Last year, In Bereznicki v Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Eat ‘N Park Hospitality Group), the court answered the question whether an employer can suspend an employee’s worker’s compensation rights when the employee refuses a medical program even if the program will not help the employee return to work.
Stephanie Bereznicki had been receiving medical benefits for 10 years following a spine injury that occurred on the job. Her employer sought to terminate her benefits after she refused medical treatment. The judge denied the termination request but told Ms. Bereznicki she should enter a detoxification program to help wean her off of the prescription pain medication.
Ms. Bereznicki declined to enter the detox program and as a result her employer again filed to terminate the benefits. Section 306(f.1)(8) of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act says that employees who refuse reasonable medical treatment forfeit the right to compensation.
In Pennsylvania, courts have defined “reasonable medical treatment” as treatment that is “highly probable to cure the health problem and enhance the injured worker’s prospects for gainful and fulfilling employment.”
Bereznicki argued that her benefits should not be suspended because the doctor never testified that the detox program would increase her capacity to work. The judge granted the employer’s petition to terminate the workers compensation benefits reasoning that the detox program was reasonable medical treatment because it would improve her functioning and increase her ability to work.
The court explained that the medical treatment does not have to be designed to attempt to return the employee to gainful employment. The fact that the program would wean Bereznicki off of prescription medication and allow her to function normally and thus increase the chance that she will obtain employment in the future was enough.
This ruling makes it clear that an employee who refuses medical treatment that can increase their capacity to work can have their benefits terminated. The refused treatment does not have to give the employee the ability to return to the exact work she performed prior to the injury. It is enough that the medical treatment would have increased the worker’s ability work somewhere.