Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Plant Closings and Workers' Compensation
Given the economic climate in Pennsylvania, it is often (and unfortunately) necessary to consider the impact of plant closings on individuals who are (or could be) receiving workers' compensation benefits. The following are vital considerations at such time, and are best discussed with counsel who has knowledge of workers' compensation law:
1. Hearing Loss: Any plant in which there are mechanical operations or machinery of any sort could potentially subject an individual to noise exposure. If the plant where the employee worked required hearing protection, then the plant at one point was measured as having noise levels of at least 85 decibels on a time-weighted average. Individuals who may have worked in loud and damaging noise should be tested for hearing loss, as an employee must bring a hearing loss claim within three years of last exposure to hazardous noise. If that employee has audiometric testing by the company as part of an exit physical, it is best for the employee to have those results reviewed by an attorney with hearing loss claim experience as soon as possible. Blaufeld Schiller & Holmes, LLP will be happy to review the exit audiogram results if available, or to schedule appropriate employees for audiometric testing with no expense to the employee.
2. Light Duty/Partial-Reinstatement to Total Disability Benefits: Those employees who are working at light duty or modified duty under a suspension or Supplemental Agreement at the time the plant closes should be automatically reinstated to total disability workers' compensation benefits, as they have work-related restrictions and limitations that the company is no longer accommodating. Unfortunately, some employers and insurance carriers contend that, because the loss of the job is due to an "economic downturn," the individual is not entitled to a reinstatement to total. It is essential that these employees seek legal counsel at once to review their current situation, particularly if benefits are not automatically reinstated. Blaufeld Schiller & Holmes, LLP will be happy to meet with any such employees to be certain that any necessary legal action is taken to obtain reinstatement of benefits, if appropriate, and if not automatically undertaken by the employer/carrier.
3. Payment of Medical Without Accepting Documents: Many times, a workers' compensation insurance carrier or self-insured employer will pay bills for medical treatment without issuing any documents that indicate the claim has been "accepted." This means that, in the future, and particularly after three years has expired (the statute of limitations period under the Workers' Compensation Act) the employee may not be entitled to any additional medical care, because there is no "accepted" claim. Any employee who has suffered a work injury, but does not have an Agreement for or Notice of Compensation Payable, particularly if they have not lost time from work, should speak with an attorney, to be certain that they protect themselves in the event of the need for future medical treatment or, if necessary, have an "open claim" in the event that there may even be future disability. This could involve filing a Claim Petition. Blaufeld Schiller & Holmes, LLP will be happy to meet with any such employees to be certain that any necessary legal action is taken to obtain protection for an individual's right to coverage under the Act.
4. Severance and Pension Benefits: Some individuals who are receiving workers' compensation benefits, or who are automatically reinstated to workers' compensation benefits following a plant shutdown, may also have the opportunity to receive severance pay. Some individuals, due to their medical and physical condition, and due to conditions both work and non-work-related, may also file for pension or Social Security benefits. Severance, pension and Social Security "old age" benefits are off-set against workers' compensation benefits and can result in these individuals receiving less benefits than they may intend for living purposes. Therefore, before accepting severance, or applying for any pension benefits, they should contact an attorney with knowledge of the relationship between such benefits. Additionally, these individuals may be entitled to Social Security disability benefits, which are not off-set, as Social Security considers not only the physical restrictions and limitations from any work injury, but also other non-work-related conditions and disabilities, and takes an individual's educational background and age into consideration when determining whether disability exists. Blaufeld Schiller & Holmes, LLP will be happy to meet with any such employees to explore the availability of other benefits, and attempt to minimize the effect of receipt of these benefits on workers' compensation. There may be no way to avoid set-off for these benefits; it is best to know all of this when the benefits are considered however and a legal consultation is the employee's best option.
There are often benefits available to individuals who are losing jobs due to plant closure. It is essential to consider all of the options available and make informed choices.