When an employee in the District of Columbia passes away from a work-related illness or injury, the employee’s surviving spouse and dependent children are eligible for death benefits under the state’s workers’ compensation laws. Other dependent family members might also be eligible for benefits, depending on the circumstances. (To learn about benefits available to injured workers, see how much workers’ comp benefits are in D.C.)
Are You Eligible for Death Benefits in D.C.?
The worker’s surviving spouse or domestic partner is eligible for death benefits. In addition, the deceased worker’s children are eligible for benefits if any of the following are true:
- They are under the age of 18.
- They are full-time students who are under the age of 23.
- They are incapable of supporting themselves due to a physical or mental disability.
A parent, grandparent, sibling, or grandchild who was dependent on the worker’s earnings at the time of death may receive benefits if either of the following is true:
- The deceased worker has no surviving spouse, domestic partner, or child.
- The total benefits payable to the worker’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, or child are less than two-thirds of the worker’s average weekly wage at the time of death.
How Much Are Death Benefits in D.C.?
Eligible survivors are entitled to weekly death benefits based on a percentage of the deceased worker’s average weekly wages, as explained below. The maximum weekly amount that can be paid out to all beneficiaries, combined, is currently $1,469.95. The minimum weekly amount is $367.48. (These amounts are updated each year; see the Maximum/Minimum Compensation Rate page at the D.C. Department of Employment Services website.)
Here are the percentages available to eligible family members:
- Spouse or domestic partner only. If the worker has a spouse or domestic partner and no children, that person receives 50% of the worker’s average weekly wages. If the spouse remarries or the partner enters into a new domestic partnership, weekly benefits stop, but the spouse or domestic partner receives a lump-sum payment of two years’ worth of benefits.
- Spouse or domestic partner and child. If the worker has a spouse or domestic partner and at least one child, the spouse or partner will receive an additional 16 2/3% percent for each child, up to a maximum of 66 2/3% of the deceased worker’s wages. If the spouse remarries or the partner enters a new domestic partnership, a single child will receive 50% of the worker’s wages, while multiple children will share 66 2/3%.
- Child but no spouse or domestic partner. A single child will receive 50%, and multiple children will share 66 2/3%.
- No spouse, domestic partner, or child. In this case, a dependent parent or grandparent will each receive 25% of the worker’s wages, and a dependent grandchild or sibling will each receive 20% of the worker’s wages. However, all family members, combined, may not receive more than 66 2/3% of the worker’s wages. These family members are also eligible for benefits if the deceased worker has a spouse, domestic partner, or child who is receiving less than 66 2/3% of the deceased worker’s wages. For example, if the worker has only a spouse who is receiving 50%, other family members might be eligible for the remaining 16 2/3%.
How Much Are Funeral Benefits?
Under District of Columbia’s workers’ compensation law, the deceased worker’s family is entitled to be paid the reasonable costs of the worker’s funeral, up to a maximum of $5,000.
Time Limits for Filing a Claim
To qualify for death benefits, the deceased employee’s dependent or representative must give notice to the employer and the Mayor of Washington D.C. within 30 days of the death. (This notice requirement may be excused if the employer knew about the death and the fact that it was job-related, and the employer was not prejudiced by the failure to give notice.) You must also file a claim for death benefits with the Mayor of D. C. within one year of the employee’s death. (To learn more, see our article on how to file a workers’ comp claim in D.C.)