Understand when you may be entitled to wage loss benefits and how they’re calculated
In the wake of a work-related injury, the immediate focus is often on medical treatment and recovery. However, the financial implications of being unable to work can be just as critical. Fortunately, North Carolina workers’ compensation provides a safety net for those who find themselves unable to earn their regular wages due to a workplace injury or occupational disease.
In addition to medical benefits for immediate and long-term medical care, North Carolina workers’ compensation offers wage loss benefits to support injured employees during their time of need. Understanding these benefits, how they vary based on the severity of your injury, and the amount of compensation you can expect is crucial to managing your financial well-being while you heal.
If you need help filing a workers’ comp claim or want to ensure you’re getting the compensation you actually deserve, reach out to the experienced North Carolina work injury attorneys at Wilder Pantazis Law Group for a free consultation to learn more about your rights.
What are workers’ comp wage loss benefits?
Workers’ compensation wage loss benefits, often referred to as indemnity benefits, are payments made to an employee who has suffered a work-related injury or illness and is unable to perform their usual work duties. These benefits are designed to partially replace the income the injured worker loses while they’re recovering.
Who’s entitled to wage loss benefits after a work-related injury in North Carolina?
The first thing to understand in regards to workers’ comp eligibility in North Carolina is that you must be classified as an employee rather than an independent contractor, as independent contractors don’t qualify for benefits.
Next, you need to be sure that your employer carries workers’ comp insurance. In North Carolina, most employers who have 3 or more employees are obligated to carry workers’ compensation insurance, which serves as the source for these benefits.
However, certain employees, like agriculture workers, sawmill and logging operation workers, and domestic workers, may not qualify, so it’s always a good idea to confirm the specifics of your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. You can do this by asking your employer directly, or you can check the coverage through the North Carolina Industrial Commission’s online search tool or by contacting their office.
Another key point: Eligibility for compensation doesn’t hinge on establishing fault for your injury, illness or disease.
Whether you were injured as a direct result of an accident or a condition that developed over time due to your work activities or environment, if it’s related to your employment, you’re likely covered. This no-fault system ensures that employees who are injured or fall ill due to their job receive the necessary financial support without the need to assign blame for their condition.
How long after an injury do I start receiving wage loss benefits?
In North Carolina, wage loss benefits after a workplace injury or illness typically don’t kick in right away. You won’t receive any compensation for the initial 7 days of missed work unless your disability extends beyond 21 days.
So, if you’re able to return to work in less than 21 days, your wage loss benefits start on the 8th day of your absence. However, if your injury or illness prevents you from working for more than 21 days, then you’ll be retroactively paid for the first 7 days as well.
How often will I get a workers’ comp check for wage loss?
Workers’ compensation payments for wage loss are typically paid every week but can be paid monthly in some cases.
How much compensation can I get for wage loss after a work injury in NC?
In North Carolina, the amount you receive for wage loss compensation after a work injury or disease generally equals two-thirds of your average weekly wage, not less than a set minimum ($30 per week in 2022) and up to a set maximum ($1,184 per week in 2022). These amounts are based on the state’s average weekly wage and can change each year.
The actual sum you take home will vary depending on the nature and extent of your injury, as workers’ compensation classifies disabilities into 4 main categories.
Temporary total disability (TTD)
If your injury leaves you completely unable to work for a temporary period, your injury falls under temporary total disability (TTD). During this time, you’re typically eligible to receive two-thirds of your average weekly wage until you can return to work. TTD payments can be paid for up to 500 weeks.
Temporary partial disability (TPD)
Should your injury temporarily prevent you from working at your full capacity, causing you to earn less than you did before, temporary partial disability (TPD) benefits will pay two-thirds of the difference between your post-injury and pre-injury wages.
For example, let’s say you were making $900 a week before you got hurt at work, and after your injury, you’re only able to take on lighter duties that pay $600 a week. Here’s how to calculate your wages with TPD:
- Calculate your pre-injury average weekly wage: $900
- Determine your post-injury average weekly wage: $600
- Find the difference between these two amounts: $900 – $600 = $300
- Calculate two-thirds of this difference: two-thirds of $300 = $200
So, under TPD, you’d receive $200 per week as compensation for your wage loss due to the injury. This amount is in addition to the $600 you earn from your lighter duties, effectively bringing your total weekly income to $800 while you are recovering. This helps to partially offset the wage loss you experience because of your work-related injury.
