One of the often-unforeseen issues that arise in the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation system is the concept of “withdrawal from the labor market.” Withdrawal from the labor market can take several forms, but the most frequent occurs when an injured worker on Workers’ Compensation benefits “retires.” If it is determined that an injured worker “retired” or voluntarily removed themselves from the labor market, their Workers’ Compensation benefits may be terminated.
It is important for injured workers to understand their rights and responsibilities with regard to Workers’ Compensation and other benefits, such as pension and Social Security retirement benefits. While “retiring” may result in an injured worker losing their Workers’ Compensation benefits, merely taking pension, severance, or other benefits normally associated with retirement, does not necessarily result in an injured worker losing their Workers’ Compensation benefits.
Where an employee states unequivocally that he or she is retired and has no intention of working again or looking for other employment, an employer does not need to prove that other jobs are available to stop benefits.
In order to prove retirement, an employer must establish by a totality of the circumstances that the employee has chosen not to return to the workforce. Evidence that an employee has retired may include the employee admitting that he or she has retired, accepting a retirement pension, or accepting a retirement pension and refusing suitable work.
It is important to note that an employee is not considered to have voluntarily retired and withdrawn from the labor market if the retirement was caused by the work injury. In other words, if an employee can establish that he or she would have continued to work if it was not for the work injury, even after a certain age, the employer will not likely be able to stop paying weekly compensation benefits.
If an employer is able to establish that an employee retired, then the employee must show that he or she is seeking employment after retirement or that the employee was forced into retirement because of the work-related injury.
Whether an employee has retired or voluntarily removed themselves from the labor market is a factual issue to be determined by a Workers’ Compensation judge after obtaining and listening to all the evidence. The burden is on the employer to establish that the employee retired or removed themselves from the labor market.
Taking a pension or receiving Social Security retirement benefits alone is not indicative of voluntary retirement. However, taking a pension and refusing to respond to a job offer within one’s restrictions may be sufficient for a determination that the employee has voluntarily removed his or herself from the labor market.
Once a worker has established that they are entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits, the employer cannot cease paying for benefits without cause. More importantly, they cannot stop paying benefits until there is an order from a Workers’ Compensation judge to stop paying. Under Pennsylvania law, there is no built-in time limit for receiving Workers’ Compensation benefits. A worker would conceivably receive benefits as long as they are injured and unable to perform their prior work. However, there are several methods that an employer or its insurance carrier may use to try to stop your benefits.
One way that an employer may try to stop your benefits is to have you examined by a doctor of their choice. If that doctor states that you have recovered fully from your work injury, the employer could petition a judge to stop your benefits by arguing that you have recovered from your work-related injuries. This would be determined by a judge after listening to all of the evidence.
If an employer cannot establish that you have fully recovered from your injury, they may try to establish that you are capable of performing other work. The specifics of that can be discussed in another writing.
As discussed above, even if an injured worker has not fully recovered, or the employer has not established that there is other work that an employee can do, the employer may try to stop your benefits by arguing that your have voluntarily removed yourself from the labor market. This is not necessarily limited to arguing that an injured worker has retired. It may include moving to another country, which has been held to be a voluntary removal from the workforce. However, when an employee moves to another state for health reasons unrelated to the work injury, the courts have held that this is not a voluntary withdrawal from the workforce.
It is imperative that you understand your rights before you take any action that could be construed as potentially removing yourself from the labor market. These cases are very fact-specific, and it is important to understand your rights prior to taking any action. Our Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP have years of experience in dealing with retirement issues and other complex issues that may affect your entitlement to Workers’ Compensation benefits.
Our Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP are skilled at handling all types of complex Workers’ Compensation cases:
Our seasoned Philadelphia Worker’s Compensation lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP have decades of experience advocating for injured workers. If your Workers’ Compensation benefits were unlawfully terminated due to alleged voluntary withdrawal from the labor market, our knowledgeable legal team is here to help. To schedule a free consultation, call us at 800-222-USWA (8792) or fill out our online form. Located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania, we proudly serve clients across New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Allentown and Harrisburg.