Can a Workers' Compensation Judge Penalize An Employer That Did Not Pay Benefits on Time ?
In Snizaski v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Rox Coal Co.), Snizaski filed a penalty petition against Rox Coal Company (Rox) and alleged that Rox failed to pay her compensation benefits within thirty days after the award pursuant to Section 428 of the Act, 77 P.S. 921 (Snizaski is now pending before our Pennsylvania Supreme Court on the issue of "whether it is an error of law and/or an abuse of discretion for a Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) to award penalties against an employer who fails to pay benefits within 30 days pursuant to Section 428 of the Act, 77 P.S. 921, in reliance upon a timely filed supersedeas request pursuant to 34 Pa Code 111.22-111.24") Snizaski v, Workers' Compensation Appeal Board Rox Coal Company), 580 Pa. 549, 862 A.2d 582, 583 (2004).
The WCJ "granted the petition and awarded Claimant Snizaski a penalty of $ 14,771.92 and attorney's fees of $ 2,810.80, concluding that the penalty was appropriate . . . ." Id. at 141.
The board reversed and concluded that Rox "had no obligation to pay while a supersedeas request was still pending before the board." Id. at 141.
On appeal, Snizaski argued that "the filing of an appeal and a request for supersedeas is not sufficient to suspend Employer's Rox obligation under the Act . . . where an employer does not pay an award within 30 days of the date on which its obligation to pay arose . . . ." Id. at 141.
This Court rejected Snizaski's argument and affirmed the board:
In Candito v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (City of Philadelphia), 785 A.2d 1106 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2001), we addressed whether penalties should be imposed while an employer's request for supersedeas was pending, albeit before this Court.
At issue in that case was whether it was an abuse of discretion not to award penalties where payment was not made with the 30-day time period when the Board had denied the supersedeas request but then this Court had ultimately granted it.
In holding that it was not an abuse of discretion . . . we . . . stated that, to hold that an employer is liable for penalties for not paying compensation when its request for supersedeas is pending is, in effect, to make an employer's right to seek a supersedeas in most instances a nullity.' Candito, 785 A.2d at 1110 . . . .
In accord with Candito . . . because the Board's own regulations provided that Employer's obligation to pay was, in effect, stayed, it was an abuse of discretion for the WCJ to award penalties for the period during which the supersedeas was being processed. Snizaski, 847 A.2d at 142-43.