What happens if I’m laid-off or terminated while on workers’ compensation benefits or, if I’m laid-off or terminated after going back to work following my work injury?
Being laid-off or terminated while on workers’ compensation benefits has no effect on your right to weekly wage loss benefits or, the amount of benefits that you’re entitled to. In fact, being laid-off or terminated puts your employer in a worse position than they would otherwise be in. It weakens their argument that even though you might not be fully recovered from the work injury, you’ve recovered enough to be able to return to some kind of work. If you don’t have a job to return to because you were laid-off or fired by your employer, and they can’t prove that you’re fully recovered from your work injury, the only way the employer can stop or reduce your wage loss benefit is by doing vocational rehabilitation and showing that there is work available for you with a different employer. It also doesn’t sit well with a Workers’ Compensation Judge if litigation starts in your case and the Judge learns that your employer fired you knowing that they have work that you can do.
If you’re laid-off or terminated after you return to work following your work injury, you might be entitled to a reinstatement of workers’ compensation wage loss benefits, especially if you return to work with restrictions. Under the law, if you’re laid-off or terminated from a light duty job following a work injury, you’re entitled to a reinstatement of your wage loss benefits, as long as you weren’t terminated for cause (e.g., a disciplinary issue, etc.). Even being terminated for poor job performance while on light duty will not necessarily prevent you from going back out on workers’ compensation benefits as long as the recurrence of your wage loss was through no fault of your own. You can also file for a reinstatement of wage loss benefits if you’re laid-off or terminated after returning to work to your regular job with restrictions, but again, only if you weren’t terminated for cause.
Most employees in Pennsylvania are at-will employees which means that an employer can fire you for any reason short of a constitutional violation (e.g., you can’t be fire because of your sex, race, or religious beliefs), even if you’re out of work on workers’ compensation benefits. Many people think that an employer can’t fire someone who is out on workers’ compensation when, in fact, they can. Being out on workers’ compensation does not afford an at-will employee any greater protection against losing their job than what they had before the injury. A termination or lay-off while on workers’ compensation or, after returning to work following a work injury, will not necessarily end your entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits. You need to speak with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney if this happens to you.