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Gruwell v. State, IAB Hearing No. 1418648 (May 18, 2016)

The Industrial Accident Board rejects a claimant’s contention that the Hoey displaced worker doctrine is applicable when a claimant has been released full duty with no restrictions and grants the employer’s termination petition.  

Claimant, Robert Gruwell injured his lumbar spine in a compensable work accident on September 16, 2014 and received total disability benefits resulting from his injury.  He was sent a letter in March 2015 that advised his employment with the State was terminated.  However, after his receipt of the letter, a State representative with the Office of Management and Budget attempted to assist Claimant in finding a new position with the State.  He did not look for other employment.  On January 14, 2016, Employer filed a petition to terminate his benefits when he was released to return to work full-time without restrictions.

At the hearing, Claimant stipulated that he was able to work without restrictions, but raised a “Hoey light” argument that he retained a reasonable expectation of employment with Employer and, therefore, continued to be entitled to total disability benefits.  Employer contended Hoey only applies when a claimant has work restrictions.

The Board agreed with Employer.  It concluded that Hoey is applicable only if displacement is at issue.  Claimant had no disability due to injury, so he was not displaced.  The Board further decided that Hoey also did not apply because Claimant was no longer an employee of the State.  At most he was confused by the termination letter.  The Board observed that the letter provided statutory notice that he was no longer employee because his short-term disability benefits had exhausted.  The Board noted that, while a State representative was assisting Claimant with the possibility of finding work, the State was not obligated to do so.  The Board granted Employer’s petition and concluded that Claimant’s right to total disability benefits had ended based upon the full duty work release.

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