Workers’ Rights During COVID-19
April 24, 2020
Unemployment Compensation, Workers’ Compensation, and Social Security Disability Rights During the COVID-19 Pandemic
By Noah R. Jordan, Esq. and Richard P. Gaitens, Esq.
The COVID-19 global pandemic has created significant hardships for employees and the unions that represent them. Many employees have had their work hours reduced or eliminated entirely through layoffs and furloughs. In order to make sure that they are protecting all of their rights and taking the proper steps to receive all benefits to which they are entitled, now is an important time for all union members to assess their options with regard to Unemployment Compensation, Workers’ Compensation, and Disability benefits. We encourage you to share this information with your members, either directly or through their stewards/building representatives. If you would like us to send this information to them directly, we would be happy to do so.
Employees who are laid off or furloughed as a result of COVID-19 should be entitled to unemployment compensation benefits. In addition to normal weekly unemployment benefits, employees whose claims are approved also will receive an additional $600 per week of pandemic unemployment compensation. These additional benefits, which were provided through the CARES Act, will be available through the end of July 2020. For more information on these additional unemployment benefits, and who is eligible to receive them, please click here.
If one of your members is denied his/her application for unemployment benefits and needs representation in their appeal, please contact our office. Appeal hearings are continuing to be scheduled and are being conducted by phone conference. Rothman Gordon attorneys will offer reduced rates of attorneys’ fees to your members as an added benefit of their membership in your union. Please contact us at (412) 338-1100 in order to be connected with one of our employment attorneys.
Workers’ Compensation and Social Security Disability
Your members also should consider whether they may be eligible to collect workers’ compensation benefits. Notwithstanding the current crisis, Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation court system is one of the few court systems in the commonwealth that continues to function fully during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hearings primarily are being held by Zoom/Skype video conferences and telephone conferences. Rothman Gordon attorneys are continuing to actively litigate and settle Workers’ Compensation claims on behalf of our clients, even while our physical office is closed.
Employees who contract COVID-19 from their workplace may be entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits. Employees who are working remotely and suffer a work-related injury also may be entitled to benefits. Changes to the Heart and Lung Act (SB 1106 and HB 1189) are being considered in the state legislature in order to provide a presumption of eligibility to first responders impacted by COVID-19. This measure will make it easier for many to pursue Workers’ Compensation claims.
Employees laid off while working modified/light duty from a prior work injury may be entitled to reinstate their claims to total disability. Similarly, employees receiving partial disability benefits which were stopped by layoff or reduction in hours/overtime also may be able to reinstate full benefits. Any of your members who were affected in this way should call us about filing to reinstate their benefits. They also may be entitled to the additional pandemic unemployment compensation mentioned above, without those benefits counting against their wage loss benefits under their Workers’ Compensation claim. It is important for each employee to determine the best option available, since unemployment benefits are limited and subject to tax, while filing for total disability is both unlimited under state law and tax free.
Employees struggling with a work injury who are considering taking Social Security early retirement (age 62) or taking their pension may unknowingly eliminate their rights to Workers Compensation wage loss benefits. Rights to such benefits are lost upon retirement. A better option may be Social Security Disability (there is no need to wait 12 months to apply) and pursuing reinstatement of wage loss benefits, since injured workers are allowed to receive both Social Security Disability and Workers’ Compensation benefits at the same time, and become eligible for Medicare sooner. When speaking with our office, make sure to ask about the “80% rule.”
As an added benefit of membership in your union, your members are entitled to a free consultation with our office to see if they are entitled to Workers’ Compensation or disability benefits, or if their previous benefits can be reinstated. This way, they will be provided with sound, free legal advice, in order to avoid having to rely on the supposed “good faith” of the insurance industry.
The issues involved with these types of claims are complicated and require individual analyses of your members’ options. Through our consultation, we will be able to determine whether your members have options under Workers’ Compensation, short or long term disability, or Social Security Disability, depending on their circumstances. Additionally, if your members choose to retain us to represent them in their Workers’ Compensation or Social Security Disability matter, they will be charged a special, reduced rate for their attorneys’ fees only offered to members of our union clients.
If you or one of your members wants to discuss your options, please reach out to our workers’ compensation and Social Security Disability intake specialist Charlene Canty at (412) 338-1153 or one of our attorneys:
Richard Gaitens, (412) 338-1107, firstname.lastname@example.org
Shelley Elovitz, (412) 338-1114, email@example.com