Workers’ Compensation Update

Under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, qualified injured workers are entitled to insurance payments that are calculated based on their average weekly wage. The Pennsylvania courts recently struggled in two separate cases to identify the workers’ average weekly wages.

Different Hourly Rates

In the first case, an injured welder had earned $18 per hour on local jobs, $27.54 per hour on jobs subject to prevailing wage regulations, and $41.31 per hour on overtime work. After the welder suffered a hand fracture that left him unable to work, the employer submitted his wages to the insurance carrier at the $18 per hour rate, with a 40 hour workweek. The welder objected, noting that he had taken the job with the understanding that he would work mostly on prevailing wage jobs and would also earn 8 to 10 hours of overtime per week.

Noting that the history of the welder’s actual assignments was largely at prevailing wage jobs and that he regularly worked 48 to 50 hours most weeks, the workers’ compensation judge calculated the welder’s benefits based on the prevailing wage, with appropriate overtime.

Expense Reimbursement Payments

In the second case, the court addressed what weight is to be given to expense reimbursement payments regularly received by employees prior to their injury. The worker was a commercial pilot who died when the plane he was flying crashed. His surviving wife claimed that all of the pilot’s compensation, including his food and lodging expense reimbursements, should be included in the calculation of the death benefit owed to her by the insurance company.

The Workers’ Compensation Act defines the “average weekly wage” as including “board and lodging received from the employer.” The transport company and its insurance carrier argued that the transport company never gave the pilot lodgings in lieu of pay and never advanced any monies for his upkeep. They argued that the Act’s use of “board and lodging” differed from the circumstances where employees later are reimbursed for their expenses for meals and overnight hotel stays.

The court found that the Act does not place any limits on the timing of the payment by an employer of food and housing expenses. Whether the services are provided by the employer, advanced by the employer, or later reimbursed by the employer, the court found that regularly paid food and lodging expenses must be included in the calculation of workers’ compensation benefits.

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