Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Relieves Employers from Issuing Injured Workers a Notice of Ability to Return to Work before Entitlement to Compensation has been Decided

The PA Workers’ Compensation Act was enacted to provide injured workers with much needed income and medical benefits for injuries occurring at work. You could say the Act was written to protect the interests of injured workers. Because of the intent behind the Act, there are times the Employer must follow certain procedures in order to suspend modify or terminate the benefits an injured worker is receiving. For instance, when an Employer obtains medical evidence that an injured workers’ medical status has changed from total disability to partial disability, they must send the worker a “Notice of Ability to Return to Work” before filing a petition to suspend or reduce compensation. This notice informs you that your condition has changed and that you are capable of working in some capacity. This is meant to put you on notice that failure to look for available work, or accept a job offer within your physical capabilities, could affect your right to receive workers’ compensation wage benefits.

On May 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that Employers are only required to issue a Notice of Ability to Return to Work if entitlement to compensation has already been decided.

Prior to the School District acknowledging her work-related injury, and prior to the filing of a Claim Petition on her behalf, a teacher failed to accept a modified duty job offered by her Employer. Both the teacher and her treating physician agreed that she was capable of performing the job that was offered. Her Attorney argued that the job offer was invalid because the Employer failed to issue the Notice of Ability to Return to Work mandated by Section 306 (B) (3) of the Pennsylvania Worker’s Compensation Act before making the job offer.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court disagreed with the argument made by the injured worker’s attorney by holding that the employer’s obligation to send the Notice of Ability to Return to Work is not triggered until the injured worker is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Since the offer of modified or light work was made prior to the start of any litigation or, acceptance of the claim, the Employer was not required to send out the Notice of Ability to Return to Work when the job offer was made.

What does this mean for you? This holding makes it even more important to see an experienced attorney after you suffer an injury at work. If, as in this case, you receive a job offer before your injury has been accepted as work related, it is essential you have an experienced attorney to walk you through this issue. Your attorney will advise you what steps to take to protect your rights.