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Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Reviews Injured Telephone Technician’s Retirement and Workers’ Compensation Benefits

Many on-the-job injuries happen to those who work for sub-contractors or subsidiaries.  As a result, different routes of legal action may be appropriate and necessary for an injury.  For example, a construction worker responsible for installing flooring may be injured while working for a company contracted by an entity ultimately responsible for building a home or office structure.  The sub-contractor employer may have workers’ compensation insurance benefits available, but the contractor may also share in the liability and be held accountable for damages.

In Stepp v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (FairPoint Communications, Inc.), the Commonwealth Court reviewed an injured telephone technician’s appeal regarding the offset taken against his workers’ compensation benefits.  The telephone technician injured his back and was unable to climb to install and repair cable while wearing a 40-pound tool belt.  The injured technician tried to return and perform light-duty work but found he was unable to do so.  He received workers’ compensation benefits at $733.67 a week for over a year but then filed a notice of his intent to retire. 

The man had worked for the company for approximately 35 years at the time of his injury.  During this period, his employer was acquired by another company.  He continued to work for the same company, but the human resources department was managed by the parent company.  The parent company’s workers’ compensation policy covered all subsidiary companies, including the injured worker’s employer.  When the injured worker filed his intent to retire, the parent company moved to suspend his workers’ compensation benefits, arguing that he was able to return to work with his restrictions with no loss of earnings.  The injured worker denied these allegations and received his retirement payments. 

A few months after his retirement payments began, the parent company filed notice that an offset of $454.58 a week would be applied to the injured worker’s disability compensation.  The percentage was calculated based on the employer’s contribution.  The injured worker appealed, arguing that the subsidiary company had funded the pension plan, so the parent company was not entitled to an offset.  For the hearing, the injured worker claimed that he never received notice that the parent company was contributing to his pension, and he submitted a spousal consent form that still listed the subsidiary company as the employer, not the parent company.   

The Workers’ Compensation Judge found that the company was entitled to offset the benefits paid based on the availability of work within the injured employee’s restrictions.  The WCJ also found that the parent and subsidiary company was the same company for the purpose of determining whether an offset was available.  The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board agreed with the WCJ, and the injured worker appealed.  The Commonwealth Court, in its review, looked to the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, which allows employers to offset workers’ compensation benefits against social security, severance, and pension benefits simultaneously received by the employee.  The injured worker maintained that the subsidiary company was the only one that could benefit from offset available under the Act.  The Commonwealth Court ultimately agreed with the WCJ and the WCAB, stating that the parent company receives the benefits of the offset as the owner of the injured worker’s company. 

This opinion shows the challenges facing an injured worker.  The Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorneys at Needle Law Firm have the workers’ compensation experience you need to pursue your claim and maximize your benefits.  For a free, confidential consultation, contact our office at 570-344-1266.

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