Violation of Workplace Policy as a Defense to Work Related Disability Claim

Posted on November 14th, 2014 by Daniel L. Bray

For many employers the threat of a disability claim following the termination of an employee is a serious one. Retaliatory claims raised by employees who are let go from their jobs for violating a company policy is a factor that must weigh in the back of any employer’s mind.  Luckily, Ohio courts have spoken out to protect employers from such conduct in cases where the employee voluntarily abandons their job or in instances where the employee was properly terminated for failure to comply with company policy.

In its recent decision in Parraz v. Diamond Crystal Brands, Inc., the Supreme Court of Ohio affirmed the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation decision denying an employee’s claim for temporary-total-disability for a work-related injury due to the employee’s violation of a written workplace policy regarding attendance.  Claimant Elena Parraz was injured at her job in July 2010.  She sought treatment immediately following the injury and was placed on restricted work duties.  She continued to work on a restricted basis until her termination in February 2011.  During this time, Parraz was employed under a union contract that contained a point-based attendance policy.  This written policy, for which Parraz admitted to having actual knowledge, provided in part that an accumulation of 14 points for absences from the workplace would result in a mandatory termination.  Parraz crossed this threshold on February 11, 2011 and was terminated as a result.

Subsequent to her termination, Parraz filed for temporary-total-disability compensation beginning February 14, 2011 claiming that her industrial injury caused her termination.   Specifically, Parraz contended that her absences were negligent, not willful or intentional, and should not bar recovery.  The Industrial Commission and Supreme Court disagreed citing Parraz’s violation of the attendance policy as a voluntary abandonment of her employment thereby barring any subsequent disability claim.  The Court held a voluntary abandonment of an employee’s position is found where a violation of workplace policy occurs.  Parraz was found to have abandoned her employment due to her accumulation of unacceptable absences.  The fact that her absences were unintentional was irrelevant.  The Court also held that an employee’s firing can constitute voluntary abandonment of a former position because “the discharge is often a consequence of behavior that the claimant willingly undertook, and may thus take on a voluntary character.”  Parraz had a history of attendance problems, was warned for her violations, and was aware that she was close to the mandatory number for discharge.  Furthermore, her absences were unrelated to her claimed injury.  As such, the Court affirmed the employer satisfied its burden of proof that Parraz was terminated for violating a written work rule and her employment was abandoned for purposes of precluding a subsequent disability claim