It is a common scenario in Pennsylvania: after years of dedicated service, a worker succumbs to a job-related injury that ends his or her active career. Fortunately, the workers' compensation
system provides a much-needed safety net for such workers who have given so much of themselves to employers in the form of Pennsylvania workers' compensation benefits.
Why Does Voluntary Retirement Affect Workers' Compensation
According to the state Supreme Court, under the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act, "disability" has always been synonymous with loss of earning power; in other words, to be entitled to benefits under the Act, a worker must have suffered an injury in the workplace that affects his or her ability to earn a wage.
When an on-the-job injury or illness forces a worker out of the labor market or into a lower-paying job, his or her capacity to earn a wage is diminished; workers' compensation helps fill in this gap between pre- and post-injury earnings. However, retirees who have removed themselves from the labor market completely - whether disabled or not - no longer have wage-earning capacity according to the law. Therefore, Pennsylvania courts have determined that once an injured worker has voluntarily retired, he or she is no longer entitled to workers' compensation benefits.
Defining Voluntary Retirement
One may believe that they are off receiving workers' compensation payments for an injury that they now can also collect a retirement pension without risk is mistaken. But, Pennsylvania courts have long struggled with determining exactly when an injured worker has voluntarily retired.
The key consideration is the intention of the injured worker: if able, would he or she continue working? Age, the receipt of other types of benefits (pension, social security, etc.) or current unemployment may all be taken into account.
An employer wishing to stop benefit payments bears the burden of proving that, under the totality of the circumstances, the workers' comp claimant intended to retire (voluntarily removes themselves from the work force). Admissions from a claimant that he or she is retired, the acceptance of a retirement pension, a disabled worker's refusal of suitable light-duty employment or a number of other factors could be used by an employer against an injured/disabled client to show an intention to retire in an attempt to stop workers' comp payments.
On the other hand, if a workers' compensation claimant can show that he or she was forced into retirement because of a work-related injury, benefits could continue. For example, they aren't capable of any level of work due to the workers' comp injury. Likewise, an injured worker seeking employment (even after retirement age) should still receive workers' compensation benefits. And, even if a disabled worker voluntarily retires, a change in circumstances down the road that causes him or her to again seek employment could retrigger an employer's responsibility to make workers' compensation payments.
Contact a Workers' Compensation Lawyer
If you are nearing retirement age, it is important to protect your workers' compensation benefits from employers who may claim that you have voluntarily withdrawn from the workforce. Get in touch with a Pennsylvania workers' compensation lawyer to explore how you can continue to receive the benefits you deserve.