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Three recent Ohio Supreme Court cases have addressed the effect of voluntary retirement or job market abandonment on eligibility for disability compensation. State ex rel. Hoffman v. Rexam Beverage Can Co. (October 16, 2013, No. 2013-Ohio-4538); State ex rel. Black v. Indus. Comm. (October 17, 2013, No. 2013-Ohio-4550); State ex rel. Kelsey Hayes Co. v. Grashel (November 14, 2013, No. 2013-Ohio-4959). Although these decisions are consistent with previous caselaw, they serve as an important reminder about the scope of this doctrine.
In Hoffman, the claimant retired after his temporary total disability compensation was terminated. He later underwent knee surgery and filed for temporary total disability compensation from the date of the surgery. A staff hearing officer denied the application finding that Mr. Hoffman had voluntarily retired and, as such, was ineligible for the requested compensation. The Court first explained that the Industrial Commission must consider all relevant circumstances, “including evidence of the claimant’s medical condition at or near the time of departure from the workforce, if submitted, and any other evidence that would substantiate a connection between the injury and retirement” in determining whether a claimant voluntarily retired or abandoned the workforce. Because Mr. Hoffman did not produce any evidence that his retirement was injury-induced or that he had attempted to find other employment after retirement, the Court found that the Industrial Commission had not abused its discretion in denying temporary total disability compensation.
In Black, after his work injury, the claimant notified his employer that he intended to retire. He was working modified duty when his physician increased his weight restrictions based in part on complaints of pain unrelated to his work injury. Mr. Black continued to work until his retirement, after which he did not seek vocational training or other employment. Years later, Mr. Black applied for permanent total disability (PTD) compensation. The hearing officer found that because his retirement was voluntary and an abandonment of the workforce, Mr. Black was ineligible for PTD compensation. The Court agreed, noting the lack of evidence that a physician advised Mr. Black to retire as well as his failure to look for work since his retirement.
Most recently, in Kelsey Hayes, the claimant stopped working on the advice of his physician and filed for temporary total disability compensation. Shortly after this, he was examined by another physician who concluded that his symptomology was related to his long and continued smoking history. The claimant later elected to take Social Security retirement benefits because he had not returned to work. Years later, the claimant filed an application for PTD compensation, which was granted by a staff hearing officer. The hearing officer concluded that the claimant had left the workforce due to the allowed conditions in his claim and was eligible for PTD benefits. The Court concluded that the Industrial Commission had abused its discretion, noting that an employee whose retirement is voluntary and constitutes an abandonment of the entire job market is barred from receiving PTD benefits. The Court emphasized that the claimant did not present any evidence that he sought other employment after retirement. Moreover, he did not attempt vocational rehabilitation. The Court found that the evidence showed that the claimant was not disabled by the allowed conditions in his claim when he stopped working and voluntarily abandoned the job market.
These cases illustrate the importance of carefully examining the circumstances of a claimant’s retirement when faced with an application for PTD compensation. Additionally, employers should always raise the issue of failure to seek other employment and participate in vocational rehabilitation when arguing against PTD compensation.