Pennsylvania Supreme Court Issues Significant Workers’ Compensation Decision April 9, 2014
By Michael W. McGurrin, Esq.
Many injured workers receive compensation through Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation system. When employees partially recover from their injuries, employers often seek to reduce the amount of these Workers’ Compensation monthly benefit payments. A recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision now makes it more difficult for employers to change the amount of an employee’s Workers’ Compensation benefits.
If an employer can demonstrate that an injured employee has regained some earning power by being able to perform some type of employment (even if that employment is different from their previous type of employment), the amount of Workers’ Compensation benefits may be reduced.
Employers typically rely on Labor Market Surveys to support their claims that partially recovered employees could gain employment and earn income by finding a job within the employee’s current functional ability levels. However, often the jobs identified by vocational experts on the Labor Market Surveys are not actually available to the partially recovered employees who attempted to apply for those positions.
In the recent case of Phoenixville Hospital v. WCAB (Shoap) No. 32 EAP 2011 (“Phoenixville Hospital”), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that employers may not rely solely on Labor Market Surveys to demonstrate that a partially recovered employee could be earning income to justify the reduction of Workers’ Compensation benefits. Instead, an employee who is fighting against reductions in his benefits may now present evidence regarding whether jobs identified in Labor Market Surveys actually “exist” at the time he is seeking employment.
The Court defined “exist” to mean that jobs are actually open and potentially available. Jobs already filled with existing employees could not be used as evidence that a partially recovered employee had earning power. By placing significant emphasis on the phrase “substantial gainful employment which exists,” the Court focused on whether jobs were actually available to employees.
Under this decision, employees challenging reductions in their Workers’ Compensation benefits must be allowed to present evidence that the jobs identified in the labor market survey may be based on “unsubstantiated, erroneous, conflicting, false, or misleading information.” Employees also may demonstrate that a potential employer rejected the employee’s job application precisely because the work is incompatible with the employee’s residual productive skills, education, age or work experience.
If you would like more information on the Phoenixville Hospital v. WCAB (Shoap) decision and how it may affect your Workers’ Compensation benefits, or if your employer is seeking to reduce your Workers’ Compensation benefits, call the Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation attorneys at Galfand Berger today at 1-800-222-8792 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation.