The last major changes to the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act came in 1996. Among other things, workers’ comp insurance carriers were given a credit for some other benefits an injured worker might receive, such as unemployment compensation, severance benefits, Social Security Retirement benefits and pension benefits [Section 204(a) of the PA Workers’ Compensation Act]. These offsets were designed to avoid an injured worker receiving a “double” recovery.
As attorneys representing injured workers, we were disappointed when two cases were decided by the Commonwealth Court of PA, holding that these offsets were to be taken on the gross (before tax) amount of these benefits, rather than on the net amount. In fairness, if the injured worker is paying part of his benefits back for tax, he or she did not actually “receive” the entire benefit being offset. Indeed, then the injured worker in PA, in effect, is getting less in workers’ comp benefits than the amount the Pennsylvania legislature intended.
This issue was even more disturbing, and perplexing, when the Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers’ Compensation issued regulations, stating that the offsets under Section 204(a) should be on the net amount. These regulations were issued just before the first of the above-mentioned two cases, though neither case mentioned the regulations.
The good news is that the Commonwealth Court of PA decided the case of Philadelphia Gas Works v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Amodei) on February 4, 2009, finding that the offset for pension benefits is to be taken on the net amount. Though the previous two cases dealt with a different benefit (unemployment compensation in one, severance in the other), the Court seemed to treat all Section 204(a) offsets consistently. The Court, this time, looked at the regulation and gave the regulation full force and effect. Though the Court did not specifically overrule the previous two cases (as a three-Judge concurring opinion would have done), these previous cases would not seem to have much current effect.
Note, also, that the regulations additionally provide that if a gross credit is taken on a Section 204(a) offset, the injured worker can apply to the workers’ comp insurance carrier to be paid back the amount that was taxed (when the amount paid in tax is known).