Wage Loss in PA Workers’ Comp Must be Related to Work Injury to be Compensable

In PA workers’ comp, when an injured worker returns to employment, there is a change in the workers’ compensation benefits he or she receives. If the injured worker is again earning the wages he or she earned before the work injury, then workers’ comp benefits are stopped completely (“suspended”). If the injured worker is earning less than before the injury, as a result of the injury, then workers’ comp benefits may only be “modified” to a lower rate.

Often the key to whether modified workers’ compensation benefits continue, in the case of an ongoing loss in wages, is whether the ongoing loss in wages is actually a result of the injury.

Recently, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania addressed this issue in Trevdan Building Supply v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Pope). In this case, the employee ruptured his biceps tendon while unloading building material. Eventually, the injured worker was released to resume his regular duty employment, without any specific restriction, though his doctor noted that he may require some assistance with heavy lifting (which was also the case, on occasion, prior to the injury).

The injured worker went back to his regular duty position, and regular wages. The workers’ comp benefits were then suspended. Due to the economic downturn, the employer stopped offering overtime to the employees. As a result, the injured worker’s wages became lower than his “Average Weekly Wage” under the workers’ compensation case (which had included the previous overtime).

Since he was now losing wages, the injured worker filed a Petition for Reinstatement. The Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) denied ongoing workers’ comp partial disability benefits, since the loss in wages resulted from a general economic situation, rather than the work injury.

The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) reversed the WCJ, but upon further appeal, the Commonwealth Court of PA reversed the WCAB and reinstated the decision of the WCJ. The Court agreed with the WCJ that the ongoing loss in wages was not shown to be as a result of the work injury. The Court did observe that the situation may be different if the injured worker did not return to his pre-injury position, without restriction.