A work injury can cause major disruptions to your life—not only to your health, but also to your career, finances, and overall well-being. The Florida workers’ compensation system is designed to compensate you for some of those losses and help you get back to work as soon as possible. (To get the benefits described below, you will need to file a Florida workers’ compensation claim and show that your injury or illness is work related.)
Can You Get Workers' Comp Benefits in Florida for COVID-19?
In Florida, you may receive workers' comp benefits if you contracted an occupational disease while you were working, but only if the illness resulted from the particular nature of your job—meaning that your job presented a hazard that was different than the "usual run of occupations," or that the incidence of the disease is substantially higher than usual in your job.
Under a directive from the Florida government, "frontline" state employees (whose jobs require in-person interactions with the public) should receive workers' comp benefits for COVID-19, regardless of other potential causes of the illness. Unlike several other states, Florida has not enacted measures that specifically make it easier for other employees in high-risk jobs to get workers' comp benefits for COVID-19 without having to prove that they contracted the illness at work. The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation did issue a memorandum reminding insurers that first responders, healthcare workers, and others that contract COVID-19 due to work-related exposure would be eligible for benefits under state law. However, it still would be up to these employees to provide evidence showing that they got sick because of exposure at work rather than in the rest of their lives.
Under Florida workers’ comp, you’ll be eligible for temporary total disability benefits if you need time away from work to recover from your work-related injury or illness. You won’t get these benefits for the first seven days off, unless your injury keeps you from working for more than 21 days.
Temporary total disability benefits are two-thirds of your average weekly wage just before the injury, up to a legal maximum that's adjusted annually. For injuries in 2020, the maximum is $971 per week. (To see the caps for other years, check out this table of maximum benefits amounts on the website for Florida’s Division of Workers’ Compensation.)
For some severe injuries like paralysis or blindness, the benefit rate is higher: 80% of the employee’s pre-injury wages for the first six months, without a maximum. The legal minimum is $20 per week.
Temporary total disability benefits will continue until the earliest of three events:
Florida law says that temporarily disabled workers may not receive these benefits for more than two years (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 440.14). However, the state’s supreme court has found that the 104-week limit is unconstitutional when it’s applied to cut off benefits for someone who has hit that limit but hasn’t reached MMI and is still totally disabled; the court said that the appropriate fix would be to apply the previous 260-week limit in that situation (Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg, 194 So.3d 311 (Fla. 2016)).
You may receive temporary partial disability benefits if your condition hasn’t reached MMI but your doctor has said that you can return to work with some restrictions (such as not lifting heavy objects or using a keyboard for limited periods). If you earn less when working with these restrictions than you did before, these benefits will be 80% of the difference between your current earnings and 80% of your pre-injury wages. For example, suppose you used to earn $1,000 a week but now earn $600. You would subtract $600 from 80% of $1,000 (or $800), to get $200. You would then receive 80% of $200, or $160 per week.
Once your medical treatment is complete (or six weeks before your temporary total disability benefits are set to expire if you haven’t yet reached the MMI stage), your doctor will evaluate you to determine whether you have any lasting medical condition or lost function (called an “impairment”) as a result of your injury.
If you can work to some extent, the doctor will use a schedule to assign you an impairment rating, expressed as a percentage. This rating will then be used to calculate how long your permanent impairment benefits will last, according to a formula in Florida law.
The amount of the weekly benefits will be 75% of your temporary total disability rate (up to the same legal maximum), but that amount will be cut in half if you’re earning at least as much as you did before your injury.
If you know your impairment rating, you can use Florida’s handy impairment benefits calculator to figure out how much you’ll receive each week and for how long.
If your doctor finds you have a permanent disability that keeps you from doing any work (even a sedentary job), you will be eligible to receive permanent total disability benefits at the same rate as your temporary total disability benefits. These benefits will continue until you’re 75 years old (or for the rest of your life if you don’t qualify for Social Security benefits).
Certain severe injuries—such as amputation of an arm or leg or severe brain injury—are automatically considered to cause permanent total disability.
Florida workers’ compensation also provides additional benefits, including:
As you can see, workers’ comp pays only a portion of your lost wages (although it helps that workers' comp benefits are generally tax-free). In addition, you can’t receive any compensation for the pain and suffering caused by your injury. While this may seem unfair, it’s part of the trade-off in the workers’ comp system. The advantage is that you can get benefits relatively quickly without needing to file a lawsuit or prove that your employer was at fault for causing your injury. The downside is that you can’t get the full value of your losses. (In some limited situations, however, you may be able to file a lawsuit outside of the workers’ comp system to seek compensation for your losses, including pain and suffering.)
Because you’re almost always limited to workers’ comp for an on-the-job injury, it’s important to make sure that you get all of the benefits you deserve. An experienced workers’ comp lawyer can help you do that. To learn more, see our article on when you may need to hire a workers’ comp attorney.