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Laid off while receiving Workers’ Comp Benefits

  • Dave Brown, Esquire
  • 01/20/2020

Can you receive workers’ comp benefits after you have been laid off?

What happens if you injure yourself at work, start collecting workers’ compensation benefits, go back to work, and then you lose your job? Are you entitled to workers’ comp benefits in Pennsylvania? We are here to explain. The workers’ compensation attorneys at Pearson Koutcher Law have extensive experience litigating these matters, and when you tell us the details of your story, we will give you a realistic evaluation on everything you may experience throughout the workers’ comp process. The status of your benefits depends on a few factors that we will explain below.

Let’s say that you work as a delivery driver, full-time, and injure your back while carrying a 50-pound box from your car into a warehouse. You immediately report your injury to your supervisor via text message and are sent to the company doctor. The company doctor — known as the panel doctor in workers’ comp lingo — takes you out of work and orders an MRI to your back, which you undergo. The insurance company for your employer begins to pay you workers’ comp benefits, called total disability benefits because you are totally disabled, unable to work at all.

Two months later, after a course of physical therapy, your back improves and the panel doctor releases you to light-duty work, six hours per day, with no lifting of more than 25 pounds. Your employer accommodates these restrictions, and you return to your delivery driver position at reduced hours, lifting boxes that weigh 25 pounds or less. Because you are working less hours than you were at the time of your injury, you are losing money. We’ll say you are losing $300 per week. You would be entitled to partial disability benefits in the amount of $200 per week, representing 2/3 of your weekly wage loss.

Now here’s where things can get tricky. Suppose that after you are working the light-duty job for three months, you are informed by your boss that due to downsizing at the company, you are being laid off. It isn’t any fault of yours — it is just that business is slow, and you, as well as 10 other drivers, are laid off.

Fortunately, if this happens, the insurance company is required to reinstate you to total disability benefits at the same rate you were receiving after you were initially injured.

The result would be different, though, if your employer terminates you because you engaged in some type of misconduct — you stole from the company, or were driving the truck while under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol. Under this scenario, the loss of your employment and resultant loss of wages is not caused by your work injury, but by your misconduct, so you wouldn’t be entitled to workers’ comp. benefits.

Let’s look at a situation which is not as clear-cut. Suppose that because of your back injury, you call out of work some days and are not as productive as you were before the injury. You cannot lift boxes as quickly, you have to take more breaks, you cannot drive nearly as far, and there are 10 other drivers doing much more. You receive a written warning from your supervisor because of your absences and decreased productivity. Then you are fired. Under these circumstances, the insurance company may not voluntarily reinstate your workers’ comp benefits. Instead, they maintain that your decline in performance and missed days led to your termination. You could counter that by arguing that the absences and loss of productivity was caused completely by the effects of your work-related back injury, which may be challenging to prove. If the insurance company refuses to reinstate your benefits, you will need a lawyer to file a petition for you, which will be heard by a PA workers’ comp judge.

If you find yourself in this predicament — or any other predicament after injuring yourself at work, please contact Pearson Koutcher Law. Workers’ Comp is all we do, and we want to help! One of our top-notch lawyers will meet with you, discuss your case in detail, and take the necessary legal action on your behalf so you can focus on your recovery and move on with your life.