Commonly Asked Questions
Are there any important deadlines for workers’ compensation cases?
Yes – there are several important deadlines to consider. First, while an injured worker has up to 120 days maximum to report a work-related injury, the employee should report the claim/case immediately where possible. That triggers the employer’s responsibility under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act to complete an investigation into the case and decide on whether the claim will be accepted within 21 days thereafter. From there, a Bureau document must be issued depending on the results and outcome of the investigation. Options include – a denial of the claim, accepting the claim for wage loss and medical on a temporary or permanent basis, and accepting the claim for medical on a temporary or permanent basis.
If the case is accepted on a temporary basis, the employer has a period of not more than 90 days from the date of “disability,” which means when the employee began to miss time from work due to the injury, in order to either a) accept full responsibility for the case or b) decide that the case should be denied.
Other important deadlines associated with a workers’ compensation claim include the three-year statute of limitations and a similar three-year limit on the employee’s ability to “challenge” the way in which a case is accepted and described after benefits have been paid.
Each case is unique in its own right and the particular facts and circumstances of your case may very well implicate other deadlines or time limits, making it critical that you speak with an experienced attorney at the earliest possible point in your case.
How long does it take to get a result in a workers’ compensation case if litigation is required?
To make a long story short, a litigated matter can easily take 9-12 months from start to finish in order to reach a Decision point from a Workers’ Compensation Judge. During that period of time, it is likely that multiple hearings, depositions and a mediation will be held. As such, it is easy to see how the litigation process is costly both from a financial and emotional perspective as well as fraught with uncertainty. With that said, litigation is a necessary part of the process in many cases.
Fortunately, the workers’ compensation system in Pennsylvania provides for both “mandatory” (Judge-required) and “voluntary” (scheduled at the request of the parties) mediation processes. Mediations are designed to present the parties with an alternative to litigation – settlement and resolution of differences. This process allows both sides to move forward and move on, and also to put the matter behind them once and for all. There are many different ways in which a settlement can be structured, and many different factors to consider, which is why it is again critical to speak with an experienced attorney during this process.
What is wrongful termination?
Wrongful termination is an often-used but less-often-understood term in Pennsylvania law. This term is not applicable to every situation or circumstance where the employee believes that he or she was treated poorly. Rather, it is a specific type of legal action that can be pursued where the employer took disciplinary action, including termination, against an employee that was “against public policy” or in violation of the employee’s protected activity. Examples of this can include an employer taking action against an employee because he/she had or reported a work injury, and also where an employer takes action against an employee because of the employee’s efforts to unionize.
Wrongful termination is, however, difficult to prove in court. This is because an employee must show not only that the outcome for him or her was unfavorable but also that the employer intended to or was motivated to take the disciplinary action because of the employee’s protected conduct or behavior. Whether you are pursuing or defending this type of action, it is critical to hire legal counsel who is not only well-versed in the law but also capable of guiding you through the process to the desired outcome.
What does “at-will” employment mean?
Under Pennsylvania law, unless there is a written contract between the Employer and the Employee, all employment is “at-will.” In a nutshell, this means that either side can separate from the other with or without cause, and for any reason, at any time. The only caveat is that the reason for separation may not be an “illegal” reason, such as discriminatory or otherwise violative of the law regarding the employer/employee relationship. While employers often “require” a two-week or longer notice period should an employee decide to separate, this is not a law and is not enforceable otherwise.
Pennsylvania’s strong preference for “at-will” employment can make any dispute or litigated matter in the employment law arena challenging for both sides. Knowing how to structure your case to get the best possible outcome in light of this legal principle is something that only an experienced attorney would be able to guide you through.