Governor Mike DeWine has signed H.B. 81 and it became effective Sept. 15, 2020. H.B. 81 creates several important changes to Ohio Workers’ Compensation Law including:

  • Reduces the statute of limitations for filing an application for Violation of Specific Safety Requirement (VSSR) to one year from the date of injury or occupational disease from two years.  The new limit will apply to all claims occurring on or after Sept. 15, 2020.
  • Settlement of state fund claims can no longer be objected to by the state fund employer if both of the following apply: (a) the employee is no longer employed with the employer and (b) the claim is no longer within the date of impact for the employer’s experience rating.
  • In certain circumstances, expands the time you have to appeal an Industrial Commission decision from 60 days to 150 days for claims pending on or arising after September 29, 2017.
  • Increases the maximum amount of reimbursable funeral expenses in death claims from $5,500 to $7,500.
  • The Industrial Commission may now invoke continuing jurisdiction from within five years from the date medical services were provided or services rendered, rather than the date of payment.  The change will apply to all claims occurring on or after July 1, 2020.

While testing of peace officers, firefighters, emergency medical workers, and corrections officers exposed to blood and bodily fluids on the job is already covered by workers’ comp, H.B. 81 expands that coverage.  Beginning September 15, 2020, ORC 4123.026 extends payments of post-exposure testing to employees of detention centers and includes exposure to drugs or other chemical substances.

H.B. 81:  Changes with “Voluntary Abandonment”

In addition to the changes listed above, H.B. 81 also has reframed the conversation around whether a claimant has “voluntarily abandoned” his or her job.  Prior to this recent decision, the voluntary abandonment case law offered an option to stop disability benefits (temporary total compensation “TT” and permanent total compensation “PTD”) if a claimant retired, quit or was terminated due to violation of a known work policy.

The new legislation removes language surrounding “voluntary abandonment” and instead replaces it with a general guideline that PTD (ORC 4123.58) and TT (ORC 4123.56) may not be payable if the claimant “is not working for reasons unrelated to the allowed injury or occupational disease”.   This applies to all claims pending on and arising after 9/15/2020.

What does this mean for an employer? While voluntary abandonment language has been removed from ORC 4123.56 and ORC 4123.58, the discussion will now focus on whether the claimant’s disability is related to the allowed conditions.   This leaves the question of “voluntary abandonment” up in the air until this new legislation is tested and applied to real world Industrial Commission hearing determinations.   This will give us guidance on how the Industrial Commission intends to interpret and apply this statute.

In short, this legislation change is being closely watched by all parties participating in the workers’ compensation system.   Attorneys for both sides of the conversation will provide recommendations and guidance as we navigate this change.