By Chris Emrich
Often, a workplace injury will leave an employee incapable of immediately returning to work. If a treating doctor takes you out of work, you might be without income for a few weeks or months while you undergo treatment. Employers will rarely continue to pay salaried employees during this recovery period and hourly employees of course rely on a regular work schedule to pay their bills.
The New Jersey workers’ compensation system provides an answer for this dilemma in the form of temporary disability benefits. They are also referred to as “lost time benefits” or “indemnity.” In short, the statute provides that injured workers are entitled to 70% of their average weekly wage during the time that a doctor places them out of work because of the injury. The benefits are subject to a minimum and maximum. For example, in 2019, the minimum payment is $246.00 per week and the maximum is $921.00 per week.
How is an hourly employee’s average weekly wage calculated? Insurance carriers will often ask employers to provide a 26-week wage statement. There is nothing in the statute mandating this as the official time period for calculating average weekly wage, but over time it has been accepted as the unofficial standard. The statute also allows for an investigatory period of 7 days before lost time benefits are due. Once an employee has been out of work for 7 days, the benefits are due retroactively.
It is important to remember that if a doctor clears you to return to “modified duty” (with restrictions on bending, lifting, standing, etc.) and your employer cannot accommodate those restrictions, you should continue to receive temporary disability benefits. It is important to have an attorney on your side to make sure you are getting all the benefits you are owed while you are unable to work.