Taking Pension, Not Looking for Work, Leads to “Retirement” in PA Workers’ Comp

Once again, we are reporting on the Pennsylvania Court System addressing the issue of retirement, and voluntary withdrawal from the labor market, in the context of a PA workers’ compensation case.

In Department of Public Welfare/Norristown State Hospital v.Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Roberts), the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania reversed the decision of the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ), which had been affirmed by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB), and ordered that the injured worker’s benefits be suspended because he had retired and voluntarily withdrew from the labor market.

The claimant in this case hurt his neck and back. After his injury, the injured worker took a retirement pension, which, as previously discussed here, may or may not be indicative of retirement. The injured worker also filed for what the Court called a “Social Security Disability Pension,” though I am not sure what that means (Social Security Retirement, akin to pension, is, of course, different than Social Security Disability). In his testimony before the WCJ, the injured worker said he did not feel physically capable of working and has not looked for work. The doctor testifying for the insurance carrier (the Independent Medical Examiner, IME, who typically is somewhat less than independent) felt the injured worker was capable of sedentary duty work.

The WCJ found the testimony of the IME credible, but denied the Suspension Petition, finding that the workers’ comp insurance carrier failed to prove its case. This was affirmed by the WCAB.

Upon further appeal, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania found that the Suspension should have been granted. Because the injured worker took his retirement pension, filed for a “Social Security Disability Pension,” and did not look for any work, the injured worker had, in fact, retired and voluntarily removed himself from the labor market. Further, since the WCJ found the IME credible (that the injured worker was capable of sedentary duty work), and since the injured worker testified that he had not looked for any work, the Petition for Suspension should have been granted. On these facts, said The Court, there is no requirement that the workers’ comp insurance carrier prove that work was available to the injured worker.

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