Recent Developments in Pennsylvania Regarding Workers Compensation

A Pennsylvania court ruled that workers who were members of a church that made provision for its dependent members were eligible for exemption from workers compensation coverage.

Church Law and Tax1998-03-01

Workers Compensation

Key point. In some states, employees of certain religious faiths may be exempted from workers compensation coverage if they satisfy certain requirements.

A Pennsylvania court ruled that workers who were members of a church that made provision for its dependent members were eligible for exemption from workers compensation coverage. Pennsylvania law permits an employer to file an application with the state to be exempted from workers compensation with respect to certain employees. The application must include a written waiver by the employee of all benefits under workers compensation along with an affidavit stating that by reason of membership in a recognized religious sect the employee is conscientiously opposed to acceptance of the benefits under workers compensation or any other any public or private insurance program. By law, such an application must be accepted if the state finds that the employee’s religious sect has for a “substantial number of years” made provision for its dependent members. An employer filed an application for exemption from workers compensation for some of its employees who are devout followers of the teachings of the First Century Gospel Church (Church). As such, they are opposed to any kind of public or private insurance benefits. Members of the church anonymously contribute money and food to their dependent members. However, the members do not guarantee or assure that they can provide support for their dependent members on a consistent basis. The employer’s application for exemption was intitially denied because there was no proof that the church had made provision for its members for a substantial number of years. A state appeals court ruled that the application was valid and that the employees were exempt from coverage under workers compensation law. It pointed out that the statute specifies that an application shall be granted if the employee is a member of a sect which teaches opposition to the receipt of public or private insurance benefits, and the sect has made reasonable provision for its dependent members for a substantial number of years. Further, the statute states that receipt of an application form is “prima facie proof” of compliance with the requirements for exemption. Therefore, the state had to accept the application in the absence of evidence to rebut or contradict it.

The state argued that there was sufficient evidence to contradict the employer’s application. It noted that since (1) the church does not require member contributions, it cannot guarantee financial assistance; (2) the church expends all of its monies each month, it has no monetary reserves; (3) church members do not make their needs known to others, the church cannot provide for them; and (4) the church and its members do not own property, the church has no property for the support of its dependent members. The court concluded that this evidence did not contradict the employer’s application for exemption for the church employees. It noted simply that the state failed to demonstrate that the church had failed to provide for its members for a substantial number of years. Carroll Contractors, Inc. v. Department of Labor, 690 A.2d 821 (Pa. Common. 1997). [Workers Compensation]

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