Just because you lost your job doesn't mean you lose your legal rights.
A workplace injury can have serious consequences. You might need extensive medical treatment, follow-up medical care, and time off from work to fully recover. The last thing you need is to also lose your job while you're dealing with this situation — but for some workers, that's exactly what happens. If you were hurt at work and subsequently laid off, you're still protected by the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act. The experienced attorneys at O'Malley & Langan can help you navigate this complex situation.
Is it legal to lay someone off while the person is receiving workers' comp?
"Unfortunately, yes, your employment can be terminated while you're getting workers' comp. You just can't be fired because you're receiving workers' compensation benefits," explains retired workers' compensation judge and O'Malley & Langan attorney Joseph Grady. "In Pennsylvania, it's illegal to fire someone in retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim. However, the law doesn't give you any special protection from being terminated for unrelated reasons, such as violating company policy or from being included in layoffs or downsizing. If you're an at-will employee, which most people are, you can be laid off."
Most importantly, being fired or laid off while you're receiving workers' compensation doesn't change the fact that you were employed when the injury happened. That means you still have protection under the Workers' Compensation Act, and your now-former employer still needs to meet their legal obligation to pay for work injuries.
Getting laid off doesn't affect the medical expenses portion of your workers' comp claim.
"Workers' compensation pays for the full cost of all reasonable and necessary medical expenses related to a work injury," says O'Malley & Langan Founder and Senior Partner Todd J. O'Malley. "After you're injured, it doesn't matter whether you stay at the same job for years or leave the next day. The employer you worked for at the time of the injury is responsible for your medical expenses arising from that injury."
In short, getting laid off shouldn't affect the medical portion of your workers' compensation claim at all. If you were hurt at work, the workers' compensation insurance company must pay your injury-related medical bills, even the cost of medication or medical treatment that may be required long after you've been let go from your job.
Whether you keep your wage loss benefits after being laid off depends on the circumstances.
Where it gets tricky is the wage loss portion of your workers' compensation claim; that is, the portion that replaces your lost wages if you are unable to work due to a work injury. Remember, workers' compensation typically pays two-thirds of your pre-injury average weekly wage for as long as you are unable to work. If you are cleared to return to work on a "light duty" basis for reduced pay — for instance, if you can only work 20 hours a week when you previously worked 40, or if because of medical restrictions you're brought back in a different, lower-paying role — then workers' comp pays two-thirds of your difference in income.
So, what happens to wage loss benefits if you're laid off? It depends on where you are in your recovery at the time of the layoff:
- If you're laid off while you're completely out of work and receiving wage loss benefits, you'll keep getting those benefits.
- If you returned to work with restrictions (that is, a list of activities that your doctor has advised you to avoid) and you're laid off, your wage loss benefits should resume at two-thirds of your pre-injury average weekly wage.
- If you returned to "full duty" work without medical restrictions and are subsequently laid off, you will not receive wage loss benefits.
"This is one of the reasons you should avoid getting a 'full duty' release prematurely," says attorney Mary Anne O. Lucas. "We see this all the time. People are often eager to get back to work without restrictions, and that's understandable, but it can end up significantly affecting your legal rights."
Talk to one of our workers' compensation attorneys today.
So, if you're laid off after a work injury, don't try to navigate the system alone. Your rights haven't changed, but the process to get the compensation you deserve under Pennsylvania law may be more complicated.
At O'Malley & Langan, our experienced workers’ compensation lawyers have been fighting for injured workers for decades. We thoroughly understand the system and know how to achieve real results to give you and your family a sense of security and peace of mind.
When you talk to an attorney at our firm, we'll take the time to listen to your situation, answer your questions, and clearly explain your legal options.
We can discuss your situation on the phone, meet online, or get together in person at one of our office locations in Scranton, Pittston, or Towanda.