6th District Examines Retaliatory Discharge in Workers’ Compensation
In Onderko v. Sierra Lobo, Inc., 2014-Ohio-4115, the 6th District Court of Appeals examined whether a claimant needs to have an allowed claim to pursue a retaliatory discharge claim under R.C. 4123.90, which prohibits retaliatory actions in the workers’ compensation context.
The employer questioned the validity of the injury and discharged the claimant because of “his deceptive attempt to obtain workers’ compensation benefits for a non-work related injury.” The employer moved for summary judgment on the ground the disallowance of the claim precluded the claimant from bringing a retaliatory discharge action under the statute. It was undisputed the claimant filed a workers’ compensation claim. The employer focused on the provision in the statute, prohibiting retaliatory actions for injuries “occurring in the course of and arising out of employment.”
The court of appeals held the keys to a retaliatory discharge claim under the statute are the pursuit of a claim and establishing a causal connection between the pursuit of the claim and discharge. The allowance of the workers’ compensation claim is irrelevant to whether the employer took an adverse employment action against the employee for filing the claim. Consequently, the court of appeals rejected the employer’s argument and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.
Click below for a short tutorial on retaliatory discharge.
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Supreme Court Refuses to Apply Dual Purpose Doctrine
Friebel v. Visiting Nurse Assoc. of Mid-Ohio, 2014-Ohio-4531, involves a claim which arose when a traveling nurse (claimant) sustained injuries in a car accident. On the date of the accident, the claimant was expected to travel from her home to a patient’s home. Instead, the claimant drove her daughter, son, and two friends to a local mall. The auto accident occurred during this errand.
The Industrial Commission allowed the claim. However, on appeal, the trial court granted the employer summary judgment. The court of appeals reversed the trial court, finding the claim compensable because the claimant had the dual intent of running a personal errand and traveling to her first assignment.
The Ohio Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals holding the dual-intent/dual-purpose doctrine does not apply in Ohio. The test in Ohio is, and always has been, whether the injury occurred in the course of and arose out of employment. Because questions of fact existed as to whether the claimant was a “fixed-situs” employee, engaged in a personal errand, or traveling to her first assignment, the Court remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.
3rd District Finds “On Premises” Injury Not Compensable
In Carnahan v. Morton Bldgs., Inc., 2014-Ohio-4139, the claimant was employed as a crew foreman and assigned to oversee the construction of a pole barn in Missouri. The claimant and his crew were on-site for 3 weeks constructing the pole barn on a 100-acre property. Neither the claimant nor the crew were authorized by the employer to do anything on the property other than constructing the barn. On the last day of the job, after the crew had completed its work, a farm hand gave the crew a tour of the property on ATVs provided by the landowner. During the tour, an ATV crashed and the claimant sustained a head injury.
The Commission disallowed the claim throughout the administrative proceedings. On appeal, the trial court granted the employer summary judgment, finding the injury did not occur in the course of and arise out of employment. The 3rd District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision. Although it appears clear the claimant was not in the course of his employment at the time of the injury, the court focused its analysis on the “arising out of” prong of the statutory test. The court found the claimant was not authorized to tour the grounds to satisfy his own curiosity; the employer did not have control over the location of the accident because it was so far removed from the claimant’s authorized work location; and the employer did not receive any benefit from the claimant’s presence at the location of the injury.
This case demonstrates that injuries occurring at or near jobsites are not always compensable. Employers should evaluate all injuries to determine whether such injuries occur in the course of and arise out of employment before accepting a claim.