If you have injured yourself at work in Pennsylvania and are collecting workers’ compensation benefits, and your employer sends you a letter, asking you to return to work, you should be aware of the ramifications of your decision. The COVID-19 crisis may affect your decision.
Suppose that you injured your back at work before the pandemic started and have been collecting workers’ comp. benefits for a few months. You have undergone an evaluation with a doctor for the insurance company, who writes a report stating that while you have not recovered from your injury completely, you are able to return to your regular job. You discuss the job offer with the doctor who has been treating your back injury, who recommends that you decline the offer because the lifting in your position will aggravate your back. You follow your doctor’s advice and inform your supervisor that you will not be coming back until your doctor clears you. The insurance company is likely to file a petition to suspend your benefits on the basis that you declined to return to work to a job which you are physically capable of performing. That petition will be assigned to a workers’ compensation judge, and you will need a workers’ compensation lawyer to represent you in this proceeding to prevent the judge from suspending your benefits.
Let’s look at another hypothetical. Suppose that the insurance company doctor doesn’t think that you can perform your regular job but thinks you can do a sedentary job with no lifting of more than 10 pounds. You confer with your doctor, who advises you that your back injury should not prevent you from performing your job.
As far as your back injury is concerned, you would accept the sedentary job. However, you are concerned about returning to work for fear that you contract the coronavirus. You haven’t had any symptoms since the pandemic started, but your job will require you to be around a lot of people (for example, you work at a grocery store or a hospital), and you are worried that even if you wear a mask, gloves, and distance yourself from people, you will become infected. So you decline the job offer.
The insurance still may petition to suspend your benefits. If they do, a judge will have to determine whether your fear of contracting the virus was a sufficient reason to decline the job. Judges are well aware of the gravity of the pandemic, but it’s not certain that a judge would conclude that was a valid reason for you not to return to work and allow your benefits to continue. Your age and medical history will be factors for the judge to consider. If you are 25 and do not have any underlying medical conditions, the judge, while sympathetic to your concerns, nevertheless may rule that you should have attempted the position. If you are 60 and have asthma and diabetes, the judge is more likely to find that your fear is well-founded and not suspend your benefits. Your chances of winning on this issue will be better if your primary care physician gives a deposition on your behalf, stating that returning to your workplace will pose a substantial risk of you contracting COVID-19.
If your employer is trying to get you back to work and you’re not ready, either because of your injury or your fear of contracting COVID-19, or you have any other issue concerning a workers’ comp. claim, we at Pearson Koutcher Law hope that one of our experienced, knowledgeable lawyers will represent you in your claim. Workers’ comp. is all we do, and if you have injured yourself at work, it is important that you have an expert on your side – a seasoned workers’ comp. lawyer who knows the law backwards and forwards and can navigate you through the process to ensure that you receive the benefits that you are entitled to.