It is not uncommon for an injured worker to move from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to another State for a variety of reasons. Depending on the situation, such a move may have varying degrees of impact on a workers’ compensation case. Recently, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania thankfully held that merely relocating from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is not a “voluntary withdrawal from the labor market,” sufficient to stop workers’ comp benefits on its own.
In the case of Chesik v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs), the injured worker suffered a cervical sprain/strain injury in July of 2009. Upon learning that the injured worker had moved to Nevada, in 2013, the workers’ compensation insurance carrier filed a Petition to Suspend, alleging that “Claimant has moved to Nevada and has voluntarily removed herself from the workforce….”
The injured worker admitted in her testimony before the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) that she primarily moved for a drier and warmer climate, due to her having lupus and fibromyalgia (neither of which were said to be work-related). These conditions had been present years before the work injury. Her move to Nevada admittedly had nothing to do with her work-related injury. Also, of note, the injured worker agreed she “retired” (a bad word to ever use in a workers’ comp situation) from her Employer in October 2012, and applied for a disability pension in December 2012.
After hearing the evidence, the WCJ granted the Suspension Petition, stopping wage loss benefits to the injured worker. Essentially, the WCJ concluded that since she moved for reasons unrelated to her work injury, she “voluntarily removed herself from the workforce.” As a result, the WCJ found “it is not medically necessary for [Employer] to show a change in physical condition or work availability given [C]laimant’s actions by moving from her present local Scranton, PA to Lovelock, Nevada and therefore, removing herself from the workforce locally.” The WCJ also noted that the retirement, and taking of the pension, were further indicia of her intention to no longer seek gainful employment.
The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) affirmed this decision, finding that the WCJ appropriately considered the totality of circumstances, and correctly concluded the injured worker had voluntarily removed herself from the workforce by relocating to Nevada.
This decision, however, was reversed by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, which held that merely relocating to another State in the US “does not constitute a voluntary removal from the workforce.” [Note that there would likely be a different result if an injured worker permanently relocated out of the United States]. The law which created Labor Market Surveys/Earning Power Assessments specifically contains language about where the search should be for an injured worker who relocates from PA. This, said the Court, shows the legislature did not intend leaving Pennsylvania to be fatal to the receipt of ongoing workers’ compensation benefits. Further, the Court observed, based on existing case law, “the WCJ could not solely rely on Claimant’s receipt of her disability pension to support the suspension of benefits on the basis that she has permanently separated from the workforce.”