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Floyd v. Formica Corp. – Voluntary Abandonment of Workforce

Our Boston work accident attorneys know it’s possible to secure workers’ compensation benefits for individuals who have already left a company (or were forced to quit due to the injury). In some cases, claims can be filed years after the incident, so long as the underlying illness or injury was work-related.
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However, employers have been known in these situations to effectively assert the defense of voluntary workforce abandonment. Essentially, if a worker has not been employed for a period of time since the injury, the firm may argue the worker simply chose to no longer seek or retain gainful employment of his or her own volition.

The distinction between voluntary and involuntary departure is fact-intensive and often complicated. The general underlying principle is if an employee’s departure from the workforce was causally related to the injury, then it wasn’t voluntary and shouldn’t preclude the worker’s eligibility for temporary total disability benefits, granted for a disability that prevents a worker from returning to his former position of employment. Proving that will require the aid of an experienced lawyer.

A recent example of an employer asserting such a defense was seen in State ex rel. Floyd v. Formica Corp., which was appealed all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Here, the worker applied for temporary total disability compensation in 2010, which was roughly a decade after he left his job. The employer, a manufacturing firm, argued the worker was no longer eligible to receive those benefits because he’d abandoned the job market when he left the company and retired.

In his initial complaint, the worker indicated that in March 2011 he was injured while working at the manufacturing facility. The state supreme court records don’t detail how the injury occurred, except to say he suffered various shoulder conditions. He underwent surgery, and subsequently returned to light-duty work several months later. He continued on light duty for six months, until the company indicated it no longer had a position available to accommodate his medical restrictions.

At that time, he began to receive temporary total disability compensation. Not long after this, he applied for and received Social Security retirement benefits, as he’d reached the age of 63.

His payments for temporary total disability continued until 2006, at which time the worker’s compensation commission indicated his condition had reached maximum medical improvement. The following year, he applied for permanent total disability benefits, but he later withdrew the application. He underwent another surgery in 2008, and again began receiving temporary total disability benefits until May 2009, when he again reached maximum medical improvement.

In November 2010, he underwent another shoulder surgery, and again sought temporary total disability benefits. This request was denied because, as the employer asserted, he was not in the workforce as of the date of his application. He had not, since the completion of his light-duty assignment, sought to retain other work and in fact had been collecting government retirement benefits. The commission agreed with this finding, as did the appellate court and later the state supreme court.

If you or someone you love has been injured a Boston work accident, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:
State ex rel. Floyd v. Formica Corp., Aug. 27, 2014, Ohio Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Man Electrocuted in Construction Site Accident, Aug. 25, 2014, Boston Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog