation.
In March 2021, a Butler Village employee was injured at work and thereafter worked in a light duty capacity. In April 2021, the employer reorganized and the injured worker’s job duties changed. In May 2021, the injured worker voluntarily resigned her position. In her resignation letter, she wrote, “I do not feel I can accomplish this newly reorganized position effectively. Therefore, please accept my resignation effective immediately.” Notably, she did not cite her injury as a reason for her resignation.
The injured worker first applied for temporary total disability compensation in September 2021, four months after she resigned. During the Staff Hearing Officer (SHO) hearing, the injured worker testified that her injuries prevented her from performing her job “effectively.” She testified that she needed assistance from a co-worker to perform some of her job duties, and she did not want to perform below standards. Therefore, she resigned her employment.
During the hearing, the employer testified that the injured worker was successfully working at the time of her resignation. Additionally, the injured worker did not cite her industrial injury as a contributing factor in her resignation letter. The Staff Hearing Officer found, however, that the injured worker’s testimony outweighed this contrary evidence. The Staff Hearing Officer concluded that the industrial injury caused the injured worker to resign and granted temporary total disability.
The employer appealed the Industrial Commission decision to the Tenth District Court of Appeals, arguing that it abused its discretion and made a mistake of law under R.C. 4123.56(F). The employer argued the injured worker’s unemployment was solely the result of her voluntary resignation rather than reasons related to her allowed injury. The court rejected the employer’s argument.
In reaching its decision, the court noted that the injured worker was working light duty at the time of her resignation. The injured worker could initially perform most job duties with one arm. When the employer reorganized and eliminated two of her roles, the injured worker alleged her job duties became more physically demanding than she could accomplish working light duty. Only after her job duties changed did the injured worker resign her position.
In granting temporary total disability compensation, the court reasoned: “while [the employee] may have had other reasons or motivations, there is some evidence in the record supporting the finding that she was unable to work as the direct result of an impairment arising from her allowed injury.”
Even if an injured worker voluntarily resigns their employment, the employer may still be liable for temporary total disability compensation. It remains to be seen how attenuated the link between an industrial injury and an employee’s resignation can become before temporary total disability compensation is denied. Employers should ensure an injured worker’s job duties comply with any light duty restrictions. Employers may also want to conduct exit interviews for employees who voluntarily resign after an industrial injury, which may help employers defend against future claims for temporary total disability compensation.
Additionally, employers will want to examine the temporal proximity from industrial injury to resignation when defending claims.