Most workers know that workers’ compensation is meant to act as a sort of financial safety net after suffering an injury at work. What most people do not know is what benefits workers’ compensation can provide, though. Not many employers take the time to explain workers’ comp benefits to their employees, so don’t be surprised if your employer skimmed over the subject, too.
What you should know upfront is that workers’ compensation programs can vary from state to state. Although, all programs are created to provide four distinct types of workers’ comp benefits to eligible workers: medical care, disability, rehabilitative or vocational retraining, and death. Let’s take a closer look at these four cornerstone benefits, one by one, to give you a better understanding of what might be owed to you after a work-related accident or injury.
1. Medical Benefits
Arguably the most important workers’ compensation benefit is provided through medical coverage. Any fee or cost related to the necessary care for an injured worker will be covered by this benefit type, including emergency care, hospitalization, prescription medicines, diagnostic tests, aftercare therapy, medical equipment like crutches, and so forth. Medical coverage benefits are so important because they are rarely limited by any cap and copays and deductibles don’t apply. For example, you could have $100,000 in medical bills to treat your work-related injury, but you wouldn’t be accountable for a cent of it.
Although, it is important to note that medical benefits only cover “necessary” medical care. Insurance companies can sometimes convolute matters by arguing that medical treatments provided to an injured worker were “elective” and, therefore, not covered by the workers’ compensation policy. If this happens, costs could be shifted back onto the injured worker, so it is highly advised to work with a workers’ compensation attorney who knows how to counter such insurance company arguments.
2. Disability Benefits
In the event that a worker misses an extended amount of shifts due to their work-related injuries, they can qualify for disability benefits that usually provide a portion of their missed wages while they recover.
A worker’s disability will be defined as one of four disability types:
- Temporary total: A worker who cannot complete any job-related duties until they are fully recovered is considered to have a temporary total disability. In most cases, they can be paid two-thirds of their average weekly wages each week until they can return to the same work or an equivalent. Wage benefits are capped by an amount that updates with cost-of-living adjustments and inflation.
- Temporary partial: A worker who can perform some job duties while recovering can qualify for temporary partial disability benefits. This type of disability allows the worker to continue earning wages by performing work that will not exacerbate their injury and with added restrictions, such as a greater number of mandatory breaks each shift. If there is a difference between their new pay rate and what they earned before their accident, then they can be provided a portion of the difference.
- Permanent total: In severe cases, a worker can be considered permanently and totally disabled due to a workplace injury, and they are expected to never be able to work in any gainful capacity ever again. Permanent total disability cases often involve catastrophic injuries like head trauma, paralysis, and limb amputation.
- Permanent partial: A permanent partial disability is any injury or illness that will never fully heal and interferes with some of the worker’s abilities to keep gainful employment. For example, someone who suffers hearing or eyesight damage at work could receive permanent partial disability benefits. The amount of wage benefits available depends on the type of disability, which is quantified on a disability schedule.
Nearly all disability benefits have a duration cap and will eventually end, whether or not the worker has recovered completely from their injuries. Even permanent partial disability benefits tend to end after a few years, if not sooner. Only permanent total disability benefits will last for years or decades, but, even then, some states will end the benefits once the worker reaches retirement age.
3. Rehabilitation Benefits
Returning to work in a normal capacity can be impossible for some injured workers. In such a situation, workers’ compensation benefits should provide vocational retraining benefits that allow the injured worker to learn new or improved trade skills to seek gainful employment at the same or better pay rate they earned before their accident. Vocational retraining does not need to be in the same industry, either. For example, an injured construction worker could receive financial aid to complete a computer science degree that would allow them to work in a sedentary office setting.
Rehabilitation benefits can also include extensive therapies, especially for workers who suffered a mental health difficulty due to work. Many first responders who are traumatized by what they see while working can qualify for psychological therapy sessions through workers’ comp, for example.
4. Death Benefits
A fatal workplace injury or illness will allow surviving family members to access certain death benefits. The employee’s spouse and minor children — including those who are under the age of 18, or those who are between 18 and 22 years old and in college — will be able to receive two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay each week, up to a maximum cap. “Reasonable” burial costs are also covered by this benefit. Each state has different definitions of death benefits, though, so details like the amount provided and who can benefit can change from one case to the next.
Our Atlanta Workers’ Comp Attorneys Are Here to Help
Not sure what workers’ compensation benefits are available to you if any? The Law Offices of Nathaniel F. Hansford, LLC in Atlanta provides thorough representation for clients who have suffered on-the-job injuries around the city. If you have been injured at work, we can discuss your options for various workers’ comp benefits, help you create a claim or file, and much more.
Contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation with a team that really cares about your future.