Loss of Earnings Must be Related to Work Injury for Reinstatement in PA Workers’ Comp

Generally speaking, the goal is to return an injured worker in Pennsylvania to gainful employment. Along those lines, under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, when an injured worker in PA is not able to keep working, due to the effects of the work injury, workers’ comp benefits should be reinstated.

The key element to whether benefits will be reinstated is often whether the loss of earnings is truly related to the work injury. A good example of this concept came recently in the case of Verity v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (The Malvern School), decided by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.

Here, Ms. Verity (Claimant) suffered a strain to her left hip and low back. After being released to modified duty, Claimant returned to work under those restrictions. Subsequent to her going back to work, Claimant had additional restrictions placed upon her by her physician, which included “no going up/down stairs.” The employer said they had nothing within those restrictions, and Claimant filed a Petition for Reinstatement.

In that litigation, Claimant testified that she had to climb three flights of stairs a day for her apartment, and that she was able to go up or down the ten steps that were required at her job, maybe four times a day. Her doctor testified that she did not mean literally no steps, the doctor just meant no steps on a repeated basis. In fact, Claimant’s doctor said she encouraged her to continue working at the job. As such, the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) denied the Reinstatement Petition, since the reason Claimant was not working was not related to the work injury (or, in other words, it was not the work injury which prevented her from working at that job). The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) affirmed.

Upon appeal to the Commonwealth Court of PA, the decision was again affirmed. Claimant knew the restriction placed by the doctor was not accurate, but did nothing to fix it (indeed, when Claimant went back to the doctor again, the same restriction was placed). Claimant knew her injury did not prevent her from doing her job. Therefore, the Petition for Reinstatement was properly denied.