A common issue among litigated W/C claims is when an employee leaves the Employer for a new job or is fired outright.  If the Claimant files for temporary partial disability benefits (under section 440.15), the Employer/Carrier has a right to discover Claimant’s earnings.  His or her earnings, if any, would be an offset to any temporary benefits Claimant is entitled to.  For example, if Claimant is working part time because his injury prevents him from working full time, the Employer/Carrier would be responsible for paying the difference (applying the 440.15 statutory formula). 

One way to obtain Claimant’s earnings information is through an Employee Earnings Report, an affidavit Claimant must fill out or risk having his benefits suspended.  The Employer/Carrier is entitled to this information via Florida Admin Code 69L-3.021.

Yet, it appears that this is the limit to what financial information an Employer/Carrier can make Claimant reveal about themselves. 

In Dawn Spry v. Professional Employer Plans, the Employer/Carrier moved the JCC to compel Claimant’s “financial information.”  (What the Employer/Carrier specifically sought is not referred to.)  The JCC approved the motion and today the First DCA reversed.

The Court held that the JCC was wrong by not having an evidentiary hearing in ruling to compel the discovery.  The relevance of financial information should be determined by an evidentiary hearing because “the Florida Constitution protects the financial information of individuals if there is no relevant or compelling reason to do so.”

In today’s age of identity theft, identity fraud, and the federal HIPAA law, the courts are more restrictive than ever in protecting a worker’s social security number and sensitive personal information.  So, it makes sense to reign in the JCC’s if they are allowing this information to be discovered without first hearing evidence as to why its relevant. 

That being said, I can foresee a few situations where this information would be relevant to an Employer/Carrier’s defense.   For example, many times Claimant’s leave their Employer, post-accident, to start their own business.  Financial records of the business, and Claimant, would be relevant to determine earnings. 

But, clearly, the Spry decision protects Claimant’s from blanket requests from the Employer/Carrier for financial information.   An Employer/Carrier must be ready to show a JCC why the information is so important for discovery.