Understanding Lost Wage Compensation in Pennsylvania's Workers' Compensation

If you've been injured on the job in Pennsylvania, you may be entitled to workers' compensation benefits, including compensation for lost wages due to the injury. This blog post provides an overview of how lost wage benefits work in Pennsylvania, with a focus on how these benefits are calculated and the importance of maximizing your compensation.

Pennsylvania's Workers' Compensation System

Pennsylvania's workers' compensation system is a statutory no-fault system that provides benefits to employees who suffer job-related injuries or illnesses. Under this system, covered employees are entitled to receive medical treatment and lost wage benefits, regardless of who was at fault for the injury. These benefits are paid by the employer or their workers' compensation insurance carrier.

Types of Lost Wage Benefits

There are several types of lost wage benefits available under Pennsylvania's workers' compensation system, depending on the nature and severity of the employee's injury:

  • Temporary Total Disability (TTD): These benefits are paid when an employee is completely unable to work due to their injury. TTD benefits are equal to approximately two-thirds of the employee's pre-injury average weekly wage, subject to minimum and maximum limits set by law.
  • Permanent Total Disability (PTD): If an employee's injury is so severe that they are permanently unable to perform any type of gainful employment, they may be entitled to PTD benefits. These benefits are paid at the same rate as TTD benefits, but may continue for the remainder of the employee's life.
  • Partial Disability: If an employee is able to return to work after an injury, but at a reduced wage due to the effects of the injury, they may be entitled to partial disability benefits. These benefits are equal to two-thirds of the difference between the employee's pre-injury and post-injury wages, and are subject to a 500-week maximum duration.
  • Specific Loss Benefits: If an employee suffers a permanent loss of use of certain body parts, such as a hand, foot, or eye, they may be entitled to specific loss benefits. These benefits are paid in addition to any other lost wage benefits, and are based on a statutory schedule that assigns a specific number of weeks of compensation to each type of loss.

Calculating the Compensation Rate

The amount of lost wage benefits an injured worker receives in Pennsylvania depends on their pre-injury average weekly wage (AWW). The compensation rate is typically two-thirds (66.67%) of the employee's AWW, subject to the following limitations:

  • As of 2023, the maximum weekly compensation rate is $1,273.00. This means that even if an employee's pre-injury AWW was higher than $1,909.50, their weekly lost wage benefits would be capped at $1,273.00.
  • There is also a minimum compensation rate, which is the lower of 90% of the employee's AWW or 50% of the statewide average weekly wage. As of 2023, the statewide average weekly wage is $1,276.00, so the minimum compensation rate would be $638.00 for an employee whose pre-injury AWW was at least $709.00.
  • In addition to the basic compensation rate, injured workers who have dependent children may be entitled to an additional $5 per week for each dependent child, up to a maximum of $25 per week.

Determining the Pre-Injury Average Weekly Wage

To calculate an injured worker's lost wage benefits, the first step is to determine their pre-injury average weekly wage (AWW). In Pennsylvania, the AWW is typically calculated by looking at the worker's gross earnings (before taxes) during the 13 weeks immediately preceding the injury.

The AWW calculation should include all types of earnings, such as:

  • Regular wages and salary
  • Overtime pay
  • Tips and gratuities
  • Commissions and performance-based pay
  • Bonuses and incentive payments

If an injured worker had irregular or seasonal employment during the 13 weeks prior to the injury, the AWW may be calculated using an alternative method that better reflects the worker's typical earnings. For example, if the worker had a short period of unusually high or low earnings just before the injury, those weeks may be excluded from the calculation.

Common Wage Calculation Disputes

Disputes over the calculation of an injured worker's pre-injury average weekly wage are common in Pennsylvania workers' compensation cases. Some of the most frequent issues include:

  • Incorrect AWW determination: If the employer or insurance carrier calculates the AWW incorrectly, the worker may receive less in lost wage benefits than they are entitled to.
  • Failure to include all earning types: If the AWW calculation omits certain types of earnings, such as overtime, tips, or commissions, the worker's benefits may be underpaid.
  • Shorter pre-injury period used: If the employer or carrier uses a shorter period than the standard 13 weeks to calculate the AWW, the worker's benefits may not accurately reflect their typical earnings.

If an injured worker believes their AWW has been calculated incorrectly, they should contact an experienced workers' compensation attorney who can help them challenge the calculation and seek the full benefits they are entitled to.

Proving Ongoing Wage Loss

To continue receiving lost wage benefits in Pennsylvania, an injured worker must be able to prove that they remain disabled and unable to earn their pre-injury wages due to the work-related injury. Some key steps in this process include:

  • Getting full work restrictions from a doctor: The worker's treating physician should provide clear, written restrictions on what the worker can and cannot do in terms of work activities.
  • Presenting evidence of earning power impairment: The worker may need to provide evidence, such as pay stubs or tax returns, showing that they are unable to earn as much as they did before the injury.
  • Vocational expert assessment: In some cases, a vocational expert may be needed to assess the worker's ability to return to their pre-injury job or to find alternative employment within their medical restrictions.

Modification and Suspension of Benefits

There are several circumstances under which an injured worker's lost wage benefits may be modified or suspended in Pennsylvania:

  • Changes in medical status: If the worker's condition improves to the point where they are able to return to work, their benefits may be reduced or terminated.
  • Return to work offerings: If the employer offers the worker a job that accommodates their medical restrictions, and the worker refuses the job offer, their benefits may be modified or suspended.
  • Impairment Rating Evaluations (IREs): After an injured worker has received 104 weeks of temporary total disability benefits, the employer may request an IRE to determine the degree of the worker's impairment. If the worker is found to be less than 35% impaired, their benefits may be converted from total to partial disability, which limits the duration of the benefits to 500 weeks.

Protect Your Rights and Secure Your Deserved Compensation

If you have suffered a workplace injury and need assistance navigating the complex world of Pennsylvania's workers' compensation system, particularly when it comes to lost wage compensation, McNair Law Offices, PLLC is here to help. Our experienced attorneys are dedicated to protecting your rights and ensuring that you receive the maximum compensation you deserve for your lost wages and other damages.

Contact us today at 814-918-3377 for a free consultation and let us help you secure the compensation you deserve.

Note: This blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice. Always consult with our experienced attorney for guidance specific to your situation.