4121.45 Workers' compensation ombudsperson system.

(A) There is hereby created a workers' compensation ombudsperson system to assist claimants and employers in matters dealing with the bureau of workers' compensation and the industrial commission. The industrial commission nominating council shall appoint a chief ombudsperson. The chief ombudsperson, with the advice and consent of the nominating council, may appoint such assistant ombudspersons as the nominating council deems necessary. The position of chief ombudsperson is for a term of six years. A person appointed to the position of chief ombudsperson shall serve at the pleasure of the nominating council. The chief ombudsperson may not be transferred, demoted, or suspended during the person's tenure and may be removed by the nominating council only upon a vote of not fewer than nine members of the nominating council. The chief ombudsperson shall devote the chief ombudsperson's full time and attention to the duties of the ombudsperson's office. The administrator of workers' compensation shall furnish the chief ombudsperson with the office space, supplies, and clerical assistance that will enable the chief ombudsperson and the ombudsperson system staff to perform their duties effectively. The ombudsperson program shall be funded out of the budget of the bureau and the chief ombudsperson and the ombudsperson system staff shall be carried on the bureau payroll . The chief ombudsperson and the ombudsperson system shall be under the direction of the nominating council. The administrator and all employees of the bureau and the commission shall give the the ombudsperson system staff full and prompt cooperation in all matters relating to the duties of the chief ombudsperson.

(B) The ombudsperson system staff shall:

(1) Answer inquiries or investigate complaints made by employers or claimants under this chapter and Chapter 4123. of the Revised Code as they relate to the processing of a claim for workers' compensation benefits;

(2) Provide claimants and employers with information regarding problems which arise out of the functions of the bureau, commission hearing officers, and the commission and the procedures employed in the processing of claims;

(3) Answer inquiries or investigate complaints of an employer as they relate to reserves established and premiums charged in connection with the employer's account;

(4) Comply with Chapter 102. and sections 2921.42 and 2921.43 of the Revised Code and the nominating council's human resource and ethics policies;

(5) Not express any opinions as to the merit of a claim or the correctness of a decision by the various officers or agencies as the decision relates to a claim for benefits or compensation.

For the purpose of carrying out the chief ombudsperson's duties, the chief ombudsperson or the ombudsperson system staff, notwithstanding sections 4123.27 and 4123.88 of the Revised Code, has the right at all reasonable times to examine the contents of a claim file and discuss with parties in interest the contents of the file as long as the ombudsperson does not divulge information that would tend to prejudice the case of either party to a claim or that would tend to compromise a privileged attorney-client or doctor-patient relationship.

(C) The chief ombudsperson shall:

(1) Assist any service office in its duties whenever it requires assistance or information that can best be obtained from central office personnel or records;

(2) Annually assemble reports from each assistant ombudsperson as to their activities for the preceding year together with their recommendations as to changes or improvements in the operations of the workers' compensation system. The chief ombudsperson shall prepare a written report summarizing the activities of the ombudsperson system together with a digest of recommendations. The chief ombudsperson shall transmit the report to the nominating council.

(3) Comply with Chapter 102. and sections 2921.42 and 2921.43 of the Revised Code and the nominating council's human resource and ethics policies.

(D) No ombudsperson or assistant ombudsperson shall:

(1) Represent a claimant or employer in claims pending before or to be filed with the administrator, a district or staff hearing officer, the commission, or the courts of the state, nor shall an ombudsperson or assistant ombudsperson undertake any such representation for a period of one year after the ombudsperson's or assistant ombudsperson's employment terminates or be eligible for employment by the bureau or the commission or as a district or staff hearing officer for one year;

(2) Express any opinions as to the merit of a claim or the correctness of a decision by the various officers or agencies as the decision relates to a claim for benefits or compensation.

(E) The chief ombudsperson and assistant ombudspersons shall receive compensation at a level established by the nominating council commensurate with the individual's background, education, and experience in workers' compensation or related fields. The chief ombudsperson and assistant ombudspersons are full-time permanent employees in the unclassified service of the state and are entitled to all benefits that accrue to such employees, including, without limitation, sick, vacation, and personal leaves. Assistant ombudspersons serve at the pleasure of the chief ombudsperson.

(F) In the event of a vacancy in the position of chief ombudsperson, the nominating council may appoint a person to serve as acting chief ombudsperson until a chief ombudsperson is appointed. The acting chief ombudsperson shall be under the direction and control of the nominating council and may be removed by the nominating council with or without just cause.

Amended by 130th General Assembly File No. TBD, HB 493, §1, eff. 9/17/2014.

Effective Date: 12-02-1996