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The Commissioner Concludes Employee’s Voluntary Retirement Results in Functional Award

In Barry v. John Deere Dubuque Works of Deere & Co., File No. 21003269.01 (App. April 28, 2022), the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner recently held that an employee’s voluntary retirement at a time when he was being offered work by his employer making the same or greater earnings compared to his pre-injury earnings resulted in a functional disability award under Iowa Code section 85.34(2)(v). Thus, the employee received permanent partial disability benefits based on his functional impairment rating under the AMA Guides, not an analysis of his loss of earning capacity caused by the work injury. The Commissioner reasoned that only the functional loss could be awarded because the employer did not terminate the claimant’s employment (the claimant had voluntarily retired), and because the earnings the employee received after he returned to work after the injury were greater than the earnings he received at the time of the injury.

The Commissioner previously held in Martinez v. Pavlich, Inc., File No. 5063900 (App. July 30, 2020) that a claimant’s voluntary quit results in an industrial disability award when the claimant quit to work for a different employer at the time of hearing, even though he was making more money at his subsequent employment. The Commissioner’s recent decision in Barry appears to be a departure from Martinez, although the exact nature of the relationship between Barry and Martinez will need to be flushed out in future decisions by the Commissioner, and if necessary, by the Iowa appellate courts.

As always, please feel free to contact any of our attorneys for questions regarding this or any other workers’ compensation issues.

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