States require workers’ comp applicants to seek appropriate employment before they’re awarded wage-loss benefits. In this case, a commission ruled a worker sought too many jobs and therefore wasn’t eligible for comp benefits. The employee appealed.
Michigan requires workers’ comp applicants to satisfy four steps before qualifying for wage replacement benefits. The injured worker must:
- disclose his work qualifications, including education, skills, experience and training
- prove what jobs he is qualified and trained to perform within the same salary range as his maximum earning capacity at the time of his injury
- show his work-related injury prevents him from performing some or all of the jobs identified, and
- show he can’t obtain any of the jobs if he is capable of performing.
In this case, Joe Holmes was a high school graduate. He had worked mostly as a general laborer before being injured, including construction, maintenance, janitorial and assembly line work.
The most he ever earned was $11.50 per hour. At his last job before his injury, he earned $9.50 per hour.
He had no special qualifications or training to speak of.
To satisfy the four steps under the state’s workers’ comp law, Holmes tried to find a new job by registering at Michigan Works and putting his resume online. He reported to Michigan Works regularly to search for new jobs and sent out resumes for all listed jobs. He also applied directly for other jobs. Some of the jobs he applied for: a truck rental agency, pet control and video stores.
Holmes never saw jobs posted which paid what he made at the time of his injury, let alone the maximum wage he once earned.
When he applied for workers’ comp wage replacement, a magistrate granted the request.
Was he too ‘unfocused’?
On review, the Workers’ Compensation Appellate Commission (WCAC) overturned the magistrate’s ruling. The WCAC said Holmes failed to establish the appropriate range of jobs required by step 2.
Specifically, the WCAC said Holmes’ job search was “unfocused,” or, in other words, too broad. It wasn’t limited to jobs for which he could likely be hired.
The WCAC denied the request for wage replacement. In effect, it said Holmes’ unfocused job search had caused him to look for too many jobs.
Holmes took his case to a state appeals court.
The court noted that Michigan case law called for denial of workers’ comp wage replacement benefits for applicants whose job searches are too restricted.
The court said if Holmes’ job search had been too narrow, it would have been proper to deny his application for wage replacement benefits.
But that wasn’t the case. The court said Holmes shouldn’t be punished for applying for what might be considered too broad a range of jobs.
The appeals court sent the case back to the WCAC with an order to award Holmes wage-loss benefits.
What do you think about the WCAC’s and the appeal court’s opinions? Let us know in the comments below.
(Holmes v. ET4 Inc., State of MI Court of Appeals, No. 303954, 8/2/12)