If you were injured or became sick because of your job in Washington, you could be eligible to receive workers' compensation benefits, including medical treatment and compensation for lost wages. This article explains how the most important workers' comp benefits are calculated in Washington and how much you might receive. (To get these benefits, you will need to file a workers' compensation claim and show that your injury or illness is work related.)
Can You Get Workers' Comp in Washington for COVID-19?
In order to receive workers' comp benefits for COVID-19 in Washington, you need to show that (1) the particular conditions of your job created an increased risk of contracting the disease, compared to everyday life or most other jobs; (2) you wouldn't have come down with the illness if it weren't for your job; and (3) you can identify a source or event at work that resulted in exposure to the coronavirus. In the context of a pandemic, most employees would find it very difficult to meet all of those criteria. According to a COVID-19 Q&A from the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I), workers' comp claims related to COVID-19 will be denied if contraction of the disease was incidental to your workplace or common to all jobs—such as when you get the virus from a coworker.
If you're a healthcare worker or first responder, however, it will be easier to show that your job was particularly hazardous and that you were exposed to the virus when you treated or came in close contact with an infected patient. Also, in an L&I policy change, healthcare workers and first responders can receive workers' comp benefits, including time-loss payments (discussed below), when they're quarantined after workplace exposure to COVID-19.
You're entitled to benefits meant to replace part of your lost earnings if you can't work at all while you're recovering from your injury or illness, or you can only work with restrictions that limit your earning power. These payments, known in Washington as "time-loss compensation," don't begin until the fourth day after your injury, unless your temporary disability lasts for at least 14 days.
Time-loss benefits will continue until your pre-injury earning power is restored, or your doctor determines that your condition isn't likely to improve, even with further medical treatment.
If you're completely unable to work, time-loss benefits are based on your average monthly gross income at the time of your injury, including wages, health benefits, bonuses, and tips. You'll receive 60% to 75% of that income, depending on your marital status and number of dependents. However, there's a minimum and maximum for time-loss benefits that changes annually, based on a percentage of the statewide average monthly wages for the previous calendar year. For the year beginning July 1, 2020, the maximum monthly wage-loss payment is $6,970 (120% of the statewide average), and the minimum is $871.25 (15% of the statewide average).
If you can return to work but aren't able to earn as much as you could before your injury, you may receive a partial wage-loss benefit equal to 80% of the difference between your present wages and your pre-injury earning power. These payments are subject to the same maximum and minimum as for total temporary disability; there's also a limit on the total you can receive in wages plus partial wage-loss benefits (based on 150% of the statewide average monthly wages).
Once your medical condition has stabilized, you will be evaluated to see if your injury or illness has left you with any permanent disability and, if so, to what extent. Depending on the severity of your disability, you may be eligible for a permanent partial disability award or a permanent total disability pension.
If you have some permanent limitations because of your injury or illness, you'll be eligible for a permanent partial disability (PPD) award. L&I publishes an annual schedule that sets the amount of awards for impairment to certain body parts, organs, and bodily systems, depending on the level of impairment and the date of your injury. For impairments to eyes, hearing, and limbs, the schedule lists the amount of an award for complete lost function or an amputation of that body part; awards for partial loss will be a percentage of that amount, in proportion to the level of lost function.
Typically, you'll receive your PPD award in a lump sum, but awards over a certain amount will be spread out over time in monthly payments.
Even if you're able to return to work, you may receive a permanent and total disability pension for the following injuries:
Other severe impairments may also qualify as a permanent and total disability, but only if they prevent you from performing any type of work.
The amount of your monthly pension benefit will be based on the amount of time-loss compensation you would receive for total temporary disability. You can choose a reduced pension in order to ensure that your designated beneficiary would continue receiving pension payments if you die of causes unrelated to your work injury or illness.
Washington also provides other workers' compensation benefits, including:
If L&I disputes your workers' comp claim or isn't paying all of the benefits you deserve, you should speak with a Washington workers' comp lawyer as soon as possible. A lawyer can evaluate your claim and help ensure that you receive the proper compensation.
And if you're worried about paying a lawyer, it may help to know that workers' comp attorneys are only allowed to collect reasonable fees on benefits they help you get. In Washington, the fees can't be more than 15% of what you receive in a structured settlement agreement, or 30% of the increase in your award when you resolve your claim any other way.