It is a frequent call we receive. “My check is late.” Nobody wants to deal with a delay in getting their check, especially around the holidays. Indeed, getting a check late means more than just difficulty in holiday shopping – it means late rent, mortgage payments, phone bills, credit card payments, car payments, etc. Getting checks from the workers’ compensation insurance carrier in an untimely fashion can cause late fees, eviction proceedings and repossessions.
The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act contains a provision wherein a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) can order a penalty of up to 50% of the amount paid untimely. Typically, this is seen only in cases where checks are significantly late (more than a few days), or when the checks are regularly issued in an untimely fashion. For a WCJ to entertain thoughts of a penalty, however, the fault must lie with the workers’ compensation insurance carrier.
Increasingly, we are seeing these late checks where the workers’ compensation insurance carrier actually mails the check in a timely fashion, but the beleaguered United States Postal Service (USPS) cannot deliver the check promptly. A recent article in The Philadelphia Inquirer touches on the delays in the delivery of packages by USPS, but we can attest that the delays apply to letters, as well. We are seeing situations (sadly on a frequent basis) where it is taking 7-9 days for a letter from the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation in Harrisburg, PA to get to our main office in Warminster, PA. A brief we filed with the Commonwealth Court was lost within the USPS (despite the presence of a tracking number) requiring that we mail it again.
One solution is for the workers’ compensation insurance carrier to offer direct deposit. Unfortunately, this is not offered by many insurance companies or in many situations (far be it for them to try and make things easier for an injured worker). When available, we urge our clients to take advantage of that opportunity. When checks are issued on a weekly basis, the wait between checks is lessened (though the frequency of the risk is doubled). When needed, our office supplies our clients with a letter, explaining the circumstances, which helps deal with creditors. Communication, we have found, is usually the key. This includes communication with the insurer, to obtain the dates things were mailed, so we can determine where the problem exists.
While we certainly cannot prevent checks from being late (no attorney could make such a claim in all honesty), we can assure our clients that we will investigate the status of a check, communicate with the insurance carrier to minimize any delay, and help deal with creditors, should that be necessary. If a check is significantly late, or the payments are regularly late, it may be necessary for us to file a Petition for Penalties. As with any part of a PA workers’ compensation case, we will protect our clients aggressively with every tool the law allows.