Playing by the rules is undeniably important in an orderly society. When conflicts arise, a clear set of rules can help resolve the underlying problem without undue delay, in a way that is usually acceptable to both parties.
In workers' compensation cases, however, those rules are sometimes set by the employers, and their application can seem unfair to an injured worker. This article will examine one such rule and its application in a recent Pennsylvania workers' comp case. The case involved an employer that was allowed to terminate an employee for not reporting an injury immediately.
Facts of Back Injury Case
The case concerned an employee who worked as a bag sealer at an industrial plant. After hurting his back at work, the employee went to see his doctor two days later. The doctor prescribed pain medication, but the employee had an adverse reaction to the medication.
The employee took more time off from work after suffering this adverse reaction. Eventually, a supervisor from the plant learned that the reason the employee was not at work was the work-related back injury and subsequent adverse reaction.
The employer had a policy that all injuries, even minor ones, had to be immediately reported by the injured employee. On this basis, the employer fired the employee.
The employee brought legal action to challenge his firing. The employee's argument was that he was fired for being injured - which is not legal under workers' compensation law.
The case went all the way up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The court held, in Spring v. Sealed Air Corporation, that under Pennsylvania law, employers retain the right to require immediate reporting of injuries. Because the employer's policy was clear, the employee could therefore be fired for failing to report an injury - even though it was a minor one.
Written Accident Reports
No one denies the importance of written reports in establishing the facts of an accident. After all, memories can quickly fade and even eyewitness reports can diverge.
Generally, though, Pennsylvania employees have 120 days to report injuries to their employers. What this case establishes is that Pennsylvania employers can create and enforce policies that require timelier reporting.
Even if the employer does have such a policy, however, an injured employee is still entitled to workers' comp benefits if he or she gave notice within 120 days.
Of course, an employer cannot simply wait until someone is injured and then change the rules. To be effective, a policy must be clearly communicated. An employee handbook is a common form for such communication. If you have been injured on the job, it makes sense to discuss your situation with an experienced workers' compensation lawyer. An attorney can help you comply with any specific injury reporting requirements that are applicable in your case.