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State ex rel. Auto Zone Stores, Inc. v. Indus. Com., 2023-Ohio-633

Monday, July 31, 2023

This decision published by the 10th District Court of Appeals brings new challenges for Employers as if 56(F) which superseded all voluntary abandonment case law wasn’t challenging enough. While the decision is consistent with the application of the law, (i.e. a claimant who was terminated for cause and later had surgery was entitled to temporary total compensation from the date of surgery forward because under the statute the allowed conditions were the disabling cause) the dicta is troubling to say the least. Specifically, the Court discusses termination for cause and did the claimant receive unemployment compensation. At the hearing table, Hearing Officers have been asking what was the reason for the termination, whether the employer contested those payments and whether the claimant ultimately received unemployment compensation. There is nothing in the statute that would allow this line of inquiry nor is it relevant. However, it will be helpful to have this information at hearing. Unfortunately, for any of us who have dealt with unemployment compensation, we are well aware that in only a few limited circumstances are claimants denied unemployment even after it has been contested.  

This Court seems to want it both ways, not applying that portion of the statute that addresses whether the claimant was working prior to the disabling event and then wanting to address the appropriateness of a termination for cause. Their analysis does not apply the second portion of 4123.56(F) which states: “If an employee is not working or has suffered a wage loss as the direct result of reasons unrelated to the allowed injury or occupational disease, the employee is not eligible to receive compensation under this section.” 

Additionally, from a practical standpoint the argument that had they not been terminated we would have had them return to light duty is a difficult argument to make when a legitimate light duty job offer is not proffered to claimant prior to the termination.  

While the Tenth District is not the final word, it will be interesting as to how this will play out in the hearing room. It will be important for employers to provide all documentation for termination/retirement as well as information regarding their dispute of any unemployment compensation to move to apply that second portion of 4123.56(F). 

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