Montgomery & Bucks County Workers' Compensation Law Blog

Friday, July 10, 2015

Pennsylvania Appellate Court Considers Complex Case Involving Workers’ Compensation & Unemployment Benefits

Can I accept unemployment benefits while out-of-work on disability? 

In a recent case decided by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, a work injury victim had her unemployment benefits reinstated despite claims by her employer that she could have returned to work and committed alleged “willful misconduct” by refusing to accept a promotion after the injury. The following case presents a complex procedural issue that – while perhaps unusual for the appellate court to unravel – represents a fact pattern that workers’ compensation clients could easily experience in the aftermath of an injury. 

Details of Paolucci v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review

In 2010, Ms. Paolucci was employed at WalMart and endured a concussion while on the job. After properly and timely submitting her claim to her employer’s workers’ compensation carrier, she received compensation benefits. After some time, the carrier required the employee to undergo an Independent Medical Evaluation, which concluded that she was fit to return to work. Her personal treating physicians, however, disagreed with this finding and Ms. Paolucci did not return to her position – despite being offered an alternative position within the company. 

Shortly thereafter, Ms. Paolucci filed for unemployment compensation in addition to her workers’ compensation benefits. She was awarded unemployment benefits, and the employer immediately appealed the decision. On appeal, the employer cited that she should not be eligible for benefits as she left her job due to “willful misconduct” and is therefore precluded. Specifically, the employer asserted that the worker could have returned to work (based on the IME results), and held the following: 

The claimant never made the employer aware that she could return to work. Further, the claimant did not respond to the employer’s offer of work. Finally, the claimant’s attorney told the employer to no longer contact the claimant.

On a second appeal, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania reversed the decision, and found the results of the IME to be irrelevant given the fact the treating physician asserted that Ms. Paolucci could not return to work. Further, the court found no evidence that the “employee violated a policy, work rule or reasonable expectation of employer.”

If you are facing a difficult workers’ compensation issue, do not hesitate to contact Louis P. Lombardi & Associates today at (610)239-7600.  We serve the areas of  Montgomery and Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

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