On Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, significant changes to Ohio’s Workers’ Compensation laws will go into effect as a result of Governor DeWine signing into law House Bill 81, on June 16, 2020.

Primarily, the bill codifies a requirement in the Ohio Revised Code for the administrator of workers’ compensation or a self-insuring public employer to pay for services used to determine whether a person employed by a detention facility sustained an injury or occupational disease after exposure to another person’s blood or bodily fluids under specified circumstances.

Additionally, House Bill 81 creates several other important changes, including:

  1. Reducing the statute of limitations for filing an application for violation of specific safety requirement to one year from the date of injury or occupational disease. Previously, the statute of limitations was two years;
  2. Stating that settlement of state fund claims can no longer be objected to by the employer if the employee is no longer employed by the employer and the claim is out of the employer’s experience rating;
  3. Clarifying that the changes made to Division (A) of Section 4123.512 by House Bill 27, passed by the 132nd General Assembly, applies to claims pending on or arising after Sept. 27, 2017. These changes extended the time for filing a notice of appeal to the County Court of Common Pleas from 60 to 150 days in certain circumstances;
  4. Stating that continuing jurisdiction may now be invoked from within five years from the date medical services were provided or rendered without further requirement that the medical services were paid under the claim;
  5. Increasing the amount of reimbursable funeral expenses in death claims from $5,500 to $7,500.

However, the most significant change was made to R.C. 4123.56(F). The added language states that temporary total disability is not to be paid if the reason the employee is not working is unrelated to the industrial injury or occupational disease. Importantly, the language further states that the general assembly’s intent is to “supersede any previous judicial decisions that applied the doctrine of voluntary abandonment.”

The expressed intent suggests the leaving behind of decades of jurisprudence that has built up around the doctrine of voluntary abandonment while simultaneously being an expansion and simplification of the defense to a request for temporary total disability available to the employer.

Previously, an initial inquiry was to be made into the nature of the employee’s separation from employment, whether the separation was voluntary or involuntary. Employees who were subject to involuntary separations were generally still eligible to receive temporary total disability. The language added to R.C. 4123.56(F) suggests that no such inquiry needs to be made and that so long as the employee’s separation from employment is unrelated to the industrial injury, then temporary total disability is not payable.

Similar language was added to R.C. 4123.58(D)(3), which states that permanent total disability will not be compensated when the employee retired or otherwise is not working for reasons unrelated to the allowed injury or occupational disease.