June 8, 2022
by Michael Godfrey

Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals Makes In Re Kathleen Houlihan a Significant Decision

On April 29, 2022, the Washington Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals published its new “Significant Decisions” from 2021. The Board issues hundreds of Decisions & Orders each year but designates only a select few as “Significant Decisions.” The Board’s Significant Decisions are important because they provide the Industrial Appeals Judges with guidance on how to decide future cases that come before the Board. The decisions often reflect new factual issues and legal developments that employers, injured workers, and the Department of Labor & Industries can rely on to guide claim administration and adjudication.

The Board originally published In re Kathleen Houlihan, BIIA Dec., 19 26282 (2021) on August 16, 2021. In that case, an injured worker’s claim was closed after she was found employable based on her transferrable skills in the position of telehealth nurse, a remote position. The injured worker argued there were not telehealth positions within her established geographic labor market. The Board determined a finding that a worker is employable in a telehealth position based on transferrable skills does not require any showing jobs are available in their geographical labor market because that type of job is not constrained by geographic boundaries like most jobs.  The Board reasoned that WAC 296-19A-010(4) should not be interpreted narrowly to artificially limit the labor market when the realities of technology and remote work allow her to expand her labor market to a nationwide marketplace and, in particular, the 25 states currently participating in the enhanced nursing license compact. The Board’s reasoning, of course, depends on the transferable skills of the injured worker to qualify for such an expanded labor market.

This Decision provides a much needed boost to employers and vocational rehabilitation counselors, allowing them to utilize the modern labor market to assist injured workers with certain transferable skills to return to work.  It is also notable the Board recognized this case as a Significant Decision, which means the Department and Employers can rely on this interpretation of WAC 296-19A-010(4) when assessing an injured worker’s labor market.

For any questions about this case or if you want discuss how an injured worker might utilize transferable skills to fit into an expanded labor market, please give me a call at (503) 595-6105 or email me at .

Posted by: Michael Godfrey