Workers’ Compensation and Unemployment Benefits
Let’s say you injured yourself at work, your claim has been denied, and a petition for benefits on your behalf has been filed which is being heard by a workers’ compensation judge. The process is lengthy, and you don’t have any money coming in, so you ask yourself: Can I apply for unemployment benefits while my workers’ compensation claim is pending? The answer is, yes you can, but it’s important for you to understand the ramifications of your pursuing unemployment benefits while your workers’ compensation claim is pending.
Under Pennsylvania unemployment law, the general rule is that if a person is terminated by their employer, they are entitled to unemployment benefits unless the employer establishes that the employee engaged in some type of “willful misconduct,” which gave rise to your termination. An example is a person stealing from his employer. If a person voluntarily resigns or quits, the employer does not have to pay unemployment benefits unless the person had a “necessitous and compelling” reason to stop working. An example is a person being harassed by a supervisor which caused a hostile work environment. In the context of a person injured on the job who stops working, to receive unemployment benefits, as a rule, it must be shown that the person was not deemed totally disabled but instead was released to some level of work (i.e., sedentary or light-duty work), which the person was willing to perform but the employer did not make available.
Your willingness to perform some type of work is critical to keep in mind if you decide to apply for unemployment benefits. If you take this step, you will be asked a series of questions which include, “Are you able and available for work?” If you answer that question in the negative, your unemployment claim will be automatically denied because a prerequisite to receiving unemployment benefits is that you remain in the work force — that you are able to do some level of work. Even if you are not able to perform the job you were doing when you were injured because, for example, there was too much lifting, unless you indicate that you can do some type of work, you will not be entitled to benefits. As emphasized, your best chance of being granted benefits is if following your injury, you are released to modified work by a doctor and show the note to your supervisor, who tells you that a position within those restrictions cannot be provided to you. You must remember that if you are granted unemployment benefits but then testify before the workers’ compensation judge that you think you can’t do any job, you will probably be asked on cross-examination, “But didn’t you advise the unemployment authorities that you are able and available for work?” The lawyer for your employer may then argue that you have provided inconsistent statements to the unemployment authorities and workers;’ compensation judge. So if your doctor tells you that you are totally disabled, don’t apply for unemployment benefits; but if you are released to some level of work, acknowledge to the workers’ compensation judge that you are able to work, even if it is a sedentary position.
You should also know that if you receive unemployment benefits, your employer will be entitled to a dollar-for-dollar credit if the workers’ compensation judge grants you benefits. So let’s say you receive $250 per week in unemployment benefits for 26 weeks, a total of $6,500. After months of litigation, the judge grants your petition and awards you benefits, past and ongoing. The employer will be able to reduce your back workers’ compensation benefits by the $6,500 that you have received in unemployment benefits. The purpose of the law is to prevent people from “double-dipping” – receiving workers’ compensation benefits and unemployment benefits for the same time period.
Many workers’ compensation cases are settled by a lump sum paid by the employer to the injured worker. Employers are often willing to waive, or give up, its credit on unemployment benefits to help facilitate a settlement. So under the hypothetical above in which you have received $6,500 in unemployment benefits, as an incentive to settle, the employer may be agreeable to paying you a lump sum of money and waiving its right to recoup the credit. So you may be able to settle your workers’ compensation case and retain the unemployment benefits that you have received.
Hurt at work and considering filing workers’ compensation and unemployment claims? Please call Pearson Koutcher Law and speak with one of our long time workers’ compensation lawyers who will discuss your case in detail with you and advise you of your best course of action.
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Pearson Koutcher Law
1650 Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Bethlehem Office serving the Lehigh Valley
528 Maple Street,
Bethlehem, PA 18018