Disability Benefits Eligibility for Injured Workers in Light of COVID-19

There are many questions concerning an injured worker’s eligibility for benefits after a COVID-19 induced lay off or plant shut-down. Taft Worker’s Compensation attorneys have developed the following guidelines.

Q: Would an injured worker who is working light duty be eligible to collect temporary total disability benefits if they are laid off?

Q: Would an injured worker who is working light duty be eligible to collect temporary total disability benefits if the plant is shut down due to a state-issued stay-at-home order?

A: Injured workers are entitled to payments, temporary total disability (TTD) for lost wages when their work injuries cause them to miss work. Questions of TTD eligibility arise when the injured worker cannot return to their former position of employment due to the work injury, but are working light duty when the light duty job is eliminated for reasons unrelated to the work injury. The impact of COVID-19 has led to lay offs due to the downturn in the economy, and closure of businesses by state order. This scenario puts at issue whether it is the work injury that is the cause for missing work. 

Generally, TTD is payable to an employee who is working light duty and laid off from the light duty position. That is true even when the lay off affects the vast majority of the plant, and the injured worker is included in the lay off based on seniority. In these cases, courts focus on the fact that a lay off is an action taken by the employer, and not a voluntary act taken by the injured worker. The cases also express concern that if lay offs precluded TTD, then employers would lay off injured workers to avoid having to pay TTD.

However, whether light duty employees are entitled to TTD when work is stopped because of a state-issued stay-at-home order is questionable. Unlike lay offs, this is not an action taken by the employer. Rather, the reason the injured worker would be off work is due to the action of the state. The allowed conditions in the claim are not the cause of the lost wages. Courts also may be more willing to consider such an argument because of the availability of extended unemployment and the benefits available under the newly enacted Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This fact pattern has not been tested in hearings or in court yet, however, this scenario may provide employers a defense to TTD claims after a state-induced shut down.

Please visit our COVID-19 Toolkit for all of Taft’s updates on the coronavirus.

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