Ohio Court: Injured Workers Cannot Reject Valid Light-Duty Offers Made in Good Faith
In the state of Ohio, a light-duty job offer is a strategic way to either bring an injured worker back to the workforce or bar temporary total compensation, should the injured worker reject a valid offer. Either way, it can aid employers in eliminating, minimizing, and/or stopping temporary total disability compensation from being paid in a claim.
The Ohio Revised Code prohibits payment of temporary total compensation when work within the employee’s physical capabilities is made available by an employer. The Ohio Administrative Code outlines the requirements for a valid light-duty job offer. While offers will often be presented in person or verbally over the phone, it is always advisable to send a copy via certified mail to ensure proof of receipt. If a verbal light-duty offer is rejected, the employer must provide a written job offer at least 48 hours prior to filing a request to terminate temporary total benefits and supply the written offer as evidence accompanying the filing. The written offer must identify the light-duty position being offered, include a description of the duties required, and clearly specify the physical demands of the position. The offer should also contain the start date, the hours, and the rate of pay. The Administrative Code also requires the job offer be made in good faith (various factors may be considered in this determination), be an offer of suitable employment (meaning work within the employee’s physical capabilities), and is within a reasonable proximity to the injured worker’s residence.
Recently, in the case of State ex rel. Ryan Alternative Staffing, Inc. v. Moss, 2020-Ohio-5197, the Tenth District Court of Appeals reviewed whether an injured worker may still receive temporary total compensation if they refuse an otherwise appropriate light-duty job offer made in good faith by the employer. In this case, the injured worker, Ms. Moss, was an employee of a temporary staffing agency. While working for a client of the staffing agency, she suffered a knee sprain and was released to return to work with restrictions two weeks later. The staffing agency made a verbal job offer to her for a job within one of the agency’s offices. Ms. Moss refused the job, explaining that she needed to be able to care for her disabled granddaughter during the work hours offered. The staffing agency then offered her the same light-duty position in writing, which satisfied all the legal requirements. Ms. Moss again refused the light-duty position for the reason that she was not available to work the hours listed because she provided childcare for her granddaughter. She then filed for temporary total disability compensation beginning the date of the written light-duty offer. The Industrial Commission found the light-duty job offer was made in good faith and was the only position the employer had available to accommodate Ms. Moss’ physical restrictions. However, the Industrial Commission further opined that Ms. Moss’ refusal of the light-duty job offer was also made in good faith, and thus her refusal was not a bar to temporary total disability compensation. The employer appealed and the appellate court reversed.
In its decision, the court determined the reason for the injured worker’s refusal of a light-duty job offer was only relevant if the offer was not made in good faith by the employer. In this case, the Industrial Commission found the staffing agency’s offer was made in good faith; therefore, it would be inappropriate to award temporary total compensation. The Court further explained there must be a causal relationship between the work-related injury and the injured worker’s inability to return to work and that such causal relationship would not exist if an injured worker could reject a good-faith job offer for reasons unrelated to the injury, even if his or her reasons were understandable and also based in good faith.
While this decision is favorable to employers, it is still of utmost importance to ensure light-duty job offers are crafted carefully to ensure they are deemed valid and made in good faith.