Monday, November 10, 2014

employment - wrongful discharge - worker's comp.

Owens v. Lehigh Valley Hospital – Cmwlth. Court – November 7, 2014

A former at-will employee who alleged wrongful termination for having reported a work-related injury and having received benefits states a claim for relief for wrongful discharge, even if she has not filed a claim petition.

Section 315 of the Workers’ Compensation Act, 77 P.S. § 602. This provision recognizes that payment to an employee for a work-related injury by an employer may be made without a claim petition being filed, and that such agreements do not deprive an employee of the statutory right to file a claim petition should the agreement fail to sufficiently compensate the employee.

The Workers’ Compensation Act reflects both the historical quid pro quo between employers and employees, and the public policy of the Commonwealth. If an employer could discharge an employee for a work-related injury because the employee received payment in lieu of compensation, rather than compensation administered by the Bureau, the public policy embodied by the Workers’ Compensation Act would be undermined. . . .

Such a holding would create an incentive for employers to steer employees away from filing workers’ compensation petitions in order to retain the right to discharge the employee due to the injury, the exact harm the General Assembly intended to prohibit by enacting the Workers’ Compensation Act.

Appellant may ultimately be unable to carry her burden to establish that her injury was work-related and that the payments she received were for this injury. Employer may be able to demonstrate that there was a separate, plausible, and legitimate reason for Appellant’s discharge. However, these are considerations beyond the reach of preliminary objections; on demurrer, Appellant’s claim is sufficient.