Workers compensation alerts

Employers need to be aware of a few recent changes affecting workers compensation in Ohio. Since the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation (BWC) changed to a retroactive billing schedule, some deadlines have changed for private employers. In addition, nonprofit organizations no longer need to provide coverage for volunteer officers, and an appeals court has affirmed a lower court's decision that could cause costly delays for employers in injury cases.

NEW WORKERS COMPENSATION DEADLINES

Under the BWC's new retroactive billing cycle, Nov. 23 was the filing deadline for group experience rating applications. The next deadline is Jan. 29, 2016, for each of four program applications: group retro, individual retro, One Claim and Deductible enrollment. Those would be for policy year 2016, which begins July 1, 2016.

NO MORE MANDATORY COVERAGE FOR VOLUNTEER OFFICERS OF NONPROFITS

Nonprofit organizations that have volunteer officers will have fewer expenses now that state lawmakers have removed the requirement that they be covered under workers compensation. Ohio law has required corporate officers—whether paid or unpaid—to have workers compensation coverage.

The change, which was proposed and supported by BWC, means that nonprofits need not pay premiums for their volunteer executives, lightening the organizations' financial burdens and allowing more resources to be devoted to the communities they serve.

A nonprofit may still cover a volunteer officer by reporting any amount of payroll for that individual. This will trigger minimum reporting requirements and associated premiums for the employee. BWC will answer questions e-mailed to BWCTPAForum@bwc.state.oh.us.

COURT OF APPEALS UPHOLDS CONTROVERSIAL TRIAL COURT RULING

The 8th District Court of Appeals (Ohio) has affirmed a lower court decision that permits claimants to keep receiving benefits and compensation tied to disputed allowances for as long as three years before the issue is decided.

The earlier decision, by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Robert C. McClelland, overrode a nine-year-old state law that required an employer's consent before a claimant was able to dismiss a complaint when an employer filed an appeal. The effect is that the claimant can now dismiss the complaint and continue to receive benefits until the case is re-filed. Meanwhile, the employer is powerless to proceed in court until the case is filed again. This potentially abusive practice was common until the 2006 amendment to the Workers Compensation Court Appeal Statute.

Judge McClelland's reasoning in overturning the workers compensation court-appeal statute was that a statute cannot conflict with the plaintiff's rights under the Ohio Civil Rules. The rules place no restriction upon—and in fact permit—any plaintiff the right to one free dismissal regardless of motive, he ruled. The appeals court also said the law violated separation of powers, equal protection and due process.

The case most likely will be appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, so final resolution may be at least a year away. It should draw great interest from both sides of the issue.

—Mike Bertsch
bertsch@nicola.com