Maine WC Alert: Division Confirms Receipt of Unemployment Benefits Does Not Foreclose Award of Total Incapacity Benefits

Maine Workers' Comp Alert

In Lenfest v. Hallett, Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) App. Div. No. 18-25 (September 25, 2018), the Employer and Insurer appealed a decision granting Petitions for Award of three employees. The Employer and Insurer alleged that the administrative law judge erred by, among other things, awarding total incapacity benefits during a period of time in which the employees also received unemployment benefits, arguing that, because a worker can only qualify for unemployment benefits if they are able to work, a worker that receives unemployment benefits cannot be totally incapacitated.

The Appellate Division noted that the Law Court has considered and rejected this argument. See Page v. Gen Elec. Co., 391 A.2d 303 (Me. 1978) (“[I]n order to qualify for unemployment benefits it is necessary for an unemployed person to be ‘able to work’; therefore, the appellants argue, [the employee] could not have been totally incapacitated. The argument has no merit.”). An award of unemployment benefits from the Department of Labor does not have a preclusive effect on the WCB.

Moreover, although an employer may impeach an employee who makes inconsistent representations about their physical capacity, making alternative claims for workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits is not in itself an act of dishonesty. . . . Thus, the employees’ receipt of unemployment benefits did not preclude, as a matter of law, an award of total incapacity benefits.