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Sheena Harrison

Ohio high court rules that fired nurse not eligible for workers comp

February 25, 2014 - 1:26pm


A nurse who was terminated for violating company procedures just after she was injured at work cannot receive temporary total disability workers compensation benefits because her dismissal was a voluntary abandonment of her job, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled.

Shelby K. Robinson worked as a licensed practical nurse with Cleveland-based Progressive Parma Care Center L.L.C./Parma Care Nursing and Rehabilitation, court records show. She was written up in January and February 2008 for violating work rules, and the February notice informed Ms. Robinson that future violations would result in her termination.

Ms. Robinson was injured at work on April 10, 2008, and a workers comp claim filed by her showed that she suffered a lumbar sprain and herniated discs in her back, records show. She was moved to light-duty work at Parma Care.

But on April 15, 2008, a state inspector reported that Ms. Robinson had violated several work procedures during an inspection on April 11, 2008, records show. Those violations included a failure to communicate a patient's dietary order change and a failure to check a patient's feeding tube that was not operating as ordered by a doctor.

As a result of the inspector's report, Parma Care completed paperwork to terminate Ms. Robinson on April 16, 2008. Ms. Robinson refused to meet with a supervisor to discuss her termination on April 18 of that year, and Parma Care mailed Ms. Robinson's termination notice to her on April 30, 2008.

Meanwhile, a nurse practitioner who examined Ms. Robinson on April 17, 2008 found that Ms. Robinson was able to perform light-duty work, records show. However, a doctor who examined Ms. Robinson on April 20 after she spoke with her supervisor about her pending termination found that she was temporarily and totally disabled from all employment as of April 10, 2008.

A hearing officer for the Ohio Industrial Commission denied Ms. Robinson's request for TTD benefits, finding that Ms. Robinson voluntary abandoned her job when she violated work rules and therefore was ineligible to receive TTD benefits after her firing, records show. The Ohio Court of Appeals in Franklin County, Ohio, upheld that decision, and Ms. Robinson appealed.

5-1 decision from state high court

In a 5-1 decision Thursday, the Ohio Supreme Court agreed that Ms. Robinson voluntarily abandoned her job and therefore could not receive TTD comp benefits from her employer.

Under Ohio workers comp law, employees who voluntarily abandon their jobs for reasons unrelated to a work injury cannot receive TTD benefits from their employer. The majority opinion noted that employment discharges typically are considered involuntary.

However, the high court majority ruled that a discharge is considered voluntary when it arises from a violation of a written work rule that clearly defined the prohibited conduct, identified the misconduct as an offense that would cause the employee to be discharged and that was known or should have been known to the employee.

Therefore, the majority found that Ms. Robinson's termination was voluntary because Parma Care's work rules were outlined in the employee handbook provided to her, and because she should have known that her violations in 2008 could have led to termination.

Ms. Robinson argued in court records that Parma Care fired her after she was found to be totally disabled, records show. But the high court's majority found that Parma Care filed Ms. Robinson's termination paperwork days before her doctor determined that she was disabled, and that Ms. Robinson's firing was unrelated to her workers comp claim.

A concurring opinion noted that Ms. Robinson received benefits from Parma Care for her initial medical treatment, and that Parma Care accommodated light-duty work restrictions that initially had been ordered for her by a doctor. However, the court would not grant TTD benefits because a doctor did not find Ms. Robinson to be totally disabled until after the company moved to fire her.

Dissenting opinion

In a dissenting opinion, Justice William M. O'Neill said that the majority's opinion is contrary Ohio's “no fault” principles for workers comp law, and noted that the actions that led to Ms. Robinson's dismissal did not cause her injury.

“So what are we saying here? That only good employees will be compensated for an injury on the job? That is not the law in Ohio,” Justice O'Neill's dissent reads. “It is cases like these that put employers and injured workers in an unnecessarily adversarial position. This is contrary to Ohio's no-fault system of workers compensation. Commission hearings cannot and should not become forums for deciding whether the claimant was fired for just cause. Eligibility for workers compensation and the quality of job performance are two distinct and completely unrelated subjects.”

 



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