Pennsylvania Court Rules on Worker’s Compensation Notice Requirement

In July 2011, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania addressed the issue of sufficient notice to an employer of an employee's workplace injury for the purposes of the state's Workers' Compensation Act. The question before the court was whether a woman who did not know her injury was work-related within the time frame provided for an injured employee to report an injury to an employer is still eligible for workers' compensation benefits if she reported the injury to her employer once she knew it was work-related. The court found that the employee in this case met her responsibility to notify her employer of the injury.

Twenty-One Day Notice Requirement

The Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act requires employees injured on the job to tell their employers that they "received an injury, described in ordinary language, in the course of his employment on or about a specified time, at or near a place specified" within 21 days of the injury. If an employer is not properly notified of an employee's work-related injury within 21 days, his or her claim for workers' compensation benefits may be denied.

In the Pennsylvania Supreme Court case, the employee began to have pain, stiffness and swelling in her hands one day at work so she left to see a doctor. She told the doctor she did not believe that the pain was from her job duties, but her doctor kept her off of work for five days. The employee reported on her condition by telephone to her employer every day she was absent (according to company policy) and also told her employer she did not believe the pain was caused by her work.

The employee returned to work, but the pain did not abate. Over a year later, the employee sought treatment with a specialist and learned that her condition was due to her job activities. She filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits, but her employer objected on the basis that she did not meet her obligation to notify the employer that the injury was work-related within 21 days of the injury.

Sufficient Notice

The court found in favor of the employee, reasoning that, even though her notice was not "letter perfect," the employee made sufficient effort to inform her employer about her condition. Additionally, the employee did tell her employer that her condition was work-related as soon as she found out it was, and the employee herself did not find out until long after the 21-day period specified in the statute. The court cited the "humanitarian purpose" of the Workers' Compensation Act as further justification for its decision and stated that "a meritorious claim ought not, if possible, be defeated for technical reasons."

The Worker's Compensation Act is intended to protect and provide for workers injured on the job, but many employers resist paying the benefits employees need when they acquire work-related injuries or illnesses. If you have been hurt on the job, promptly contact an experienced workers' compensation attorney to discuss any benefits to which you may be entitled.