LVB: What should an employer’s biggest concern be with regard to workers comp?
Harlow: While it may seem very simple, the first thing any employer should know is whether they are required to have Workers’ Compensation insurance coverage and make sure they have the coverage required under Pennsylvania law.
Failure to have required Workers’ Compensation insurance is a misdemeanor and can result in significant financial penalties.
Whether someone is an “independent contractor” is also a specific inquiry and depends on certain factors. Simply calling someone an independent contractor will not define whether the employer might have obligations to that person in the event of a work-related injury.
Employers should make sure they have a clear reporting process for work-related injuries, in addition to the reporting requirements imposed by the Workers’ Compensation Act. As soon as possible after a work-related injury, an employer should have a procedure in place where a detailed written report will be generated, documenting facts, interviewing witnesses and determining the cause of the incident, if possible.
Photographs of the conditions might also be appropriate. By the time the case reaches an attorney, many months will have passed and memories fade. Capturing that information as close as possible in time to the incident can be invaluable down the road.
LVB: Have there been any recent changes in worker’s comp law?
Harlow: The recent case law in the area of Workers’ Compensation has been mostly in the areas of administration of claims for injured workers and what are known as Impairment Rating Evaluations. [note here—there have been no real “exciting” Workers’ Compensation cases recently—there was a big Supreme Court case which dealt with the constitutionality of a certain provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act and whether it was an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power. It was a big change in Workers’ Comp law but it’s somewhat boring, even to WC attorneys.
LVB: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected worker’s comp?
Harlow: While the statistics are still being analyzed, the impact of remote work during COVID-19 is believed to have resulted in fewer Workers’ Compensation cases generally. The one recent COVID-19 related change is that all Workers’ Compensation hearings went virtual, via the Teams platform.
To date, most hearings remain virtual, which can be easier for employers who no longer need to have management and other employees miss time to travel to and from Workers’ Compensation.
LVB: Do you see any changes to worker’s compensation laws in the future?
Harlow: The law as to how COVID-19 will be treated under the Workers’ Compensation law is still in flux. Based on the time it takes for Workers’ Compensation claims to proceed, there are a number of cases that are working their way through the appeals process before they get to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.
Another related issue that is likely to be at the forefront of further decisions is the impact of remote work, and whether or not remote work might need to be offered as a form of light duty work for injured workers.
So, there are likely to be a number of decisions in the next year or two that are a direct result of COVID-19 and its impact on Workers’ Compensation.s