Search form

Proof of Workplace Injury Not Required for Workers’ Compensation Retaliation Claim in Ohio

By Patrick O. Peters and James M. Stone
  • July 26, 2016

Proof of a workplace injury is not required to state a prima facie claim of retaliatory discharge under Ohio’s workers’ compensation statute, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled, resolving a split among the Ohio Courts of Appeal. Onderko v. Sierra Lobo, Inc., Slip Opinion No. 2016-Ohio-5027 (July 21, 2016).

Background

The plaintiff, Michael Onderko, was an engineering tech with Sierra Lobo, Inc., when he suffered an injury to his knee and was prescribed prescription pain medications to aid in his recovery. After Onderko’s request for light duty work was denied, he filed a workers’ compensation claim.

The parties disputed whether the injury occurred at work, and when Onderko’s claim was eventually denied by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation on the grounds that the injury did not occur in the course of his employment, he did not appeal the decision as he had already returned to work.

Onderko was fired on December 12, 2012, for filing a deceptive workers’ compensation claim. He subsequently filed a complaint alleging retaliatory discharge under Ohio’s workers’ compensation statute (R.C. 4123.90).

The trial court granted summary judgment to the employer on the grounds that Onderko had not suffered a workplace injury. The Sixth District Court of Appeals reversed, holding that a workplace injury was not required to state a claim of workers’ compensation retaliation.

Workplace Injury Not Required

The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the Sixth District’s decision. The Court held that the plain language of the statute requires only that an employee file a workers’ compensation claim or institute, pursue, or testify in a workers’ compensation proceeding, but does not require an actual workplace injury.

R.C. 4123.90 states:

No employer shall discharge, demote, reassign, or take any punitive action against any employee because the employee filed a claim or instituted, pursued or testified in any proceedings under the workers’ compensation act for an injury or occupational disease which occurred in the course of and arising out of his employment with that employer.

The Court reasoned that requiring an employee to prove he or she had suffered a workplace injury undermined the basic purpose of the workers’ compensation statute: to allow employees to exercise their rights without fear of retribution. Interpreting the statute in a manner that may leave employers free to discipline any employee who brought an unsuccessful workers’ compensation claim, the Court said, may produce a chilling effect on employees.

Thus, the Court made clear that the prima facie case of a claim for retaliatory discharge requires only that a plaintiff prove that he or she was discharged, reassigned, demoted, or otherwise disciplined in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim or instituting, pursing, or testifying in a workers’ compensation proceeding.

As proof of a workplace injury is not required under the statute, the Court also rejected the employer’s argument that failure to appeal the denial of workers’ compensation benefits foreclosed a plaintiff’s retaliation suit.

In response to the dissent’s concerns that the Court’s decision will encourage fraudulent workers’ compensation claims, the five-judge majority stated that employees who bring false claims or make misleading statements in an attempt to receive workers’ compensation benefits are subject to criminal penalties under Ohio law.

***

Following Onderko, employers should proceed with caution when disciplining an employee who has filed a workers’ compensation claim, even if the claim was unsuccessful, unless the employer has other, independent justification for taking disciplinary action.

Please contact Jackson Lewis if you have any questions about Onderko and other workplace laws.

©2016 Jackson Lewis P.C. This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between Jackson Lewis and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material. This material may be considered attorney advertising in some jurisdictions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Reproduction of this material in whole or in part is prohibited without the express prior written consent of Jackson Lewis P.C., a law firm that built its reputation on providing workplace law representation to management. Founded in 1958, the firm has grown to more than 900 attorneys in major cities nationwide serving clients across a wide range of practices and industries including government relations, healthcare and sports law. More information about Jackson Lewis can be found at www.jacksonlewis.com.

See AllRelated Articles You May Like

August 22, 2019

Illinois Expands State Human Rights Act to Include Employers with One or More Employees

August 22, 2019

An amendment to the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) expands the definition of “employer” from employers with at least 15 employees to those with one or more employees. The legislation, House Bill 252, was signed by Governor J.B. Pritzker on August 21, 2019, and enacted as Illinois Public Act 101-0430. The new law will become... Read More

August 13, 2019

New York Expands Harassment Laws, Protections of Religious Attire, Clothing, or Facial Hair

August 13, 2019

New York state has enacted sweeping new workplace harassment protections for employees, including lowering the standard for when harassment is actionable. It also has adopted new law prohibiting employment discrimination based on religious attire, clothing, or facial hair. Workplace Sexual Harassment On August 12, 2019, Governor... Read More

August 12, 2019

Illinois Enacts Workplace Harassment Law, Creating New and Expanded Obligations for Employers

August 12, 2019

Employers in Illinois will have new obligations related to employment contracts, training, and agency oversight under a wide-ranging bill signed by Governor J.B. Pritzker on August 9, 2019, that is intended to combat workplace harassment and provide greater protections for employees. Senate Bill 75 unanimously passed both houses of... Read More

Related Practices