Does Employee Entitled to Disability Benefits If He Voluntarily Removes Himself from the Workforce ?
In Smith v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Dunhill Temporary Systems), 725 A.2d 1285 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1999), the claimant suffered a work-related injury for which he was awarded total disability benefits. While still receiving these benefits, the claimant accepted a position with the Peace Corps and moved to Ghana, West Africa.
The employer filed a suspension petition based on the fact that the claimant had voluntarily removed himself from the workforce, and the petition was granted.
The claimant petitioned the Court for review, contending that because he never unequivocally stated that he was removing himself from the workforce, the employer was still required to show either a change in condition or job availability under Kachinski v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Vepco Construction Co.), 516 Pa. 240, 532 A.2d 374 (1987).
The Court disagreed with the claimant, reasoning as follows:
Claimant has voluntarily removed himself from the workforce by joining the Peace Corps and moving to West Africa.
Claimant obviously cannot perform activities with the Peace Corps in West Africa and at the same time be available for job referrals in the Wilkes-Barre area.
Much like a person who is incarcerated or a retiree, Claimant's present loss of earning power is not a result of his disability but is because of his voluntary decision to join the Peace Corps and move to another continent.
To require Employer to establish a change in condition or job availability is a result that would be "irrelevant and fruitless" when Claimant has removed himself from the workforce by joining the Peace Corps and has moved to West Africa.
Consequently, the Board did not err in suspending Claimant's disability benefits. Smith, 725 A.2d at 1287.
In Smith, this Court found that claimant had voluntarily removed himself from the workforce, reasoning, in part, that "Claimant obviously cannot perform activities with the Peace Corps in West Africa and at the same time be available for job referrals in the Wilkes-Barre area." Smith, 725 A.2d at 1287.