Workers’ compensation is an employer-provided benefit that exists to aid an employee or his dependents in the event that the employee is injured or killed on the job. Workers’ compensation is governed by each state’s laws, but the general consensus is that eligibility for such benefits turns on whether the employee suffered an accidental injury that arose out of and in the course of his employment or an occupational disease.
Workers’ compensation benefits fall into three main categories: disability benefits, medical benefits, and death benefits.
- Disability Benefits: Compensation to the injured employee is based on his “disability” and the concomitant effect on his earning power; it does not emanate from actual need. Rather, the employee is entitled to benefits based on his lack of earning capacity and the amount needed for his support as designated in the particular state’s Workers’ Compensation Act. Generally, cash benefits represent a percentage of the employee’s wages at the time of the injury — oftentimes, between a half and two-thirds — with a weekly maximum benefit mandated. The amount of benefits recoverable correlates to whether the employee is temporarily or permanently disabled.
- Medical Benefits: Workers’ compensation extends to benefits for the employee’s medical care. An employee’s medical expenses related to his injury are covered and such benefit is usually unlimited given that it aids the employee’s recovery.
- Death Benefits: The dependents of an employee, who is fatally injured on the job, are entitled to death benefits. Such benefits generally compensate for the costs associated with the employee’s burial. Additionally, benefits are paid to the employee’s surviving spouse and children based on their status. A surviving spouse is entitled to benefits until re-marriage in many jurisdictions; other jurisdictions pay a fixed amount upon the spouse’s re-marriage. As for children, benefits are paid until age 18. This time-frame is extended indefinitely if the child is disabled.
Right to Sue
To obtain workers’ compensation, an employee does not have to prove the fault of his employer in causing or contributing to his injury. In exchange, an employee and his dependents are generally precluded from bringing a common law action for damages against the employer for an injury that is covered by the applicable Workers’ Compensation Act. However, the right to sue others whose negligence caused or contributed to the employee’s injury still stands.