Permanent partial disability (PPD)
Permanent partial disability (PPD) applies when an injury results in a permanent disability that’s partial in nature—such as the loss of a limb or loss of function in a body part. These benefits kick in when an injured employee has reached what’s called maximum medical improvement (MMI). This stage is when the condition has stabilized and isn’t expected to improve significantly.
The level of benefit an employee can receive under PPD is governed by whether the injury is classified as a “scheduled” or “unscheduled” loss.
- Scheduled loss awards are pretty straightforward. They’re for specific types of injuries that are already predetermined in Section §97-31 of the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act. Benefits are calculated by taking two-thirds of the injured worker’s average weekly wage and multiplying that number by a set amount of weeks that’s been outlined by the act for different types of injuries. So, for example, the loss of a thumb might be compensated for 75 weeks, whereas the loss of an entire arm might warrant 240 weeks of payment.
- Unscheduled loss awards deal with injuries that don’t fit into the predetermined schedule. Here, compensation is based on how the injury affects the worker’s ability to earn a wage. Just like other disability benefits in the state, this is worked out at two-thirds of the average weekly wage, up to a maximum compensation rate.
Permanent total disability (PTD)
If you’re left with a disability that’s considered completely disabling and permanent, preventing you from returning to any kind of work, permanent total disability (PTD) benefits apply. Under Section §97-29 of the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act, cases of PTD include the following:
- Loss or loss of use of 2 major body parts (i.e., hands, arms, feet, legs or eyes)
- Severe spinal cord injury leading to paralysis in both arms, both legs or the trunk
- Severe or permanent brain injury
- Second- or third-degree burns covering at least 33% of your body
An individual with a total disability is entitled to weekly payments equal to two-thirds of their average weekly wages.
If, after 425 weeks of receiving TTD, you can demonstrate a complete loss of wage-earning capacity, you might be eligible for extended benefits beyond the 500-week limit, possibly for the rest of your life. However, the application for extension must be backed by sufficient evidence and is subject to review by the North Carolina Industrial Commission (NCIC).
Furthermore, the amount of weekly compensation is subject to annual adjustments, reflecting changes in the state’s average wage, ensuring that benefits remain proportionate over time. For precise figures and guidance, it’s best to refer to the latest information provided by the NCIC or seek advice from a knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorney.
Who determines a worker’s level of disability in North Carolina?
In North Carolina, the level of a worker’s disability following a job-related injury is often determined by a combination of evaluations involving several parties:
- Authorized treating physician. The injured worker’s primary doctor is usually the first to evaluate the worker’s condition and can provide an initial determination of the level of disability. This physician plays a key role in assessing whether the worker has reached maximum medical improvement (MMI) and what, if any, permanent impairment remains.
- Independent medical examination (IME). If there is a dispute about the worker’s condition or the extent of the disability, either party may request an IME by a third-party physician to gain another professional opinion.
- North Carolina Industrial Commission (NCIC). Finally, the Commission makes a final determination based on the evidence presented.
The determination of a worker’s disability level is crucial because it influences the type and amount of workers’ compensation benefits the worker will receive. It’s a process that may involve medical, vocational, and legal considerations, with the goal of ensuring a fair outcome that reflects the worker’s capacity to work and earn wages after the injury.
Get help from an experienced North Carolina work injury law firm
If you’re dealing with a workplace injury in Charlotte, securing wage loss benefits can be a critical part of your recovery journey. But the process can be daunting, and it’s easy to overlook the full range of benefits you’re entitled to. That’s where a skilled workers’ compensation attorney can make a real difference.
At Wilder Pantazis Law Group, we’ll use our more than 85 years of combined experience in workers’ comp law to help ensure you’re not leaving any money on the table. We can help you navigate the claims process more smoothly, challenge any denials effectively and optimize your compensation.
Take the first step towards safeguarding your financial future today by scheduling a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable attorneys.
§97-29. Compensation rates for total incapacity. (n.d.). www.ic.nc.gov. Retrieved November 6, 2023, from https://www.ic.nc.gov/ncic/pages/statute/97-29.htm
§97-31. Schedule of injuries; rate and period of compensation. (n.d.). www.ic.nc.gov. Retrieved November 6, 2023, from https://www.ic.nc.gov/ncic/pages/statute/97-31.htm
N.C. Industrial Commission Home Page. (n.d.). www.ic.nc.gov. Retrieved November 6, 2023, from https://www.ic.nc.gov/index.html