Tucker injured his back at work in 2002. After the injury, he returned to school and obtained his high school diploma. In 2006, he enrolled as a full-time student at a community college. Despite having a full-time, light duty work capacity, Tucker looked for part-time work only, as he intended to work only part-time while going to school. He found a part-time job in March 2007.
Tucker filed a Petition for Review seeking 100% partial benefits through the date he found part-time work and then ongoing partial benefits thereafter. His Petition was granted and Associated Grocers of Maine (AGM) appealed, contending they should not be held responsible for a higher level of partial incapacity benefits due to Tucker’s election to attend school full-time.
The Court agreed with AGM and remanded the case to the hearing officer for a recalculation of benefits imputing a full-time earning capacity. It was undisputed that Tucker had a full-time earning capacity and Tucker himself conceded that he looked only for part-time work. While Tucker may have had good reason to do so (he was attending school full-time), the Court reasoned that an employer is responsible only for loss of earning capacity related to the work injury and an employee’s election to attend school has no such connection. The Court stopped short of saying that by electing to attend school full-time the employee has voluntarily withdrawn him or herself from the labor market. Tucker may still be entitled to ongoing partial benefits, but it will be based on a full-time rather than a part-time earning capacity.