Life goes on after an award of workers’ compensation benefits. Sometimes this may mean new work (especially if the employer finds light-duty work) or even retirement. When someone is receiving workers’ compensation, it is important to consider how these life decisions can affect the benefits being received.
An individual who was receiving workers’ compensation and who then is offered work that can be performed may start receiving benefits again at any time before the date when benefits would run out normally. However, when the job is lost, the Workers’ Compensation Commission must look at why the job was lost. If the job loss was related to the injuries that led to the award of workers’ compensation benefits to start with, then benefits could continue after the loss. On the other hand, if they were the result of the employee’s bad faith (such as deliberate misconduct on the job) or a resignation not related to his or her injuries, benefits should be suspended.
This is the case particularly where the employee leaves his or her work voluntarily. In those situations, the question is whether the decision to leave was injury-related. If it was not, benefits will likely be suspended, even if the loss was still without the employee’s fault (such as loss of transportation to work).
Similarly, if an employer dismisses the employee for reasons that are outside the employee’s control (such as a layoff), the employee will likely not be penalized. As stated above, however, bad faith by the employee can result in a suspension of benefits.
The decision to retire will not automatically prevent someone from receiving workers’ compensation. The case of City of Pittsburg v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Boardillustrates this. A police officer was injured on the job and was given light-duty work for a time, as she was not fully disabled. She then chose to take disability-based retirement from the city. In addition, the city did away with the light-duty position in which she had been working previously. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the question was whether she continued to seek other employment after retirement. In order to suspend benefits, the court held the employer must show that the employee “has chosen not to return to the workforce.” Some of the factors for this analysis include:
- Whether the individual retired.
- Whether he or she accepted a pension.
- Whether he or she accepted the pension and refused to accept suitable work.
The court added that it is not reasonable to assume from accepting a pension that the individual has chosen to left the workforce.
In all of these cases, the circumstances can have a large influence on the result. It is important therefore to have experienced representation as early as possible to ensure the best result.