On many occasions, we have explored the evolution of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act as it pertains to whether an injured worker has “voluntarily left the labor market.” Typically, we see this situation when the injured worker has filed for a retirement pension, or given some other indicia of “retirement.” Until now, we have not seen the Pennsylvania Courts punish an injured worker for merely taking Social Security Disability benefits.
Unfortunately, that ended with Burks v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (City of Pittsburgh), where the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania upheld the suspended of workers’ comp benefits merely because the injured worker was receiving Social Security Disability benefits.
In that case, the injured worker had both a work-related injury (knee sprain) and non-work-related conditions (many, primarily involving her hip and low back). The Court found that the injured worker was capable of light duty work with regard to the work injury, but that she was totally disabled with the addition of the non-work-related conditions. As such, the Court concluded:
“Claimant’s decision to receive Social Security Disability benefits shows that she has voluntarily withdrawn from the workforce for reasons unrelated to the work injury.”
The Court did note, in a footnote, that this decision is based on the fact that the work injury was not the basis for her receipt of Social Security Disability benefits. The Court went on to say that, if the injured worker received Social Security Disability benefits as a result of the work injury, then workers’ compensation benefits would continue.