Can losing my job affect my BWC claim?

Losing your job can produce anxiety.  Losing your job while recovering from a work-related injury is terrifying. Yet, this can -- and frequently does -- happen. How does this affect workers compensation benefits?

In most cases it doesn't.  You can continue to receive compensation and medical benefits long after your employment ends. In fact, most employers have a "leave of absence policy" that limits how long any employee can be away from work. Ohio courts have held that -- so long as an employer applies this policy in an even-handed manner -- a leave of absence termination is not considered "retaliatory." Therefore, people who have been disabled for awhile will often experience a job-loss as well. The State of Ohio does not seem willing or able to protect injured workers in this situation.

In other cases a job loss does affect your ability to recover disability compensation. When an injured worker "voluntarily abandons" a job, then he or she is not eligible to recover disability compensation for lost income incurred thereafter. For instance, if an injured worker takes an age based retirement at 65 then he or she would not be eligible to claim disability at the age of 70.

Unfortunately, this concept has been expanded by the Ohio Supreme Court. Ohio courts have held that an employee who knowingly engages in conduct that will lead to termination has -- in effect -- "voluntarily abandoned" his or her employment. This may make sense in some cases. For instance, if I steal from my employer, then I can not (and should not) claim to be disabled after I am fired.

In my experience this creates a witch hunt.  What do I mean?  Some employers will find reasons to terminate injured workers to limit comp liability. Did you know that you can be fired for providing false information on your job application -- even years later? An minor disagreement among co-workers is suddenly labeled "verbal insubordination" leading to termination. Moments of tardiness can end lengthy careers.

Ohio law provides some limited protection. The best advice if you find yourself out of work following an on-the-job injury: get legal help.