A common issue that arises for an injured worker who is determined to be partially disabled after an accident on the job is calculating their weekly workers’ compensation disability benefits. As with most legal matters, the answer depends on several different factors.
This article will review Temporary Partial Disability Benefits under the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act (Chapter 152 of the Massachusetts General Laws) and how much and when these benefits are paid.
Brief Overview of Workers’ Compensation in Massachusetts
Before we get into our discussion about temporary partial disability benefits, we must first understand the basics of workers’ compensation in Massachusetts. Workers’ compensation is an insurance policy that is purchased and carried by employers for the benefit of their employees (with a few exceptions, which is beyond the scope of this article). This insurance policy provides certain benefits to workers who are injured while in the course of their employment.
Two common benefits available to an employee involved and injured in an industrial accident are Disability Benefits and Medical Benefits. The disability benefits are based on the nature and duration of the disability and will replace a portion of the injured workers’ wages when their injury prevents them from working. The medical benefits will cover the full costs and expenses of the reasonable and necessary medical treatment related to the work injury.
Temporary Partial Disability Under M.G.L. c 152 § 35
An injured worker, who can perform some work, but cannot earn the average weekly wage (AWW) they earned prior to their injury, is entitled to temporary partial disability benefits. The partial disability benefits are governed under Section 35 of Chapter 152 of the Massachusetts General Laws.
Currently, partial disability benefits can be collected for a maximum of four or five years, depending on other factors. The law provides that injured workers cannot receive more than seven years of temporary total disability benefits and temporary partial disability benefits combined. Total disability benefits can be collected for a maximum of three years. So, if an injured worker collects all three years of total disability, then they can only collect four years of partial disability (three years + four years = seven total years). But, if an injured worker only collects two years of total disability, then he or she can collect up to five years of partial disability (two years + five years = seven years).
When is an Injured Worker Entitled to Partial Disability Benefits?
Partial disability benefits are often paid to an injured worker who is placed on light duty or released back to work with restrictions following their work-related injury. The key factor, however, is that the injured worker must not be able to earn their pre-injury average weekly wage. So, just because an injured worker is released to light duty or with restrictions doesn’t automatically mean they are entitled to partial disability benefits. Let’s look at an example to better explain this:
We represented an employee who hurt his shoulder on the job in Framingham, Massachusetts. This worker was out of work due to his injuries for the first six months following his work accident. His doctor then released him back to work, but with restrictions of no overhead lifting and no lifting more than 20 pounds. His employer offered him a light duty position but could not give him the same number of hours he worked prior to his injury. Therefore, he was entitled to partial disability benefits because he was not able to earn his pre-injury average weekly wage.
Using the same example above, if that worker was released to light duty or with restrictions but could work the same number of hours that he did prior to his injury, then he would not be entitled to partial disability benefits. As you can see, just because an injured worker is on light duty doesn’t mean he or she is automatically entitled to partial disability benefits.
How Much are the Partial Disability Benefits?
There are two different ways to calculate partial disability benefits. One is a calculation based upon the pre-injury average weekly wage and what the injured worker is capable of earning following their return to work. The other is what is commonly referred to as max-partial or the maximum amount of partial disability benefits allowable under the law.
When an injured worker is released back to work and is capable of earning a portion of their pre-injury average weekly wage, but not all, the partial disability benefits are calculated as 60% of the difference between the average weekly wage before the injury and the weekly wage the person is earning or is capable of earning after their injury. Let’s use the Framingham worker in the example above for an illustration. If his average weekly wage was $1,200 per week and was capable of earning $650 per week when he returned to work on light duty, then his partial disability benefits would be $330, which is calculated as follows: $1,200 (AWW) - $650 (wages earned) = $550 / $550 x 60% (partial disability percentage) = $330 (temporary partial disability rate).
In some situations, the injured worker is released to light duty or with restrictions, but his or her employer does not have a light duty position available or cannot accommodate the restrictions. In this case, the injured worker would be entitled to max-partial. The maximum partial disability benefits an injured worker can receive is 75% of their total disability rate. Therefore, under these circumstances using the same example above, the max-partial rate would be $540, which is calculated as follows: $1,200 (AWW) x 60% (total disability percentage) = $720 (total disability rate) / $720 x 75% (max-partial percentage) = $720 (max-partial rate).
As you can see, determining how much the weekly partial disability benefits an injured worker can receive depends on a number of different factors. It is always best for an injured employee to consult with an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney. A workers’ compensation lawyer will be able to determine what benefits and how much an injured worker is entitled to. You should not rely on the workers’ compensation insurance company to tell you what you should be receiving.
Speak With An Experienced Workers’ Compensation Attorney in Massachusetts Today
If you have been injured on the job, feel free to contact Attorney Pappas today either on-line or call (508) 879-3500. He will explain the process of a workers’ compensation case to you, answer all your questions and explain how he can help you.