We are frequently contacted with questions about the use of sick, personal or vacation days and workers compensation benefits. Most employees, and also many employers, simply do not understand the workers compensation laws that apply to these situations. Often employees are told they must use their sick, personal or vacation time before being eligible for Pennsylvania workers compensation benefits. Other times, employees use these benefits while waiting for a decision on their workers compensation claim, and later do not know what to do when workers compensation benefits are awarded. These are the three most commonly asked questions on this issue:
1. Am I required to use my sick, personal or vacation days before I can collect Pennsylvania workers compensation benefits?
Answer: No. An employer cannot require an employee to use their sick, personal or vacation days prior to the receipt of workers compensation benefits. However, for injuries resulting in less than 14 days of disability, no workers compensation benefits are paid for the first week so an employee may elect to use such days for that week.
2. If my workers compensation claim was initially denied but later awarded, and I used sick, personal or vacation days while it was pending, do I have to pay that money back?
Answer: Under workers compensation laws, no. If you use sick, personal or vacation days and later are found eligible for workers compensation benefits for the same time period, you can keep the payments you received and receive the full workers compensation benefits for that time period also. This is because the law considers your sick, personal or vacation days “exhaustible benefits”, meaning that once you use them for the time off for the injury they are not available for later use. Contractual language, however, may provide that the sick, personal or vacation days must be “bought back”.
3. Is my employer required to let me buy back my sick, personal or vacation days if I am later awarded worker’s compensation benefits?
Answer: Under the worker’s compensation laws, no. However, a collective bargaining agreement (union contract) may allow, require or prohibit such “buy-backs”. This is a “barginable issue”, or one that may be controlled by past practice in the absence of any contract language addressing the issue.