If you were injured or got sick because of your job in Colorado, you may be eligible to receive benefits through the state workers’ compensation system, including medical treatment. The benefits you actually receive will depend on the nature of your injuries, your ability to return to work, how much you normally earn, and other factors unique to your case. This article explains how the most important workers’ comp benefits are calculated in Colorado. (To get these benefits, you’ll need to file a workers’ comp claim and show that your injury or illness is work related.)
Can You Get Workers’ Comp in Colorado If You Get COVID-19 on the Job?
Under Colorado law, you may get workers’ comp coverage for an occupational disease if you can trace the cause of the illness to your job, but not if the disease results from a hazard to which you would have been equally exposed outside of work. Colorado employers—including meatpacking plants in the state with large outbreaks—have been routinely denying most workers’ comp claims for COVID-19. Employees can appeal those denials. But in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, it would be very difficult for most employees to prove that they actually contracted COVID-19 at work because of the particular nature of their job.
In response to the pandemic, several states have enacted measures making it easier for certain employees to get workers’ comp benefits for COVID-19 by presuming that the disease is work related unless the employer proves otherwise. The Colorado legislature indefinitely postponed a similar bill in June 2020.
You may be eligible for benefits meant to replace part of your lost wages if you can’t work at all or can’t perform your regular job duties while you’re recovering from your injuries. In Colorado, temporary disability benefits aren’t paid for your first three days off work, unless your disability lasts more than two weeks. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-42-103 (2020).)
If you’re unable to perform any type of work due to your injury, you’ll receive temporary total disability (TTD) benefits equal to two-thirds of your average weekly wages when you were hurt or got sick. However, there’s a cap on these benefits that’s based on a percentage of statewide average wages at the time of your injury. For injuries between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021, the maximum TTD benefit is $1,074.22 per week. To hit that cap, your pre-injury weekly wages would have be to at least $1,611.33. (The Colorado Workers’ Compensation Benefits Calculator will show the maximum benefit rate for other years.)
Unless you’re receiving vocational rehabilitation services, TTD benefits will stop when the earliest of the following events happens:
(Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 8-42-102, 8-42-105 (2020).)
If you’re working during your recovery but aren’t earning as much as you used to because of your injuries, you may receive temporary partial disability benefits. These benefits are calculated as two-thirds of the difference between your pre-injury wages and what you’re currently earning. For example, if you used to earn $900 a week but are now earning $600 for light-duty or part-time work, you would receive $200 in benefits. These benefits have the same maximum as for TTD, and they end when you’ve reached MMI or have refused a modified work offer. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-42-106 (2020).)
Once you’ve reached MMI, a doctor will evaluate you to determine if your work injury or illness has left you with any permanent lost function or impairment to part of your body—and if so, to what extent. In most cases with any lasting impairment, you’ll receive permanent partial disability benefits. Depending on the affected part or parts of your body, you’ll receive a scheduled loss award and/or an award for nonscheduled whole person impairment.
You may ask to receive up to $10,000 of your permanent partial disability benefits in a lump sum (less a discount). If you’re owed any remaining benefits, you’ll get that money in periodic payments. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-42-107 (2020).)
You’ll receive a scheduled loss award if you’ve permanently lost any use of a body part included in a schedule in Colorado law (mostly covering the extremities, eyes, and ears). The schedule shows how many weeks of compensation you would receive for an amputation or complete loss of use for each of the listed body parts. For less than total loss of use, you’d receive compensation for a number of weeks proportional to the percentage of your impairment. For example, the schedule lists 208 weeks for the total loss of an arm. If you’ve lost 50% of the use of an arm, you would receive compensation for 104 weeks.
For scheduled injuries, the weekly amount of compensation is a set amount—not based on your pre-injury earnings—that changes every year. For injuries in the year beginning July 1, 2020, the scheduled impairment rate is $337.11 per week. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-42-107 (2020).)
The Colorado benefits calculator, mentioned above, will show you the impairment rate for your date of injury, as well as the appropriate number of weeks for the scheduled body part and the percentage of your impairment.
If you have a permanent impairment to a part of your body not listed in the schedule—such as your back, neck, or an internal organ—you’ll receive nonscheduled whole person impairment benefits. A number of factors go into the calculation of these benefits. First, your doctor will assign you an impairment rating, expressed as a percentage. Next, you will be assigned an age factor, based on how old you were when you reached MMI. Your benefit will be calculated by multiplying your impairment rating by your age factor and then by 400 weeks. You will receive benefits for the resulting number of weeks at the TTD rate. (Here again, the online benefits calculator will show the amount and duration of your benefits after you fill in the appropriate information.) (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-42-107 (2020).)
If your injury left you with a serious, permanent disfigurement on a part of your body that’s normally exposed to the public, you may receive an additional award. The maximum amount of this award also changes each year. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-42-108 (2020).)
Colorado also places a limit on how much you can receive in combined temporary disability benefits and permanent partial disability benefits. This cap changes each year. For injuries occurring in the year beginning on July 1, 2020, the maximum is $99,094.93 if you have a whole person impairment rating of 25% or less, or $198,187.35 with a whole person impairment rating above 25%. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-42-107.5 (2020).)
If your injury or occupational illness permanently prevents you from performing any type of work, you will be entitled to permanent total disability benefits at your TTD rate for as long as you’re completely disabled—potentially for life. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-42-111 (2020).)
Colorado workers’ compensation also provides additional benefits, including:
If your employer’s insurance company has denied your workers’ comp claim, is delaying or refusing to pay benefits, or won’t authorize needed medical treatment, you should consider speaking with a workers’ comp lawyer. A local attorney who's experienced in this area can evaluate your case, discuss whether it makes sense to file an appeal, make sure your rights are protected in a settlement agreement, and help you get all of the benefits you deserve. (Learn more about how a good workers’ comp lawyer can help.)