Injured Worker Not Punished for Layoff in PA Workers’ Comp

We have addressed the effect a layoff has on an injured worker in Pennsylvania before. Under the 2005 Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decision in Reifsnyder v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Dana Corp), an injured worker who had been laid off for periods of time before his or her injury receives a zero for wages earned during the period of lay off. This, of course, causes an injured worker to have an artificially low Average Weekly Wage (AWW), meaning a similarly reduced workers’ compensation rate.

Recently, however, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania distinguished Reifsnyder, relaxing this strict rule. In Hostler v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Miller Wagman, Inc.), the Court found that the injured worker did NOT “maintain a continuous employment relationship with Employer, as petitioner did not ‘retain[ ] significant rights/accoutrements of employment’ with Employer” during the periods he was laid off. As such, the AWW did not include the periods of layoff (thus, the AWW was not artificially reduced).

The Court distinguished the situation in Reifsnyder, where the injured worker “pursuant to (his) collective bargaining agreement, retained significant rights/accoutrements of employment, such as plant seniority, healthcare and sick leave benefits, and employer contributions to (his) retirement accounts.” In Hostler, the injured worker did not receive any benefit from his employer during the time he was laid off, and he was not assured of any recall from the layoff. The Court noted that such a finding was necessary “to accurately capture economic reality when calculating claimant’s average weekly wage,” and that this calculation “advances the humanitarian purpose of the Workers’ Compensation Act.”