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Returning to Work? Pitfalls of PA Workers’ Compensation System

January 17th, 2019

By Willig, Williams & Davidson

Returning to Work? Pitfalls of PA Workers’ Compensation System

Returning to work after sustaining a disabling work injury can be a stressful and confusing time. In this post we will address two of the primary concerns which many of our Pennsylvania workers’ compensation clients express to us either before or soon after they return to work.

  1. What happens if you realize that you may have rushed your return to work and you learn that you are not recovered sufficiently to actually perform your job?
  2. What if you are able to return to work, but you have reduced wages compared to your pay at the time of your injury?

First and foremost, when returning to work after missing time due to an acknowledged work injury, you should never sign a document (usually called a Supplemental Agreement or Final Receipt) agreeing to either a stoppage (suspension) or a reduction (modification) of your entitlement to workers’ compensation disability benefits. As explained in more detail below, the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act provides injured workers with at least a 20-day “trial return-to-work period” before it becomes much more difficult to get disability benefits re-started. However, by voluntarily signing a document which agrees to the stoppage or reduction of disability benefits when you return to work, you are effectively forfeiting this extremely beneficial return-to-work trial period.

Since 1996, the law in Pennsylvania governing the status of workers’ compensation disability benefits following a return to the job works like this: Assuming a Supplemental Agreement or Final Receipt has not been signed by the injured worker after returning to work, the workers’ compensation insurer must promptly send the injured worker a form called a “Notification of Suspension or Modification of Disability Benefits.” The form must be accompanied by an affidavit noting the specific date the injured worker returned to work and the worker’s expected weekly wages as of that date. Importantly, if the worker is unable to continue working due to the injury (or if any of the listed information on the notification form is incorrect), then the worker (or his/her attorney) has 20 days to file a Challenge Petition with the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. If a Challenge Petition is not timely filed within this 20-day period of receiving the notice, disability benefits are officially stopped (or reduced) and it becomes much more difficult and time-consuming to get those benefits reinstated.

It is also important to understand that you may still be entitled to partial disability benefits after you return to work following a work injury. You are entitled to 66.67 percent of the difference between your weekly wages at the time of your injury and what you actually earn when you return to work, assuming that difference in pay is related to your work injury. Common reasons for this reduction in pay include reduced hourly rates of pay for modified or restricted-duty positions; fewer hours being offered due to physical restrictions related to your work injury or a reduction or inability to work overtime-hours due to ongoing physical restrictions related to your work injury.

When you get ready to return to work following a work injury, contact one of the experienced workers’ compensation attorneys at Willig, Williams & Davidson at (215) 656-3600. We are happy to discuss the potential pitfalls of the PA Workers’ Compensation system during this critical and confusing period. We will facilitate your safe and long-term return to the workforce while protecting your ongoing entitlement to disability and medical benefits if you experience any problems related to your work injury.

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