Tim Kennedy is certified as a specialist in the practice of Workers' Compensation law by the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Section on Workers' Compensation Law as authorized by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court
Employees who are union members have special issues when hurt at work. Unions benefit employees. Many union members enjoy high-end pay rates. If your Average Weekly Wage exceeds the statewide average, your workers' compensation rate will be set at the maximum compensation rate for the year in which your injury happens. This means a high workers' compensation rate relative to other workers, but a more painful loss of income if your rights are not quickly recognized and a greater percentage of uncompensated wage loss for the span of time you are disabled by a work injury, pending either a full return to work or a lump sum settlement.
On the plus side, having a workers' compensation rate that is based on a high pre-injury wage rate means there is greater potential for a large lump sum settlement. After all, the first feature in the value of a workers compensation settlement is the amount of weekly wage loss you receive. Further, employers and insurers may have far fewer tricks or devices for limiting the value of your claim if your pre-injury work was through a union. Many union workers move from employer to employer upon assignment by their local. Yet the actual responsible party when you have a work injury is the individual employer and their workers' compensation carrier. That employer may not have the same flexibility to push you into a sham "light duty" job within union parameters, just to block you from asserting your workers compensation rights. Employers and insurers in that position may not work as hard to pressure doctors to release you early to such light duty.
This can possibly mean that you will have a greater ability to pressure the involved employer's workers' compensation insurance company toward offering a lump sum settlement, once your workers' compensation rights are properly established. It therefore becomes critical that you have a highly competent and aggressive attorney helping you to secure those rights as early as possible after a work injury. Intelligent advice from an experienced attorney is crucial during the first ninety days, when the employer has the most "wiggle room" to attempt to manipulate your claim and possibly your medical treatment to avoid any binding acknowledgement of your workers compensation rights.
Understand that the employer and insurance company can operate under only a "Notice of Temporary Compensation Payable" (NTCP) for up to the first ninety days from the onset of your work-related disability (that is, from the first full day of acknowledged lost time and lost wages). While operating under an NTCP, the employer and insurer are NOT legally liable for your work injury, even though they may be paying wage loss benefits as well as medical benefits. Only if the NTCP is "converted" to a FULL Notice of Compensation Payable (NCP) will the employer and insurer be subject to any enforceable liability under the Workers Compensation Act. This means the employer and insurer will often use all of the resources they can, often very unfairly, to cut off your benefits and/or to distort the evidence and medical documentation in their favor, during the first ninety days of disability. They may direct you to company doctors ("occupational health" physicians) who are responsive only to them and who will understate what your injury is, and who may try to rush you back to work in some capacity or another. If treating doctors are supporting you, the employer or insurer may try to arrange "second opinions" or even "independent medical examinations" with doctors very tightly under their influence, on a tightly managed time-line designed to beat the ninety day cut off -- in the hope of getting evidence to justify stopping benefits before the NTCP converts to an NCP.
An aggressive and experienced workers' compensation attorney, and particularly a skilled lawyer designated as a Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Specialist, will be able to turn your union status to your advantage, to secure your rights in the short term and to advance your interest in a full value lump sum settlement in the long term.