Maintenance Benefits: No Reward for Lackluster Job Search

In a recent Commission case, Roman Sobolyev v. Yellow Transportation, 15 I.W.C.C. 0623, the Commission rejected Petitioner’s claim for maintenance benefits and found that he performed an inadequate job search.  The Commission’s evaluation of Petitioner’s job search, or lack thereof, outlined the Commission’s expectations of what constituted a legitimate job search to justify awarding maintenance benefits.

In this case, Petitioner was a truck driver who sustained work-related injuries to his right middle finger, right shoulder, and low back.  Following the accident, Petitioner received temporary compensation and medical benefits.  At trial, the Arbitrator found that Petitioner was unable to return to his previous employment due to his work-related condition but also found Petitioner’s job search to be fraught with inconsistencies and inadequacies, resulting in a denial of maintenance benefits.  At trial, Petitioner admitted a forty-seven (47) page job search log and testified that he contacted over three thousand employers, searched ethnic newspapers, and used the internet in the course of his job search.

The Arbitrator found that Petitioner’s testimony and job search log lacked credibility and sufficiency.  Specifically, the Arbitrator found it highly questionable that Petitioner searched for jobs in states in which he was not residing.  He also found that the job log “lack[ed] sufficient proof to be considered adequate.”  Only three pages of the log identified the employer, the person with whom he spoke, and the position for which he applied.  Throughout the job log, Petitioner also failed to identify the positions for which he was applying and applied for several jobs that he was physically incapable of performing.  Furthermore, Petitioner never indicated whether any resumes or applications were submitted to the alleged employers.

In reaching their respective decisions, the Arbitrator and Commission relied on several prior Commission decisions addressing job searches.  In Wheeler v. Baldwin Manufacturer, 11 W.C. 34788, the Commission found Petitioner’s job search to be inadequate where he applied for positions for which he was unqualified or at places that were not hiring.  In Burnett v. Weaver Enterprises, 09 I.W.C.C. 1255, and Sparkman v. Aventine Renewable Energy, 11 I.W.C.C. 0492, the Commission found job searches to be inadequate where the employee made no in-person job applications and failed to list specific details regarding his search (e.g., dates of contact, persons contacted, positions applied for, outcome of contact).

In the end, the Arbitrator found that “irrespective of the lack of credibility of Petitioner’s testimony of his job search, this Arbitrator cannot find a list of employers and phone numbers evidence of an adequate job search.”  The Commission agreed.

From a defense standpoint, the Commission’s Decision not only offers insight as to what constitutes an inadequate job search, but also confirms that the Commission will thoroughly examine the evidence in evaluating the reasonableness of an employee’s job search.  Perhaps the Commission said it best in Witherspoon v. White County Coal Company, 11 I.W.C.C. 0114, when it stated that “[t]he law is clear.  It does not emphasize the number of contacts but recognizes the type and quality of contacts in job searches.

Thanks to I&F attorney Dane Kurth for this excellent summary.

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