When a worker is injured on the job in Massachusetts, they may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. There are several different types of benefits offered from workers’ compensation. Injured workers are most often concerned with losing their pay because they are unable to work due to their injury. That’s where workers’ compensation comes in.
Under the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act (M.G.L. c. 152) there are three different types of benefits that replace a portion of an injured worker’s wages. These are commonly referred to as “disability benefits.” This article focuses on the temporary total disability benefits.
What Are Temporary Total Disability Benefits?
Disability benefits from workers’ compensation are specific benefits designed to replace a portion of an injured worker’s wages. Generally, when an employee is hurt in an accident at work in Massachusetts and his injuries preclude him from being able to earn wages, he is eligible for weekly disability benefits. Injured workers who are totally disabled from all work due to their work injury or injuries are eligible for weekly temporary total disability benefits.
Temporary total disability benefits are governed by Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 152 § 34. This statute uses the term “total incapacity compensation”. The terms incapacity and disability are synonymous. The term disability is commonly used by attorneys, judges, and staff at the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents. So, I will refer to these benefits as disability benefits despite the statute.
Section 34 provides that the workers’ compensation insurer shall pay an injured worker temporary total disability benefits while the injured employee’s incapacity for work from the work-related accident in total. Thus, the injured worker must be determined to be unable to engage in any work following their industrial accident.
Other important features of temporary total disability benefits are that an injured employee can only receive temporary total disability benefits for 156 weeks (or 3 years) and they are tax-free benefits.
How Much Are the Weekly Temporary Total Disability Benefits?
The amount of an injured worker’s temporary total disability benefits will vary for each employee. This is because the rate of weekly disability compensation is based upon that worker’s average weekly wage. Some workers earn more or less than others. Generally, the more the injured worker earned, the more their weekly temporary total disability benefits. Likewise, the lower the wages an employee earned, the lower the weekly total disability compensation. There’s one catch, however. The laws in Massachusetts set a maximum and minimum weekly rate any injured worker may receive.
Section 34 provides that the temporary total disability compensation shall be equal to sixty percent (60%) of the injured worker’s average weekly wage.
Let’s assume, for example, a woman is hurt on the job after falling at work and injured her shoulder. She is in immediate pain and later finds out from an MRI that she suffered a torn rotator cuff. She now needs shoulder surgery to repair the torn tendons. Her treating physician concludes that she is totally disabled and orders her to remain out of work. Her employer promptly reports the work accident to its workers’ compensation insurer. The insurer then voluntarily pays the injured worker temporary total disability benefits. To calculate the rate of total disability, the insurer obtains the injured worker’s weekly wages earned during the 52 weeks preceding the work accident. They take the average and determine the average weekly wage to be $1,250.00. Thus, the injured employee’s weekly temporary total disability benefit rate is $750.00 ($1,250.00 X 60%).
Keep in mind, however, that an injured worker’s disability rate is subject to the maximum and minimum weekly compensation rate set by law. The maximum and minimum compensation rates change each year beginning on October 1st.
For industrial accidents occurring after October 1, 2023, the maximum weekly compensation rate an injured worker may receive is $1,769.72. Therefore, if an injured worker’s calculated total disability rate is more than $1,769.72, he or she can only receive the $1,796.72 per week. For example, let’s assume the woman who injured her shoulder at work had an average weekly wage of $3,000.00. Her temporary total disability rate would be calculated to be $1,800.00 per week ($3,000.00 X 60%). Nevertheless, she would only be entitled to receive the maximum compensation rate of $1,796.72 per week even though her actual total disability rate is more.
Similarly, there is a minimum weekly compensation rate. For industrial accidents occurring after October 1, 2023, the minimum weekly compensation is set at $359.34. So, if the injured woman’s average weekly wage in the examples above was $450.00, her weekly temporary total disability benefits would be calculated to be $270.00 ($450.00 X 60%). Since her average weekly wage is above the state’s minimum weekly compensation rate ($359.34), but her calculated temporary total disability rate of $270.00 is below the state’s minimum weekly compensation, she is entitled to the minimum weekly compensation rate of $359.34. However, in a situation where the injured worker’s average weekly wage (not disability rate) is below the state’s minimum weekly compensation rate, the injured employee would receive his or her average weekly wage rather than the minimum weekly compensation rate.
The Standard to Qualify for Temporary Total Disability Benefits
The medical standard that must be met for an injured worker to receive temporary total disability benefits is that he or she must be totally disabled from all work as a result of the work-related accident and injury. The keyword being “all”. The injured employee must not have an earning capacity.
An issue sometimes arises where an injured worker cannot return to or perform his or her normal job but may perform some other work. In that case, the injured worker may be found to have an earning capacity and would no longer be considered totally disabled. That employee may be considered partially disabled and eligible for temporary total partial disability benefits. This is an often-litigated issue. In making the determination between total disability and partial disability, medical opinions and various occupational factors must be considered with practicality.