If you were injured or got sick because of your job in Tennessee, you may be eligible for benefits through the state’s workers’ compensation system. The benefits you receive will depend on the severity of your injuries, whether and when you’re able to return to work, how much you were earning before you were hurt, and other factors unique to your case. This article explains how the most important workers’ comp benefits are calculated in Tennessee, including temporary disability and permanent disability benefits. (Note that some of the benefits and requirements are different for injuries that happened before July 1, 2014; if you have questions about older injuries, contact the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development or speak with a workers’ comp lawyer.)
To get these benefits, you’ll need to promptly notify your employer about your injury (at least within 15 days after the injury), file a workers’ comp claim within a year if the insurance company hasn’t voluntarily paid benefits, and prove that your injury or illness is work related. (Tenn. Code §§ 50-6-201, 50-6-203 (2021).)
Temporary disability benefits cover a portion of your lost wages when you can’t return to your regular job—or can’t work at all—while you’re recovering from your work-related injury or illness. In Tennessee, you won’t receive these benefits for the first seven days that you’re disabled unless your temporary disability lasts at least 14 days.
If your doctor says that you are completely unable to work during your recovery, you should be eligible to receive temporary total disability (TTD) benefits. The weekly amount of these benefits will be two-thirds of your average weekly wage before you were injured, up to a legal maximum that’s tied to Tennessee's statewide average weekly wage in the year of your injury. For injuries that happen from July 2020 through June 2021, the maximum is $1,093.40 per week. There’s also a minimum: $149.10 for that same year. (For injuries in other years, see the list of workers’ compensation rates published by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.)
You may continue to receive TTD benefits until you are able to return to work or have reached what’s known as “maximum medical improvement” (MMI), which basically means that either you've completely recovered or your condition isn’t likely to improve any further. (Tenn. Code §§ 50-6-205, 50-6-207 (2021).)
You may receive temporary partial disability benefits if you can do some work during your recovery period, but your injuries prevent you from earning as much as you did before. Typically, this happens when your doctor has set restrictions on what you can do—such as no heavy lifting, limited standing, or part-time work only.
Temporary partial disability benefits are calculated as two-thirds of the difference between your pre-injury wages and what you’re currently able to earn. For instance, if you earned $900 before your injury but are now only able to earn $600 at a light-duty job, you would receive $200 per week (two-thirds of the $300 difference). These benefits are subject to the same weekly maximum and minimum as TTD benefits. (Tenn. Code § 50-6-207 (2021).)
Once you have reached MMI, you will be evaluated to determine whether you have any lasting impairments as a result of your workplace injury or illness. If you do, you may be eligible for permanent disability benefits. The amount of these benefits will depend on the extent of your impairments.
If your permanent impairments are so severe that you are unable to perform any type of paying work, you will be eligible for permanent total disability benefits at the same weekly rate as TTD benefits (with the same maximum and minimum amounts). These benefits will continue as long as you are still incapacitated from working, until you’re eligible to receive full Social Security retirement benefits. (Tenn. Code § 50-6-207(4) (2021).)
If your permanent impairments don’t completely prevent you from working, you should be eligible to receive permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits. The amount of these benefits will be calculated based on the permanent impairment rating that your doctor has assigned to you. This rating reflects the percentage of total body function that you lost due to your injuries or illness.
You will generally receive two-thirds of your pre-injury wage for a number of weeks that is determined by multiplying 450 by the percentage of your impairment rating. For example, if your injuries resulted in a 20% impairment rating, and your pre-injury average weekly wage was $900, you would receive $600 (two-thirds of $900) a week for 90 weeks (20% of 450), or a total of $54,000. The minimum weekly PPD benefit is the same as for TTD, but the maximum is somewhat lower ($994 for injuries in the year beginning July 2020).
Tennessee law allows for the possibility of increased PPD benefits if you still haven’t returned to work or are earning less than your pre-injury wages when the period of your original PPD award runs out (or 180 days after you reached MMI, if that comes later). You must file a new petition for benefit determination. If it’s approved, your original award may be increased by a factor of 1.35, as well as certain additional factors based on your age, education, and the unemployment rate in the county where you worked.
There’s a cap on the total amount of benefits you may receive for temporary and permanent partial disability in Tennessee. The maximum total benefit is calculated by multiplying 450 by the maximum weekly amount for the year of your injury. (TTD benefits that you received before reaching MMI won’t count toward this maximum total benefit, and the cap doesn’t apply in cases of permanent total disability.)
You may be able to receive your PPD award in a lump sum, if the workers’ comp judge approves it as being in your best interest. (Tenn. Code §§ 50-6-102, 50-6-207(3), 50-6-229 (2021).)
In addition to temporary and permanent disability benefits, workers’ compensation in Tennessee provides other benefits, including:
If your employer’s insurance company denies your workers’ comp claim or isn’t paying the benefits you deserve, you would be wise to speak with a workers’ comp lawyer. A local attorney who’s experienced in this area should be able to evaluate your claim and help ensure that you get the compensation you’re entitled to receive under Tennessee law. To learn more, see our page on working with a workers' comp lawyer.