Wisconsin workers’ compensation pays valuable benefits to employees with work-related injuries or illnesses. These benefits include medical treatment, weekly payments to help offset earnings you’ve lost as a result of your injury, vocational rehabilitation, and more. To get these benefits, you’ll need to report your injury to your employer within 30 days after your injury (or after you know or should have known that your disability is related to your work) and file a workers’ comp claim.
Can You Get Workers’ Comp Benefits in Wisconsin for COVID-19?
You might be able to get workers’ comp benefits if you contracted COVID-19 on the job. As a general rule, you would need evidence proving that you got sick because you were exposed to the coronavirus while you were working, rather than during the rest of your life. That could be a difficult requirement for most employees to meet when the virus is widespread in the community.
However, it will be easier to qualify for workers' comp benefits in Wisconsin if you get COVID-19 while you're working as a medical or emergency first responder during the pandemic. Under a change to state law effective in April 2020, the workers' comp system will presume that you have a work-related illness if you were diagnosed with the disease or tested positive while the Wisconsin public health emergency is in effect, and during the 30-day period after the state of emergency ends. That presumption means that you won’t have to prove you were exposed to the virus at work; instead, it’s up to your employer (or its insurance company) to challenge your claim with specific evidence that your illness was caused by exposure outside of work.
First responders covered by the new law include employees or volunteers for organizations that provide medical or other emergency services, firefighting, or law enforcement, if those workers are regularly in close proximity to COVID-19 patients or other members of the public who need emergency services. (To learn more about workers’ comp for COVID-19 in Wisconsin, see these FAQs from the state’s Department of Workforce Development.)
Temporary disability benefits are paid while you are recovering from your injuries. You may be eligible for either temporary total disability (TTD) or temporary partial disability (TPD). In Wisconsin, these benefits are not paid for your first three days off work, unless your disability lasts more than seven days.
You may receive temporary total disability (TTD) benefits while you:
These benefits are calculated at two-thirds of your average weekly wage before your injury, up to a maximum that changes annually. For 2020, the maximum TTD benefit is $1,051 (two-thirds of the maximum weekly wage of $1,576.50 for that year, which is 110% of the statewide average weekly wage).
TTD payments continue until you return to work or your doctor says that you’ve reached “maximum medical improvement” (MMI), which means that your condition won’t improve any further with medical treatment.
If you can return to work, but you aren’t able to earn as much as you were before the injury or illness, you may receive temporary partial disability (TPD) benefits. The amount of these benefits will be two-thirds of the difference between your pre-injury and post-injury wages; however, the pre-injury wages are subject to the same maximum as for TTD benefits. For example, if you used to earn $1,000 a week but now can earn only $700, you would get $200 in TPD benefits (two-thirds of $300).
Once you’ve reached MMI, your doctor will evaluate you and decide whether you have any permanent limitations as a result of your work injury or occupational disease. In most cases where there’s some permanent disability, it will be partial. In that case, you’ll receive a permanent impairment rating (expressed as a percentage of lost body function).
Although the amount of permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits in Wisconsin is also calculated as two-thirds of your average weekly earnings, the maximum is much lower than for temporary disability, and it isn’t raised every year. For injuries that happened in 2017 through at least 2020, the state’s maximum compensation rate for PPD is $362 a week.
If you’ve returned to work, you’ll still receive PPD benefits based on your physical limitations. If you’re unable to earn at least 85% of your pre-injury wages, however, your award may be adjusted upward to take into account your lost earning capacity.
The length of time you receive TTD benefits will be determined in one of two ways: (1) according to a schedule for the lost use of certain body parts (scheduled loss), or (2) based on a permanent impairment rating for other lost body function.
If you’ve completely lost the use of a body part included in Wisconsin’s PPD schedule, you’ll receive benefits for the number of weeks listed in that schedule. The schedule mostly covers extremities (arms, legs, hands, feet, fingers, and toes), but it also includes removal of an eye or lost vision, as well as deafness. The number of weeks will be multiplied by a certain amount if you have an impairment to your dominant hand or to multiple body parts listed on the schedule.
If you suffer a partial loss of a listed body part, benefits will last for a proportional length of time. For example, if you lost 50% of the use of your hand, the benefits will last for half of the maximum in 200 weeks in the schedule, or 200 weeks. If it was your dominant hand, that period will be increased by 25%, for a total of 250 weeks.
For permanent partial disability that isn’t listed on Wisconsin’s schedule (such as to your lungs or back), the duration of your benefits will be a percentage of 1,000 weeks, based on your permanent impairment rating. For example, if you had a back injury that resulted in a 15% permanent impairment rating, you will receive PPD benefits for 150 weeks (1,000 x 0.15).
If your injury left you with a permanent disfigurement to a part of your body that would be visible at work and could potentially result in wage loss, Wisconsin’s Workers’ Compensation Division may award you any amount of permanent disability that it considers fair, considering several factors such as your age, education, training, previous experience, and occupation.
You are entitled to permanent total disability benefits if your workplace injury or occupational illness prevents you from performing any type of work. Certain injuries (including the loss of both eyes, arms, or legs) are presumed to be totally and permanently disabling. Other serious injuries may also qualify. The benefits as long as you continue to be totally disabled (potentially for life), at the same rate as TTD benefits.
In addition to temporary and permanent disability benefits, Wisconsin workers’ compensation provides other benefits, including:
If an injury or illness results in death, the worker’s dependents may receive death benefits. Death benefits can be up to four times the worker’s annual wages (subject to a maximum benefit). Additionally, the insurance company must pay up to $10,000 for the worker’s reasonable funeral and burial expenses.
If your employer’s insurance company has disputed your workers’ comp claim or is balking at paying the benefits you think you deserve, you should contact qualified workers’ comp lawyer. A local attorney who’s experienced in this area should be able to evaluate your claim and ensure that you receive all of the benefits you’re owed under Wisconsin law. A lawyer can also explain any potential reduction in your benefits if you’re also receiving Social Security disability benefits. (Learn more about finding and hiring a workers’ compensation lawyer.)