Maine Employer May Suspend Comp Benefits to Employee Who Mysteriously Disappeared

In a case with a bizarre setting—the injured employee mysteriously disappeared in March 2012, after being awarded and receiving workers’ compensation disability benefits for almost three years—the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine has affirmed a decision by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Board Appellate Division that allowed the employer to suspend the employee’s benefits until she reappears and petitions for their reinstatement [Johnson v. The Home Depot, USA, Inc., 2014 ME 140, 2014 Me. LEXIS 150 (Dec. 11, 2014)].

Observing that following the disappearance, a Probate Court appointed the employee’s daughter as her temporary conservator with the power to act on her behalf in workers’ compensation matters, including the authority to receive and deposit her benefit checks, the high court indicated that here, by first segregating the employee’s benefits for her future use, and then only suspending the payment of benefits with a proviso that they would be available retroactively if she later claimed them, the hearing officer protected both the employer’s legitimate interest in stopping payments that were not being received by its employee, and the employee’s interest in collecting her full benefits if she is able to receive them in the future. The court said that “thoughtful and compassionate solution” in light of the difficult circumstances was not error.

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