Career Change Does Not Bar Wage Loss
State, ex rel. Ameen v. Indus. Comm. (10/22/03), 100 Ohio St.3d 161, 2003-Ohio-5362.
Issue: Can an injured worker who cannot return to work at their job of injury receive wage loss compensation when they change careers and earn less?
Background: Ameen was injured while working as a nurse. She could not continue to work as a nurse due to the physical restrictions caused by her injury.
Ameen went to college to get a teaching degree. Ameen started working as a teacher ten days after she graduated college. Ameen did not make as much money as a teacher as she had as a nurse. Therefore, she applied for wage loss compensation.
The Commission denied wage loss compensation based on a finding that Ameen voluntarily limited her wages. The Commission recognized that she could not return to her former employment, but felt that she should have sought other nursing jobs and found that she had not made an adequate search for a comparable paying job. The Commission concluded that Ameen’s decision to work as a teacher was a lifestyle change.
Ameen filed a mandamus challenge to the Commission’s decision. The Court of Appeals upheld the Commission’s decision and Ameen appealed to the Supreme Court.
Decision: Supreme Court reverses.
Supreme Court disagrees with the Commission’s finding that Ameen’s decision to change jobs was a lifestyle change, as well as with the Commission’s decision that Ameen had not conducted an adequate job search.
The Court states that “[e]mployment that coincides with one’s interests, desires, or aptitudes is not inherently suspect.” Ameen was permanently incapable of working as a nurse, and therefore it made sense for her to pursue an alternate career as a teacher.
The Court points out that if Ameen had not accepted the teaching job, she would have received no wages. Yet, had she applied for non-working wage loss the Commission would have probably denied wage loss compensation because of rejecting the teaching job.
The Court also finds that Ameen was not required to continue a job search after taking the teaching job. The teaching job includes job security, possible raises and possible advancement. Because the teaching job was a legitimate use of her abilities, she did not have to continue a job search and did not forfeit eligibility for wage loss.